Addiction to oxycodone and other strong opioids can happen without warning and in many different ways. These drugs can be seductive, and there is no way to know for sure who is at extra risk for addiction and who isn’t. You won’t know that until you are already addicted. You likely won’t realize you’re even physically dependent until you have to stop the drug and withdrawal symptoms set in. However, risk for addiction in general has a strong genetic component. If you have a number of family members addicted to various substances, then that may indicate a higher risk for you. Certainly you should be cautious.
True addiction to prescribed opioids isn’t that common. Most people take them as prescribed and only when needed for pain. However, anyone who takes opioids regularly for any period of time exceeding a few weeks will definitely become physically dependent upon the drug. This isn’t the same as addiction. Addiction occurs when someone takes oxycodone for reasons other than for what it was prescribed. For example, people may take the drug to relieve their emotional pain. Others may take oxycodone for the high it provides. These are both examples of addictive behaviors.
Most addicted persons also have developed very high tolerances. This means that their bodies have become so used to the presence of the opioid that normally high doses no longer have any effect. More and more must be taken to achieve any effect at all. At this point, overdose becomes a real concern. The body’s tolerance will protect the user from overdose up to a certain point, but if enough opioid is taken, death is always possible, regardless of the person’s tolerance level.
The patient who has taken oxycodone after surgery and hasn’t developed an addiction to it should be able to stop the drug on their own with minimal or no help from their physician. On the other hand, the patient who has developed an addiction will likely be unable to stop on their own. They are always thinking about getting more oxycodone and will go to herculean lengths to do so. They will need professional help. It makes no difference that the addiction started with a medically prescribed, legal opioid such as oxycodone. Addiction is addiction, no matter how it began.
Why is Oxycodone So Addictive?
There has been a lot of negative press about oxycodone recently. It’s blamed for many emergency room visits and deaths. But the truth is, oxycodone can be good or bad. It just depends on how it’s used. It allows many chronic pain patients to live normal lives, free from terrible pain. It allows patients to heal at home without having to live with severe post-surgical pain. Pain destroys lives, too.
That said, there is a likely reason why oxycodone is so addictive. This reason relates to its extreme bioavailability. Bioavailability, or BA, refers to the amount of an opioid drug that is actually absorbed by the body. With many opioids, such as morphine, the BA is less than 50%. Oxymorphone’s oral BA is a dismal 10%. That means that 90% of the taken oxymorphone dose is lost! But oxycodone has a phenomenal 88% BA when taken orally. Almost the entire dose makes it to the brain, where it works by attaching to special brain receptors. In some persons, this much oxycodone reaching the brain’s receptor sites all at once triggers a rush of subjective euphoria. This euphoria has reinforcing actions. The person wants the same rush over and over, so they keep taking more and more. Before they even realize it, they are addicted. Worse, they are taking the drug for the entirely wrong reasons.
Are you Addicted?
Have you increased your oxycodone dosage on your own without your doctor’s permission or knowledge? Do you take the drug more often than what the directions on the bottle’s label say? If the answer is yes, these are two red flags for addiction. If you suspect that you’ve become addicted to oxycodone, there is a simple way to tell for sure. Can you stop on your own? If your doctor has told you to reduce the dose and has given you a dose reduction schedule to follow, can you follow it with little difficulty? If the answer to these last two questions is no, then you’ve almost certainly developed an addiction. You should seek professional help to stop before the addiction becomes even more ingrained into your psyche and life. You also don’t want to attempt to deal with oxycodone withdrawal symptoms on your own. Especially if you have never done this before, you have no idea what you’re up against.
Conversely, if you’ve taken your oxycodone as prescribed and have simply become physically dependent on it, you likely don’t need any kind of rehab services. Physical dependence on opioids happens to everyone who takes them regularly. It’s not your fault. Just ask your doctor for a dose reduction schedule. Follow it exactly. If you reduce your dose slowly enough, most of the worst withdrawal symptoms should be held at bay. If withdrawal symptoms are still too much for you, even though you’re following your doctor’s schedule, speak up. Your doctor can alter it. Be patient. It will take time to eliminate the oxycodone entirely.
For those addicted, oxycodone withdrawal can be particularly nasty. For one thing, it tends to last longer than withdrawal from most other opioids. You can fully expect certain withdrawal symptoms to linger for up to six weeks. Sleep is near impossible. This insomnia can persist for weeks. You may vomit near non-stop for days on end. The diarrhea is relentless. The combination of vomiting and diarrhea may leave you severely dehydrated. Oxycodone withdrawal is best managed by professionals in a medical detox setting. There you will receive medications to ease withdrawal symptoms. You will also get counseling to help stop you from ever going through this again in the future.
No matter how it started, if you’ve developed a true addiction, you will need help. If you’re ready to seek that help and need some assistance, please give us a call at 866-802-6848. We have trained staff on duty 24 hours a day, and we can help you find the right facility for you. It’s all confidential. We look forward to your call.