Percocet Abuse and Addiction

Percocet is a prescription painkiller that is a combination of two drugs, oxycodone—an opioid—and acetaminophen (more commonly known as Tylenol).1 It is typically used to treat moderate to severe pain after surgery, when non-opioid analgesics aren’t sufficient.1

Percocet’s Addictive Potential

Percocet can safely help manage pain when used following appropriate prescription guidelines. Acetaminophen is not addictive, but the oxycodone component of Percocet is. The pharmacologic effects of oxycodone extend beyond pain relief, and many people abuse Percocet in order to experience a euphoric high that is very similar to other extremely addictive drugs, like heroin.2

Individuals who engage in prolonged misuse or abuse of opioids are at risk of opioid dependence. Those who abuse oxycodone by taking more than the prescribed dose or by using it recreationally to get high are at risk of developing a dangerous addiction, also called an opioid use disorder.2

Prescription opioid overdose is a leading cause of injury-related morbidity and mortality in the US.3 When it’s misused, Percocet can cause serious harm, including fatal overdose.3

Percocet Side Effects

The primary intended effect of oxycodone products is pain relief, though many side effects can accompany this sensation, particularly when the medication is abused. Oxycodone works by binding to and activating opioid receptors in the brain. This results in a reduction of the user’s sense of pain as well as their emotional response to pain, inducing a relaxing state of calm.2

Side effects of Percocet may include:1,2

  • drowsiness
  • dizziness
  • confusion
  • abdominal pain
  • nausea and vomiting
  • constipation
  • slowed breathing

In addition to opioid overdose, it’s also possible to ingest a toxic amount of acetaminophen by taking excessive amounts of Percocet. Symptoms of acetaminophen toxicity may be minimal and nonspecific, including malaise, abdominal pain or nausea, and vomiting.4 Although it can lead to liver failure,2 and may even be fatal, acetaminophen toxicity only claims approximately 500 American lives every year.4

Acetaminophen toxicity as well as the sedation-effects of Percocet can all be exacerbated in individuals who regularly drink alcohol or those who misuse Percocet combined with alcohol.

Signs of Percocet Addiction

The following signs of addiction to Percocet can serve as red flags that help is needed:5,6

  • Finding it harder to get high without taking more Percocet than before – a sign tolerance has formed.
  • Taking more Percocet to keep away withdrawal symptoms.
  • Becoming preoccupied with making sure one can use again soon and has a supply on hand
  • Missing out on connecting with friends and family or missing important events.
  • Trying to cut back or quit taking Percocet, but being unable to follow through
  • Continuing to use Percocet despite the negative consequences that impact work, school, family and social life.

Addiction to Percocet—or any drug of abuse, for that matter—is marked by compulsive and uncontrollable use.7 Someone who has developed an addiction may start to neglect their responsibilities at home or work in order to use the drug.5 They may also start behaving in reckless and dangerous ways, such as using other substances or driving while they are high.5,8 Legal or financial problems may also arise.5 According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, being under the influence opioids while driving can double your risk of having a crash.8

Percocet Detox & Treatment

The first step toward recovery from Percocet addiction is to undergo detoxification, or medical detox, which is when you clear your body of all drugs through extended abstinence.9

During detox, you may experience some uncomfortable withdrawal symptoms. Withdrawal from Percocet can begin anywhere from 8-36 hours after the last dose, depending on the amount being used, the formulation, and the length and manner of use.9 While not necessarily deadly, opioid withdrawal can be uncomfortable and extremely unpleasant. Withdrawal symptoms may include:9

  • Anxiety.
  • Headaches.
  • Insomnia.
  • Nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea.
  • Abdominal cramping.
  • High body temperature.
  • High blood pressure.
  • Rapid heartbeat.
  • Sweating, chills and clammy skin.
  • Muscle spasms.
  • Muscle and bone pain.

Withdrawal from Percocet doesn’t have to be the painful experience that is often feared. Today, the standard treatment program for an opioid addiction is a medication management protocol that involves a regulated dose of a medical grade opioid to mitigate the symptoms of withdrawal.10

In fact, medication-assisted treatment (MAT) can allow individuals to go through medical detox with far less discomfort than without MAT, while at the same time preparing a person for longer-term, sustained recovery, via behavioral therapy and participation in mutual-help groups.10

If left untreated, Percocet addiction, like all opioid addictions, can bring about serious consequences in a person’s health, career, legal, financial, and familial and personal relationship realms. Thankfully, comprehensive addiction treatment can help those struggling with Percocet addiction to leave behind the drug for good. Through medical detox and intensive therapy, individuals can stop abusing Percocet for good and embrace healthy, fulfilling lives that aren’t regulated by substance use.

References

  1. Food and Drug Administration. (2018). Drug Label: Percocet.
  2. National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2020). Prescription Opioids DrugFacts: What are prescription opioids?
  3. Kiyatkin E. A. (2019). Respiratory depression and brain hypoxia induced by opioid drugs: Morphine, oxycodone, heroin, and fentanyl. Neuropharmacology, 151, 219–226.
  4. Bari, K., & Fontana, R. J. (2014). Acetaminophen overdose: What practitioners need to know. Clinical Liver Disease, 4(1), 17–21.
  5. Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders: DSM-5 (5th ed.). (2013). Washington, D.C.: American Psychiatric Association.
  6. Dydyk, A. M., Jain, N. K., & Gupta, M. (2020). Opioid Use Disorder. In StatPearls. StatPearls Publishing.
  7. American Society of Addiction Medicine. (2019). Definition of Addiction.
  8. National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2019). DrugFacts: Drugged Driving.
  9. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. (2015). TIP 45: Detoxification and Substance Abuse Treatment.
  10. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Treatment Services Administration. (2020). TIP 63: Medications for Opioid Use Disorder.