OxyContin is the brand name version of extended-release oxycodone, which is a strong semi-synthetic opioid. Oxycodone is a painkiller that was initially introduced for severe pain such as end-of-life cancer pain, but over recent decades the number of prescriptions written for it has increased. Many people started abusing OxyContin and oxycodone, and it’s become part of the opioid epidemic happening in the U.S. right now.

Addiction to opioids like OxyContin has led to millions of overdoses and deaths. Addictions to these drugs is gripping and difficult to escape from.

The following highlights some of the signs and symptoms of OxyContin abuse, as well as detailing OxyContin long-term effects.

What is OxyContin?

As mentioned, OxyContin is an opioid painkiller available only by prescription. It’s intended for the use of moderate to severe pain, and as opposed to many other opioids pain medicines, it’s for around-the-clock pain management.

OxyContin is an extended-release medicine, so when someone takes it as instructed, they’re not likely to get a euphoric high, but instead, they will get pain relief for up to 12 hours as the medicine is slowly released into their body.

Since OxyContin takes effect over time, the objective when it was first released was to reduce the risk of abuse. Unfortunately, that didn’t happen, and people started finding other ways to abuse the drug.

When someone takes OxyContin, they’re instructed to do so exactly as prescribed to avoid misusing the drug and to reduce the risk of addiction. Often people’s addiction to OxyContin starts even when they have a legitimate prescription.

Some of the OxyContin side effects that can occur, whether you’re taking it as prescribed or misusing the drug can include:

  • Drowsiness
  • Headache
  • Dizziness
  • Constipation
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Dry mouth
  • Mild itching

More severe OxyContin side effects that would necessitate calling a doctor include:

  • Shallow breathing
  • Slow heartbeat
  • Confusion
  • Severe drowsiness
  • Severe constipation
  • Sexual problems
  • Severe lightheadedness
  • Seizures

OxyContin Addiction

OxyContin is a Schedule II controlled substance in the U.S., meaning the use of this drug carries with it a high potential for abuse and addiction. It’s also one of the most prescribed and illegally obtained drugs in the U.S.

When you take the extended-release OxyContin, the risk of addiction is lower, but many people will take the drug in ways other than what’s prescribed. The majority of extended-release oxycodone products, including OxyContin, are only available in abuse-deterrent forms, meaning that the drug is difficult to abuse.

However, OxyContin abuse and misuse still occurs. For example, people will break the capsules or crush the tablets. They can then snort them or chew them, which takes away the extended-release component of OxyContin and instead releases the effects all at once. This creates a euphoric high. People may also crush the tablets and dissolve them in a liquid so they can inject them. The high that occurs when OxyContin is abused is often compared to that of heroin.

So how do you know if someone is addicted to OxyContin? One of the first OxyContin side effects with an addiction is a preoccupation with the drug. This can include taking it and obtaining it. People who are addicted to OxyContin will often become completely focused on finding their next dose of the drug, and they may build a tolerance and start taking higher and higher doses to achieve the desired effect. Another OxyContin sign of addiction includes mixing it with other substances such as alcohol to amplify the effects.

People who are addicted to OxyContin will often lose interest in things they were previously engaged in, including school, work, and relationships. Some of the physical side effects that come with abuse of drug and addiction include fatigue, apathy, confusion and nausea, and vomiting.

OxyContin overdoses are possible. While heart rate may be normal or low during an OxyContin overdose, the main cause of death in many cases is slow, erratic or non-existent breathing.

Someone who is dependent on OxyContin, with or without an addiction, will experience certain side effects if they stop taking the drug suddenly. OxyContin side effects stemming from withdrawal can include anxiety, restlessness, insomnia and aching muscles. OxyContin withdrawal symptoms can also seem like the flu, can include cramps and diarrhea, and in serious cases may include seizures and convulsions.

OxyContin Long-Term Effects

The short-term OxyContin side effects can be dangerous or deadly, as can the long-term effects. When someone takes OxyContin for extended periods of time, it changes the levels of chemicals in the brain, and there’s a loss of balance in brain chemistry. When you take an opioid like OxyContin, your brain releases excessive amounts of certain reward chemicals, and over time it becomes difficult for your brain to produce those chemicals on its own.

Other long-term effects of OxyContin use include a reduced threshold for pain, and people who use it for a period of time often experience anxiety and depression as a result of the effects on the brain.

People develop a tolerance to OxyContin, so they need more of it to achieve the same effects, and the longer you take the drug, the more you brain adapts to it and the more addicted you become.

There are psychological side effects often associated with OxyContin long-term use as well including delusions, hallucinations, panic attacks, and mood disorders.

It’s important for people to realize the OxyContin side effects before taking the drug, even when they’re taking it as prescribed by a doctor. There are both short-term and long-term OxyContin effects that can impact your brain and your body in a serious and significant way.

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Editor – Camille Renzoni
Cami Renzoni is a creative writer and editor for The Recovery Village. As an advocate for behavioral health, Cami is certified in mental health first aid and encourages people who face substance use disorders to ask for the help they deserve. Read more
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Medically Reviewed By – Nathan Jakowski, PharmD
Nate Jakowski is a clinical pharmacist specializing in drug information and managed care. He completed his Doctor of Pharmacy degree at the University of Wisconsin. Read more
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.