Percocet Abuse, Health Effects, Detox, & Withdrawal
Percocet (acetaminophen and oxycodone) is a medication prescribed to treat moderate to severe chronic pain. This article will discuss the basic features of the drug, its uses, how the drug can be abused, signs of addiction to or abuse of the drug, and treatment options for a Percocet use disorder.
What Is Percocet?
Percocet is a combination of two pain-relieving drugs: acetaminophen and oxycodone. Percocet is available in several strengths, all with 325 mg acetaminophen and with different dosages of oxycodone: 2.5 mg, 5 mg, 7.5 mg, and 10 mg.
- The main ingredient in Tylenol.
- Often given to treat pain.
- Useful in treating fever.
- Not a controlled substance.
- An opioid medication that is one of many narcotic substances synthesized from the opium poppy.
- Similar to drugs such as morphine, heroin, codeine, etc.
- A controlled substance and considered a Schedule II drug by the United States Drug Enforcement Administration, indicating that it has a very high potential for dependence and abuse despite its medical use.
The acetaminophen in Percocet is the same active ingredient in Tylenol and similar to other over-the-counter painkillers, such as ibuprofen and aspirin. It enhances the pain-relieving effects of oxycodone. Although it does not contribute significantly to the abuse potential of Percocet, acetaminophen can cause liver toxicity if it is taken in large doses over a long period of time.
The oxycodone in Percocet is responsible for both the euphoric effects that individuals experience when taking the drug and the physical dependence and abuse potential of the drug. These effects are achieved by the affinity for oxycodone to lock onto certain receptors of endogenous opioid neurons in the brain and produce similar effects to endogenous opioid neurotransmitters.
The short-term effects of taking Percocet will typically last 4-6 hours and include pain relief, mild euphoria, and mild feelings of sedation, dizziness, lightheadedness, etc.
What Are the Effects of Percocet?
A large number of potential side effects have been listed for Percocet. The most common side effects from taking Percocet include:
- Dizziness or lightheadedness.
- Dry mouth.
- Blurred vision.
Some rarer but more serious side effects include:
- Ringing or buzzing in the ears.
- Fainting spells.
- Extremely shallow breathing.
- Significantly slowed heart rate.
- Difficulty urinating.
- Dark urine.
- Upper stomach pain.
- Itching (may indicate an allergic reaction).
- Jaundice (yellow skin or eyes).
- Unusual thoughts.
Signs of an allergic reaction to Percocet include hives, difficulty breathing, and swelling of the lips, tongue, throat, or face. Allergic reactions to acetaminophen are sometimes displayed as a skin rash that spreads and causes peeling and blistering. Allergic reactions are rare; however, if one suspects an allergic reaction to Percocet, contact a physician immediately.
As mentioned above, the oxycodone component of Percocet is a controlled substance that is considered to be potentially a drug of abuse and one that can produce significant physical dependence in users.
Developing a physical dependence to a drug can be a symptom of an addiction (substance use disorder); however, it is neither necessary nor sufficient to have a physical dependence on any particular drug in order to abuse it or have an addiction to it.
Nearly anyone who abuses Percocet for a significant length of time will develop physical dependence on the drug, and this will complicate any attempts at recovery. However, the symptoms of abuse and addiction represent the nonmedical use of a drug that results in significant issues with the individual’s functioning, such as an inability to control drug use; personal ramifications to health, relationships, and work; and other issues.
Individuals who use Percocet for pain control and under the supervision of a physician may develop physical dependence if it is used for any significant length of time; however, these people will often not abuse the drug or become addicted to it.
Individuals who abuse or become addicted to Percocet likely use it for reasons other than pain control. Most often, but not always, these individuals procure the drug through illegal means, such as buying it on the street, getting it from someone who has a prescription for the drug, etc.
Individuals who abuse Percocet typically take the drug for its euphoria-producing affects and will often mix it with other drugs, such as alcohol. Typically, these individuals will start out engaging in occasional use of the drug, and many will begin using it regularly as a coping or escape mechanism.
Attempts at reversing a Percocet overdose may be made with naloxone—an opioid receptor antagonist that competitively removes the offending opioid (in this case, oxycodone) from opioid receptors, temporarily-preventing their pharmacologic effects. When administered early enough, naloxone can minimize the risks of an opioid overdose, but it does nothing for an acetaminophen overdose (which could require additional “antidote” treatment with a drug known as acetylcysteine).
Tylenol is a widely known brand name for acetaminophen. In people who use Percocet, the risk of accidental overdose on acetaminophen may be increased because acetaminophen shows up in a lot of other over-the-counter medications which may be concurrently taken without an individual recognizing the potential risks.
The primary concern with acetaminophen overdose is liver failure, which can lead to chronic health problems if the person survives the damage to this organ.
- Abdominal pain and cramping.
- Loss of appetite.
- Irritability or extreme mood swings.
- Nausea or vomiting.
- Jaundice, or yellowing of the skin and the whites of the eyes.
What Are the Signs of Percocet Addiction?
Some signs that a person might have a Percocet use disorder include:
- Obtaining Percocet via illegal means, such as buying it from someone on the street or getting it from someone who has a prescription.
- Using the drug for reasons other than pain control.
- Using up a prescription early, asking for more Percocet, or “doctor shopping” to get more than one prescription to the drug
- Spending a significant amount of time using Percocet or recovering from Percocet use.
- Taking Percocet in conjunction with other drugs, such as alcohol, marijuana, other painkillers, benzodiazepines, or stimulant medications.
- Needing more Percocet to get the same effect than it used to give.
- Becoming very defensive about Percocet use.
- Continuing to use Percocet despite experiencing very clear negative effects as a result of use, such as having issues at work (absences or problems with performance), school, and the relationships.
- Appearing drowsy, displaying slurred speech, displaying problems with motor coordination or with the reflexes, etc.
- Continuing to use Percocet in dangerous or risky situations, such as while operating machinery, caring for children, driving, etc.
- Experiencing periods of restlessness, irritability, flulike symptoms, or prolonged bouts with constipation.
Percocet Rehab Programs
There are a number of treatment options for Percocet abuse. Medical detox is necessary to withdrawal from Percocet, as it is for all cases of opiate detox. Sometimes, replacement medications, such as methadone or buprenorphine, are used for a long-term detox process.
Just going through detox will not be enough. Individuals attempting to recover from Percocet abuse or addiction need to engage themselves in a comprehensive treatment program.
The program should include some type of individual or group counseling/therapy specifically targeted at drug abuse/addiction. In addition, treatment for other co-occurring psychological issues/disorders should be available.
Choosing to go to treatment for a substance use disorder is a big step towards recovery and sobriety. If you or a loved one are ready to take that step, River Oaks might just be the right fit for you. Call our Admissions Navigators at to learn more about our facilities and our treatment approaches.