OxyContin is a brand name for oxycodone — a prescription opioid pain reliever — and it is likely the most popular of all in its class among drug abusers.

What Is OxyContin?

OxyContin was first synthesized in 1916, but it didn’t make its way to America until 1939 when variants of it would show their addictive potential in decades to come. By 1970, the Controlled Substances Act was passed and included OxyContin as a Schedule II drug after it was approved in 1998.

Since then, it has been popular among prescribing physicians and those suffering from substance use disorder. OxyContin is the long-acting version of a prescription opioid pain medicine called oxycodone. More than 12 million prescriptions for oxycodone were filled in 2020 alone.

This opioid is used to treat moderate to severe chronic pain. Unlike other prescription painkillers, OxyContin is not intended for as-needed pain relief. OxyContin is a time-released version of oxycodone and can relieve pain resulting from surgery, injuries, cancer and sometimes arthritis.

Similar to morphine, oxycodone is in other prescription pain medicines, including Percocet, which is a combination of oxycodone and acetaminophen.

This time-released formula provides up to 12 hours of relief for people who suffer from chronic pain. This around-the-clock pain treatment is one of the things that sets OxyContin apart from other opioid pain relievers. As compared to OxyContin, short-acting painkillers tend to last only from three to six hours. Unfortunately, even though opioids like OxyContin are effective at treating pain, they are frequently abused.

OxyContin abuse is incredibly common. There is also great concern about OxyContin abuse and OxyContin addiction among teens and young adults.

Is OxyContin an Opiate or an Opioid?

OxyContin is an opioid because it is semi-synthetic. The terms “opiate” and “opioid” are often used interchangeably, but there is a subtle difference between the two. Opiates are naturally derived substances from the opium poppy plant, while opioids are a broader term that includes both naturally-derived opiates and synthetic opioids.

Some examples of opiates include morphine, codeine and heroin. Examples of synthetic opioids include OxyContin, fentanyl and methadone.

All opiates are opioids, but not all opioids are opiates. All opiates have the same effects on the body as opioids, but not all opioids are derived from the opium poppy plant.

Another main difference between opiates and opioids is their legality. Opiates are illegal in most countries, while opioids are available by prescription in many countries. In the U.S., most opioids are classified as Schedule II substances, meaning they have a high potential for abuse and legitimate medical use.

What Do OxyContin Pills Look Like?

OxyContin is a prescription medication that comes in many strengths and colors. The pills are small, round and marked with the dosage and the letters “OC” or “OP” on one side. The color of the pill corresponds to the dosage, as follows:

  • 10 mg: white
  • 15 mg: gray
  • 20 mg: pink
  • 30 mg: brown
  • 40 mg: yellow
  • 60 mg: red
  • 80 mg: green

Due to the rise in abuse of OxyContin, all pills are now crush-resistant. It is difficult to break the pills into smaller pieces, which makes them less appealing to people who abuse the medication.

Learn more about commonly abused opioids.

Codeine | Fentanyl | Hydrocodone | Morphine | Oxycodone | Percocet

How Is OxyContin Used?

To avoid OxyContin addiction, it’s important that patients take this opioid analgesic exactly as directed by their doctor. OxyContin, even when taken as prescribed, has a high potential for abuse and addiction, but you lower those risks by following your prescription. Patients are warned never to take more OxyContin than prescribed or to take it in ways other than how it’s intended to be used. OxyContin extended-release dosages are meant to be taken orally and shouldn’t be crushed, opened or broken.

If someone misses a dose of OxyContin, they should call their pharmacist before taking additional action.

Some potential side effects of OxyContin include: 

  • Drowsiness
  • Headaches
  • Dizziness 
  • Constipation
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Dry mouth
  • Itching

OxyContin Addiction

OxyContin abuse doesn’t necessarily indicate OxyContin addiction, but when someone abuses this controlled substance, they are more likely to become addicted. With OxyContin addiction, a person often experiences strong and uncontrollable drug cravings. Opioids alter the brain’s chemistry in a way that leads to addiction relatively quickly, which is why OxyContin abuse so often leads to OxyContin addiction.

Some signs of OxyContin addiction include changes to behavior or lifestyle, taking the drug in ways other than how it’s intended to be used and seeming tired or detached. Illegally getting OxyContin may indicate an OxyContin addiction, as can secretive behavior.

It’s also important to realize that OxyContin abuse occurs when people mix this drug with other substances to heighten the effects. For example, people may pair OxyContin with other opioids or alcohol. Not only is this dangerous, but it is an indicator of OxyContin abuse.

The high from OxyContin is often compared to heroin, and people with an OxyContin addiction can quickly develop a tolerance to the drug. When this happens, users feel they need larger amounts of the drug for the same effect, and that’s often when it becomes a lethal situation.

People who take OxyContin for legitimate reasons and follow their prescription may build up a tolerance to the drug, but it doesn’t necessarily mean they have an OxyContin addiction. For those struggling with addiction, there are many OxyContin addiction treatment centers throughout the U.S. that can help transform lives. By attending rehab for OxyContin addiction, those struggling with substance abuse can learn new habits and thought patterns for a healthier life free from substance abuse.

Signs of OxyContin Addiction

OxyContin addiction and abuse are not the same. Some people abuse drugs for short periods without becoming dependent. People in the grips of OxyContin addiction often exhibit telltale signs, such as tolerance. While they may have easily attained an extreme high on a small dose at one point, they’ll usually continue to raise that dose as tolerance grows as the body requires larger amounts of the drug to produce the same effects.

Withdrawal is highly uncomfortable, so those struggling with substance use disorder will often use the substance as soon as they start feeling any sign of withdrawal bubbling to the surface. If someone in your life abuses OxyContin and seems to continually bail on plans with friends and family members to use the drug instead, they may be hooked on the potent painkiller. Failed attempts at cutting back or quitting are also red flags of OxyContin addiction. Using OxyContin despite suffering from serious side effects such as arrests, custody issues, lost relationships or financial strain also indicates OxyContin addiction.

Side Effects of OxyContin Addiction

OxyContin addiction can cause many side effects. While some side effects may be physical and impact the body, others affect the person’s mental health. In addition, long-term risks of OxyContin and other opioids and the ever-present danger of overdose exist.

Physical Side Effects

Physical side effects are extremely common when a person takes an opioid like OxyContin, whether addicted to it or taking it as prescribed. Some of the most common effects include:

  • Needing higher doses to achieve the same effects as before
  • Withdrawal symptoms when the medication is stopped
  • Increased pain sensitivity
  • Constipation
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Dry mouth
  • Sleepiness 
  • Dizziness
  • Confusion
  • Abnormally low hormone levels
  • Itching 
  • Sweating

Psychological Side Effects

Psychological side effects of addiction to opioids like OxyContin involve mood changes like depression. Mental health problems are common in those with substance abuse issues and can include depression and anxiety. Because co-occurring mental health problems can make addiction more complicated to treat, it is recommended that a person have their mental health problem and their addiction treated concurrently.

Long-Term Side Effects

Over the long term, abuse of opioids like OxyContin can result in many changes to your body and brain. These can include:

  • Chronic constipation
  • Sleep-disordered breathing
  • Cardiovascular complications like heart attack and heart failure
  • Dizziness and sedation
  • Falls and fractures
  • Abnormal hormone levels
  • Sexual dysfunction and infertility
  • Immunosuppression

OxyContin Overdose

When people abuse OxyContin, they are at high risk of overdose. This is because OxyContin can slow down the central nervous system so much that it can lead to coma or death.

There are many signs that someone may be overdosing on OxyContin. These include:

  • Pinpoint pupils
  • Extreme drowsiness or sedation
  • Limp muscles
  • Nausea and uncontrollable vomiting
  • Skin that feels cold and clammy
  • Low blood pressure
  • Weak pulse
  • Slow, shallow breathing
  • Fingernails or lips that look blue
  • Seizures

If you see someone showing any of these signs, it is important to call 911 immediately. Overdose can be fatal, but it is treatable if caught early. 

Why Is OxyContin So Addictive?

OxyContin is addictive because of how it works in the brain. OxyContin triggers the brain’s reward system, flooding the brain with the feel-good chemical dopamine. Your brain is wired to keep seeking this pleasurable sensation, even if you know it’s bad for you. Over time, an addiction can take hold.

How Does OxyContin Get You High?

As long as OxyContin is used as directed, there is typically no “high” associated with pain relief because of its extended-release function. Users with severe pain may feel a sort of high upon initial use of the drug, but the feeling quickly fades and is generally subsumed in the pain relief. 

OxyContin can generate a high if it is abused, however. When people take OxyContin in high doses, they can experience a high marked by euphoria or a sense of overall well-being. For this high to take effect, a person would have to circumvent the time-release function by either chewing and swallowing, crushing and injecting or crushing and snorting the drug.

How Can I Tell if I’m Addicted to OxyContin?

When a person is addicted to OxyContin, they begin to show signs and symptoms. Although not everyone will show all addiction symptoms, someone addicted will often have multiple of the following symptoms assessed in our confidential OxyContin addiction quiz:

  • Used OxyContin in large doses or for longer than intended
  • Experienced cravings so strong that you couldn’t think of anything except OxyContin
  • Had problems fulfilling responsibilities at home, school or work
  • Felt guilt or remorse about your OxyContin use
  • Continued using OxyContin despite problems with loved ones
  • Had family or friends express concern about your OxyContin use
  • Found it difficult to stop using OxyContin
  • Attempted to buy OxyContin from street dealers after your prescription ran dry
  • Dealt with headaches, constipation or confusion after using OxyContin
  • Experienced withdrawal symptoms associated with OxyContin
  • Stopped communicating with friends because of OxyContin use?
  • Engaged in dangerous or reckless behaviors after taking OxyContin

Risks for OxyContin Abuse

Opioid drugs are highly addictive. Abuse of prescription variants is not safer than taking street opioids. In 2021 alone, almost 17,000 people died from a prescription opioid overdose, accounting for nearly 21% of all opioid overdose deaths that year.

Side effects that often stem from OxyContin abuse include:

  • Body aches
  • Chills
  • Muscular pain
  • Trouble sleeping
  • Panic attacks
  • Fever
  • Nausea with or without vomiting
  • Depressed mood
  • Anxiousness

How Long Does It Take To Get Addicted to OxyContin?

Depending on the person, an OxyContin addiction can take different amounts of time to develop. This is because addiction is more than just getting high from a drug or becoming physically dependent on it. Addiction is a complicated psychosocial phenomenon where a person compulsively takes OxyContin despite being aware of its harmful consequences on their life. For some people, this might mean an addiction takes hold after a few days, weeks or months. For others, an OxyContin addiction might not set in until years of use.

OxyContin Withdrawal

When people build a tolerance to OxyContin and stop taking it or reduce their dosage, their body goes through withdrawal. Withdrawal is a challenging but necessary part of the detoxification process. The first withdrawal symptoms can occur within 24 hours of the last dose. Common early withdrawal symptoms include:

  • Agitation
  • Anxiety
  • Muscle aches
  • Teary eyes
  • Insomnia
  • Runny nose
  • Sweating
  • Frequent yawning
  • Pupillary dilation
  • Restlessness
  • Hot flashes or chills
  • Increased sensitivity to pain

The severity of withdrawal symptoms can vary depending on the individual’s level of dependence on the drug. The withdrawal symptoms can be more severe for people who have been taking OxyContin for a long time or who have been taking high doses.

If you or someone you know is struggling with OxyContin addiction, please reach out for help. The experts here at The Recovery Village would be happy to speak with you to identify a plan that works best for you or your loved one. 

OxyContin Detox and Therapy

Detox is an important part of moving on from opiates; however, it should never be done without medical supervision. Some people attempt a cold turkey detox alone, which can be incredibly dangerous. In fact, Wired Magazine notes the success rate among those who try to detox alone is a mere 5%.

Some questionable treatment facilities promote a newer form of weaning off of opiates, known as rapid detox or ultra-rapid detox. Rapid detox is advertised as safe, effective and fast, but it is a controversial form of detox with substantial risk.

The process involves putting the person to sleep and administering naltrexone. Rapid detox allows the person to progress through detox without feeling withdrawal pains. After six hours to as long as two days, the person is removed from sedation and allegedly clean. However, many people who go through rapid detox relapse within six months following the process, and withdrawal symptoms are not entirely absent a day after the procedure either. In addition, deaths have been reported in recent years due to rapid detox procedures. If you’re seeking OxyContin addiction treatment, attending a reputable medical detox program is best to safely transition away from the drug.

Naloxone has shown some promise in recent years as a reversal method for side effects stemming from opioid abuse and overdose. For the more than 79,000 people who died of an opioid overdose between April 2022 and March 2023, some of those lives may have been saved had this drug been administered in time.

Methadone and buprenorphine are the most commonly recommended treatments for opioid use disorder. Patients start on a moderate and safe dose of the treatment drug, which is then slowly reduced over time. Generally, recovery is attained and held the longest when treatment is ongoing for at least one year.

Treatment for OxyContin Addiction 

The Recovery Village offers many treatment options for OxyContin addiction, including inpatient, outpatient and partial hospitalization programs. The type of program that is right for the individual will depend on their specific needs and preferences.

Recovery from OxyContin addiction is possible with the right support. The Recovery Village is committed to providing comprehensive and individualized treatment that helps people achieve long-term sobriety.

Inpatient Rehab

Inpatient rehabilitation is a highly structured, 24/7 program that provides comprehensive care for people with severe OxyContin addiction. This type of program is often recommended for individuals who must fully remove themselves from a difficult environment or have a high risk of relapse.

Inpatient rehabilitation programs typically offer a variety of services, including:

  • Medical detox
  • Individual and group therapy
  • Medication-assisted treatment (MAT)
  • Life skills training
  • Relapse prevention education
  • Family therapy 

These services help patients address their physical and psychological dependence on opioid medications, develop coping skills and build a strong support network.

Therapy and counseling are an essential part of inpatient rehabilitation. In individual therapy, patients work with a therapist to understand their addiction and develop coping skills. In group therapy, patients share their experiences with others struggling with addiction. This can help them feel less alone and to learn from others’ experiences.

Outpatient Rehab

Outpatient rehabilitation is a type of treatment for OxyContin addiction that allows people to live at home while receiving treatment. This type of treatment is often recommended after inpatient treatment or as a first step for people with less severe OxyContin addictions.

Outpatient rehabilitation typically involves attending therapy sessions and group meetings at a treatment center. These sessions can help people to understand their addiction, develop coping skills and build a support network. Outpatient rehabilitation may also include medication-assisted treatment (MAT), which can help people manage withdrawal symptoms and stay sober.

One of the benefits of outpatient rehabilitation is that it allows people to maintain their daily lives and activities. This can include going to work or school, spending time with family and friends and participating in hobbies. Outpatient rehabilitation can also be more affordable than inpatient treatment.

The Importance of Aftercare for OxyContin Addiction

The risk of relapse after recovery from opioids like OxyContin is high. Per Everyday Health, OxyContin addicts have an 85% chance of relapse following one year of sobriety. While relapse is common, it isn’t inevitable and doesn’t signify treatment failure. Relapse can often signal that the treatment plan needs to be adjusted somehow.

A strong aftercare program is essential in the fight against relapse. With high levels of support and ongoing participation in therapy and support groups, patients are best positioned to avoid relapse.At The Recovery Village, professionals can design a treatment program to help you or your loved one leave OxyContin addiction and abuse behind for good. Contact us today to learn more about treatment offerings.

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Editor – Theresa Valenzky
Theresa Valenzky graduated from the University of Akron with a Bachelor of Arts in News/Mass Media Communication and a certificate in psychology. She is passionate about providing genuine information to encourage and guide healing in all aspects of life. Read more
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Medically Reviewed By – Dr. Jessica Pyhtila, PharmD
Dr. Jessica Pyhtila is a Clinical Pharmacy Specialist based in Baltimore, Maryland with practice sites in inpatient palliative care and outpatient primary care at the Department of Veteran Affairs. Read more

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Medical Disclaimer

The Recovery Village aims to improve the quality of life for people struggling with substance use or mental health disorder with fact-based content about the nature of behavioral health conditions, treatment options and their related outcomes. We publish material that is researched, cited, edited and reviewed by licensed medical professionals. The information we provide is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It should not be used in place of the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare providers.