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Percocet Addiction: Signs, Symptoms, Effects, and Treatment

Percocet is the brand name for a combination medication that contains the opioid oxycodone, and a non-opioid pain reliever acetaminophen, which has fever-reducing properties and is known by the brand name Tylenol.1 Doctors prescribe Percocet to people suffering from moderate to moderately-severe pain.2 Because Percocet contains an opioid, it is known to have a high potential for misuse, and opioid misuse is a known risk factor for Percocet addiction.2

If you or someone you care about is struggling with Percocet addiction or misuse, or suspect that you might be addicted to Percocet, help is available. This article will help you understand:

  • What Percocet is.
  • Signs of Percocet addiction.
  • Percocet side effects.
  • Percocet overdose.
  • Potential withdrawal symptoms.
  • How to seek help for misuse.

What is Percocet?

Percocet is a prescription medication containing acetaminophen and the opioid drug oxycodone.1 It is used to treat acute or chronic, and moderate or moderately severe pain.3 Percocet is available in capsule, tablet, and liquid form. People who misuse Percocet can swallow the pills, grind them up and snort the powder, or mix it with liquid and inject it.

People who misuse prescription medications take the drugs in ways that they’re not originally intended to be used, such as taking someone else’s medication, taking too much of the substance, or using it to get high.2, 4

Percocet is a Schedule II substance under the Controlled Substances Act, which means that it has an accepted medical use but a high potential for misuse and dependence.1 According to the 2020 National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH), 3.2 million people aged 12 and older misused oxycodone products like Percocet in the past year, and 2.3 million people had a prescription pain reliever disorder (the NSDUH’s diagnostic term that includes Percocet addiction).5, 6

Common street names for Percocet include:7

  • Percs.
  • O.C.
  • Oxycet.
  • Oxycotton.

Is Percocet Addictive?

Yes, Percocet can be addictive. Opioid drugs like oxycodone activate the reward centers of the brain that are associated with substance misuse and addiction.8 Repeated misuse of a substance like Percocet can lead to addiction, but even people who take the medication as prescribed can have an increased risk of substance use disorder (the diagnosis for addiction).8

Opioid medications like oxycodone have properties that are similar to heroin. They activate the same areas of the brain that cause feelings of euphoria, pleasure, and reward.8 When you use opioids, the opioid and dopamine signaling parts of your brain are affected. Your brain releases high amounts of dopamine, a natural reward chemical, and the brain’s natural opioids, such as endorphins, enkephalins, and dynorphins.

An increase in these chemicals in the brain can cause feelings of euphoria, relaxation, and pain relief. As a result of the reward cycle, many individuals have an increased desire to continue misuse of Percocet .9, 10

Signs of Percocet Addiction

Percocet addiction is diagnosed as an opioid use disorder (OUD). Only a doctor or qualified mental health professional can diagnose OUD; however, the criteria doctors use to diagnose OUD from the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) may help you decide when to seek help for Percocet misuse.11

  • Using Percocet or opioids in larger quantities or more frequently than originally intended.
  • Being unable to cut back or stop using Percocet.
  • Spending a lot of time obtaining, using, and recovering from the effects of Percocet.
  • Experiencing cravings, or intense desires for the substance.
  • Failing to meet obligations at work, home, or school due to Percocet use.
  • Continuing to use the drug despite developing social or interpersonal problems that are caused or worsened by Percocet.
  • Using Percocet despite knowing that you have an ongoing physical or mental health problem that is likely due to Percocet use.
  • Giving up activities you once enjoyed in order to use Percocet.
  • Using Percocet in situations where it is physically dangerous to do so (such as while driving or operating machinery).
  • Experiencing tolerance, which means you need more of the substance to achieve previous effects of Percocet.
  • Developing withdrawal symptoms when you stop using Percocet.

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Effects of Percocet Misuse

As with other prescription opioids, misusing Percocet can be associated with a variety of short-and long-term, or potentially risky health effects.

Possible short-term effects may include:

  • Pain relief.4
  • Mental confusion.8
  • Drowsiness.4
  • Nausea.4
  • Constipation.4
  • Euphoria.4
  • Overdose.8

Possible long-term effects can include:

  • Addiction.4
  • Dependence.8
  • Overdose.4
  • Transitioning to heroin abuse.8

Potentially serious and more dangerous Percocet effects include:

  • Liver toxicity.1
  • Risk of infectious disease like HIV (if injected).4
  • Respiratory depression (slowed breathing).4
  • Overdose.8
  • Death.4

Pregnant women and other vulnerable populations like older adults can experience additional side effects of Percocet.4 Pregnant women may have a risk of:

  • Miscarriage.4
  • Low birth weight.4
  • Neonatal abstinence syndrome.4

Older adults may be at higher risk of drug interactions due to taking multiple prescriptions and having a slower drug metabolism, meaning that drugs stay in their bodies longer compared to younger populations.4

Risks of Using Percocet with Other Drugs

Polysubstance use means that a person misuses multiple substances at the same time or within a short time.12 It can be dangerous to use other substances with prescription opioids like Percocet because of the risk of adverse interactions.12

Substances that are dangerous to combine with Percocet include:

  • Other opioids or depressants like benzodiazepines and alcohol. This can increase the risk of dangerously slowed breathing and increase the risk of brain and other organ damage, overdose, and death.12
  • Stimulants, such as ecstasy (MDMA), cocaine, methamphetamines, or amphetamines (speed). This can cause unpredictable effects and increase the risk of overdose.12

Older adults who use multiple substances can have potentially higher risks.4 Their brains can be more sensitive to the effects of substances, which can be compounded by polysubstance use.13

Percocet Overdose

Percocet overdose means that a person takes too much of the substance to the point where the parts of the brain responsible for critical life functions (breathing, heart rate, and body temperature) stop functioning, which can lead to death.9

People who misuse any type of opioid can experience overdose symptoms (which are also symptoms of prescription opioid overdose).1 Symptoms can include:

  • Respiratory depression (slow shallow breathing).1, 14
  • Sleepiness.1
  • Coma.1
  • Cold sweats (cold and clammy skin).1
  • Pinpoint pupils.1, 14
  • Slowed heartbeat (bradycardia).1
  • Low blood pressure (hypotension).1
  • Choking or gurgling sounds.14
  • Pale, cold, or bluish skin.14
  • Loss of consciousness.14
  • Death.1

In 2019, approximately 38 people died each day due to overdoses that involved prescription opioids.14

Treating an Overdose of Percocet

If you suspect that you or someone else has experienced an overdose, call 9-1-1 immediately. Do not leave a person who has overdosed alone. If you’re not sure if it’s an overdose, it’s better to act as if it is, because it could save the person’s life.14

If you suspect an overdose, you should:14

  • Call 911 right away.
  • Administer naloxone if possible.
  • Keep the person awake and breathing.
  • Place them on their side to prevent choking.
  • Stay with the person until emergency personnel arrives.

Naloxone is a life-saving FDA-approved medication that can rapidly reverse an opioid overdose and restore a person’s breathing.9, 15 It comes in injectable and nasal spray forms, which can be administered by bystanders.9 Naloxone only works for 30 to 90 minutes; people who receive naloxone need immediate medical attention to ensure that they keep breathing.16

Percocet Withdrawal

People who are dependent on opioids can experience withdrawal symptoms when they stop using the substance.8 Dependence is a physiological adaptation of the body to a substance, wherein the body becomes so used to the drug being present in the system that when the individual cuts back on their use or quits, withdrawal symptoms emerge. In other words, the person feels like they need this drug to feel and function normally. With significant levels of physiological dependence, a person may continue to compulsively drink or use drugs to avoid unwanted withdrawal symptoms.23

Opioid withdrawal can be very distressing and uncomfortable, so the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) advises undergoing opioid withdrawal with medical supervision and medication to reduce uncomfortable and sometimes painful withdrawal effects that can often lead to relapse.17

Quitting opioids is not typically considered to be medically risky but it can be associated with extreme discomfort.17 People say they feel like they have a severe flu along with anxiety, digestive complaints, and low mood.18 For safety and humanitarian reasons, SAMHSA advises hospitalization or another form of 24/7 medically supervised withdrawal setting.17

Common Percocet withdrawal symptoms can include:17

  • Rapid pulse.
  • High blood pressure.
  • Elevated body temperature.
  • Insomnia.
  • Abnormally heightened reflexes.
  • Sweating.
  • Runny nose.
  • Bone and muscle pain.
  • Abdominal cramps.
  • Nausea.
  • Vomiting.
  • Diarrhea.
  • Anxiety.

The timeline for Percocet withdrawal symptoms can depend on whether you use the short- or long-acting/extended-release form of the medication.19 Withdrawal symptoms from short-acting opioids usually begin 6 to 12 hours after the last dose, peak within 1 to 3 days, and subside over 5 to 7 days.11

Withdrawal symptoms from long-acting opioids can begin 2 to 4 days after the last dose and last 3 to 6 weeks in some cases.20

Percocet Addiction Treatment

Percocet addiction treatment should be individualized to your unique needs, including medical, psychological, social, vocational, and legal needs.21

There are various types of treatment that can take place at different levels of intensity and in different settings, such as:

  • Detoxification. This is often the first step in the treatment process to help people safely and comfortably stop using opioids. People are advised to continue with some form of treatment after detox.22 You may receive medication during detox.22 Common medications for opioid withdrawal include:
    • Methadone, which reduces withdrawal symptoms and reduces cravings.18
    • Buprenorphine, which reduces withdrawal symptoms and cravings. It may have fewer side effects and a lower potential for misuse than methadone.18
    • Clonidine, which is sometimes used off-label during detox to reduce withdrawal symptoms, although it’s not FDA-approved for this purpose.17
    • Lofexidine, which is an FDA-approved, non-opioid medication that can minimize withdrawal symptoms.24