Oxycodone Addiction: Why is Oxycodone so Addictive?


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Oxycodone is an opioid medication prescribed for severe pain. But while it is an effective form of pain relief, it can lead to oxycodone addiction. 

Addiction to opioids, including prescription drugs like oxycodone, is a growing concern in the UK. Approximately half (2,219) of all drug poisoning deaths registered in 2021 involved an opioid (with heroin and morphine being the most common). 

In this article, we take a look at what oxycodone is and what exactly makes it addictive. We’ll take a look at some of the guidelines to follow when taking oxycodone, and explore some of the most common and serious oxycodone side effects. We also explore what conditions oxycodone pain relief is best used for, before comparing oxycodone with several other opioids, such as dilaudid and hydrocodone.

Oxycodone Addiction

What is Oxycodone?

Oxycodone is an opioid painkiller. Opioids cover a range of pain-relieving medications that work by interacting with the opioid receptors in the brain to produce a morphine-like effect. Good at alleviating severe pain, opioids like oxycodone are used to treat serious injuries, pain following surgical operation, or pain associated with conditions like cancer. Occasionally it is used for chronic pain in cases where other painkillers such as ibuprofen or aspirin haven’t worked. 

Because of the risk of developing an oxycodone addiction, it is only available on prescription, usually as a tablet or capsule, liquid, or, at the hospital, an injection.

What Makes Oxycodone Addictive?

Use of oxycodone, or any opioid, even for a short period of time can lead to addiction. While your personal history and duration of time spent on opioids influences the likelihood of developing an oxycodone addiction, anyone who uses the drug is at risk of addiction. 

Opioids typically relieve pain and in some people, even those taking their medication as prescribed, they can cause feelings of euphoria. 

This feeling of heightened well-being is pleasurable, but over time it takes more of medication to achieve. In this instance, some people choose to take opioids more often, or at bigger doses, to chase that feeling. As the addiction develops, instead of chasing euphoria the person may find themselves having to take more of the substance simply to avoid withdrawal symptoms

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How Addictive Is 5MG of Oxycodone?

Exposure to any amount of oxycodone, even a prescribed 5mg dose, has the potential for addiction. That is why before starting any treatment with any opioid, at any amount, the doctor should have a discussion with you about your strategy for ending the treatment to minimize the risk of addiction and drug withdrawal syndrome.

What’s the Best Time to Take Oxycodone?

Oxycodone side effects can include feeling sick, if this is your experience you may choose to take your medication with a meal or snack. 

Otherwise, you can take oxycodone at any point in the day. You should try to take it at the same time each day and ensure all doses are spaced out evenly. For example, if you have been prescribed oxycodone twice a day, you might take the first at 7 am with breakfast and the second at 7 pm following dinner. 

If you have been prescribed slow-release oxycodone, it’s very important that you swallow it whole. Do not in any way break the tablet, such as by biting or sucking it. This will inhibit the slow-release functionality and instead, the entire dose will be given at once, which could lead to an overdose. 

Is Oxycodone Hard on the Body?

Like all opioids, oxycodone can result in some physical side effects that can be hard on the body. Some of the most common oxycodone side effects can include:

  • Constipation
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Stomach pain 
  • Lethargy 
  • Dizziness
  • Vertigo
  • Confusion
  • Headaches
  • Itchiness
  • Rash

It can also include serious side effects including seizures, breathing problems, and anaphylaxis. 

As well as short-term side effects, oxycodone can also cause several long-term side effects. First of all, you can develop tolerance which means you’ll need a higher dose to achieve the same level of pain relief. And unfortunately, over time, some people who take it can end up becoming more sensitive to pain. As discussed earlier, you can also end up developing an oxycodone addiction which can lead to an overdose.

What Pain Is Oxycodone Good For?

Oxycodone is used to treat severe pain, such as the kind associated with a major injury, recovery from surgery, and cancer. It is also sometimes used to treat chronic pain, where other milder painkillers have not worked. 

What’s the Difference Between Dilaudid and Oxycodone?

Both oxycodone and dilaudid (a brand name of hydromorphone) are a form of prescription opioid medication. 

Oxycodone and Dilaudid are similar in that they can be taken as either a table or a liquid and both are available in a slow-release form. 

However, Dilaudid, and other forms of hydromorphone, are stronger than oxycodone. Because of this, some of the side effects associated with dilaudid can be more intense than those caused by oxycodone. 

Severe side effects associated with Dilaudid can include:

  • Respiratory depression
  • Hallucinations 
  • Seizures
  • Muscle spasms
  • Depression

Both drugs have the capacity for addiction and overdose, so whichever you have been prescribed it’s vital that you take it exactly as prescribed. 

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What Are Opioids?

Opioids are a class of medications that work on opioid receptors to produce morphine-like effects. They are useful at relieving severe pain, however, because of their capacity for addiction and overdose they are typically reserved for serious issues such as severe injury, post-surgery pain relief, and conditions like cancer. You can learn more about opioids by reading our in-depth article on Opioid Addiction.

What Is Hydrocodone?

Hydrocodone is one of the most common opioids available worldwide, though it is not prescribed as often in the UK. Hydrocodone is an opioid, so like oxycodone, it works on the opioid receptors in the brain to produce a morphine-like effect. 

Which Is More Addictive Oxycodone or Hydrocodone

Both drugs are powerful opioid painkillers that are available via prescription only. They both work in a similar way by stopping the body from sending pain signals to the brain. 

While the side effects experienced by both drugs are similar, oxycodone is more likely to cause dizziness, drowsiness, fatigue, and headaches, while hydrocodone is more likely to cause stomach problems and constipation. 

Hydrocodone appears more likely to cause dependency than oxycodone and it is misused more than any other opioid in the US. In the UK and across much of Europe, access to hydrocodone has been highly restricted for a number of years. 

Oxycodone Side Effects

Oxycodone comes with many potential side effects including: 

  • Constipation
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Stomach pain 
  • Lethargy 
  • Dizziness
  • Vertigo
  • Confusion
  • Headaches
  • Itchiness
  • Rash

Oxycodone can cause serious side effects including seizures, breathing problems, and anaphylaxis. 

Along with these short-term side effects, oxycodone can result in several long-term side effects. You could develop tolerance, which means that over time you’ll need more oxycodone to find the same relief. In addition, over a duration of time, some people can end up becoming more sensitive to pain. There is also the risk of developing an oxycodone addiction, which can lead to an overdose. 

Oxycodone Statistics

Oxycodone is one of the most commonly abused prescription drugs in the US. 

  • According to the United States Department of Justice, over 13 million Americans abuse Oxycodone, including some children.
  • This widespread abuse leads to around 500,000 annual emergency room visits.
  • 1.9% of 12th graders had used OxyContin (a brand name for Oxycodone) within the past year.

Disclaimer: The content of this article should not to replace the advice of a medical professional 

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