OxyContin Addiction: Signs and Treatment

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The over-prescribing of OxyContin when it first came onto the market caused a rapid rise in use, misuse, and cases of OxyContin addiction.1

If you have an OxyContin addiction, you may have flu-like symptoms (signs of withdrawal) when attempting to quit.7 It’s important to spot the signs and symptoms of OxyContin misuse and/or OxyContin addiction and to get help immediately before further damage to your health and well-being is done.

How Addictive Is OxyContin?

According to the DEA, most prescription opioids, including OxyContin, are Schedule II controlled substances, meaning they have a high potential for misuse, dependency, and addiction.6

In 2014, a rampant opioid epidemic broke out where 10.3 million people reported using prescription opioids recreationally (non-medically), and more than 28,000 people in the U.S. died from opioid misuse, including OxyContin-related deaths.3 Astonishingly, between 2000 and 2014, the rates of death from prescription-opioid overdose nearly quadrupled.7

Currently, it’s reported that 1.6 million people suffer from an opioid-use disorder (OUD) and opiate addiction.3

OxyContin addiction can include physical and psychological dependency. Depending on your misuse history, OxyContin use may cause changes in your brain, and you may experience withdrawal with the sudden stop of use.

Side effects of OxyContin misuse may include:

  • Tolerance—the need to take more of the medication for the same pain relief
  • Physical dependence—symptoms of withdrawal when the medication is stopped
  • Increased sensitivity to pain
  • Constipation
  • Nausea, vomiting, and dry mouth
  • Sleepiness and dizziness
  • Confusion
  • Depression
  • Low levels of testosterone that can result in lower sex drive, energy, and strength
  • Itching and sweating

A classic sign of drug abuse is secrecy if you hide the amount and frequency of use. It’s not uncommon to misuse opiates to obtain multiple prescriptions at one time; you will usually take more than prescribed or run out of the prescription before the refill date.

Physiological Effects of OxyContin Addiction

Certain brain processes occur when you ingest opioids, like OxyContin, which may result in dependency or addiction.

OxyContin addiction is common, partly because the drug stimulates the release of dopamine in your body, which can lead to dependency. Additionally, if you suddenly stop using OxyContin, unpleasant side effects may occur, so, it’s normal to simply want to continue using the drug.8

Physical signs and symptoms of OxyContin addiction and/or misuse include:7

  • Muscle aches
  • Fever
  • Sweating
  • Chills
  • Constipation and/or diarrhea

Mental and emotional signs and symptoms of OxyContin addiction and/or misuse include:7

  • Negative consequences in a person’s life and health
  • Lack of interest in social activities
  • Depression and suicidal thoughts
  • Preoccupation with taking the drug
  • Financial hardship and stress

Prolonged use of OxyContin may lead to chronic changes in your brain that constitute a full-fledged OxyContin addiction. If this happens, you will have difficulty experiencing pleasure without taking OxyContin, and the vicious cycle of addiction takes over.

Neurological effects of opioids, such as OxyContin include:10

  • Tolerance: characterized by the need to take more of the drug to achieve the same opioid effect
  • Drug dependence: characterized by susceptibility to withdrawal
  • Addiction: characterized by prolonged, habitual use of opioids leading to changes in the brain and adverse life consequences

How to Know if You Are Addicted to OxyContin

There’s a fine line between drug dependency, OxyContin abuse, and OxyContin addiction. You may start with minor misuse and end up addicted. Or you may have been prescribed OxyContin for pain associated with an injury, take the medication for the length of time necessary, and then stop taking the drug without any issues.

However, because cravings for opioids can be so intense, withdrawal may occur when you attempt to stop using OxyContin abruptly, which prompts you to keep using. Withdrawal and the inability to stop using the drug are warning signs that you may be addicted to OxyContin.

OxyContin withdrawal symptoms may include:13

  • Anxiety
  • Restlessness
  • Muscle aches or twitching
  • Abdominal cramps
  • Diarrhea
  • Nausea
  • A runny nose
  • Fever
  • Sweating
  • Hot/cold flashes
  • Yawning
  • Shaking
  • Vomiting
  • Insomnia

OxyContin Overdose

Often people stop using OxyContin or other opioids and then relapse, thinking they can handle what they once did by taking too much, resulting in OxyContin overdose. Opioid overdose is life-threatening and may result in death.

Call 911 immediately if you see someone displaying any of the following signs of an OxyContin overdose:13

  • An extremely pale face that feels clammy to the touch.
  • Limp body.
  • Purple or blue fingernails or lips.
  • Vomiting or gurgling noises.
  • Inability to be awakened or to speak.
  • Slowed or stopped breathing or heartbeat.

Long-Term Dangers of OxyContin Addiction and Misuse

Chronic OxyContin misuse causes complex physiological and neurological problems, also called “neuro-adaptations.”10 These changes are simply the body’s way of adjusting to or compensating for the effects of drugs.

Eventually, and with repeated use, you will need more and more OxyContin to get the same drug-induced effects, also known as tolerance. You will begin to want more and more of the same pleasure-producing effects, which results in dependency or OxyContin addiction.

Long-term OxyContin use may lead to:11

  • Health problems
  • Financial problems
  • Social and behavioral problems
  • Emotional and mental problems
  • Misuse of other, stronger opiates
  • Overdose or death

Research shows that people often start with oral use (pills) of opiates and then move to stronger forms such as heroin, fentanyl, or morphine, as tolerance increases and more potent methods are needed to achieve the same level of euphoria.7,9,11

You can mitigate the dangers of falling into this trap by getting help immediately.

OxyContin Addiction Treatment Options

OxyContin addiction is a serious health issue, and relapse rates are high. Formal addiction treatment can help address the underlying issues driving substance abuse and addiction to detox safely and promote long-term recovery.

Finding the right treatment early on could make or break your future. Luckily, with so many treatment options available, recovery is absolutely possible.

Drug treatment options include:14

Many treatment options exist, but it’s a matter of finding the right fit for you and your specific situation. If you or someone you love is addicted to OxyContin, call our helpline at 800-681-1058 (Info iconWho Answers?) and speak with one of our caring specialists who can help you find the appropriate treatment.

What is OxyContin?

OxyContin is part of the opioid family and is a sustained-release form of oxycodone used to manage moderate to severe pain. OxyContin was introduced in 1996 and heavily marketed and promoted during an era where opioid use for pain management was on the rise.

A surge in the use of opioids in pain treatment resulted in increased prescribing and OxyContin misuse. By 2003, almost half of all physicians prescribing OxyContin were primary care physicians.1 OxyContin misuse and OxyContin addiction were growing at alarming rates.

According to the National Institutes of Health, “Chronic pain is a major public health problem, which is estimated to affect more than 100 million people in the United States and about 20–30% of the population worldwide.”2 Physicians generally prescribe opioids to treat pain or injuries. If you do not take prescription opiates as directed by your physician, you may potentially misuse them.

Commonly misused prescription opioids include:3

Research suggests long-term use of opioids like OxyContin can actually produce a chronic pain state where you become stuck in a dangerous cycle of using pain meds to treat pain caused by prolonged opioid use.2

OxyContin vs. Oxycodone

Oxycodone and OxyContin are listed by the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) as Schedule II controlled substances and contain the same active ingredient: the narcotic oxycodone.5

The main difference between OxyContin versus oxycodone is how each tablet releases the medication. OxyContin is a sustained-release medication, releasing oxycodone continuously throughout the day. Essentially, OxyContin is a time-release version of oxycodone.4

Because OxyContin is slowly released in the body and contains higher concentrations of oxycodone than other time-released opioids, lower OxyContin dosages are required.

However, if you choose other routes of OxyContin intake, like snorting or injecting the drug, you may experience heightened effects of euphoria. This is a slippery slope and may lead you down the path of OxyContin misuse or a full-blown OxyContin addiction.

Commonalities of OxyContin and oxycodone include:5

  • Narcotic prescription opioid medications
  • Stimulate feelings of euphoria and relaxation
  • Reduce subjective experiences of pain
  • Used to treat moderate to severe pain and injuries
  • Cause increased sedation.
  • Can be taken as a capsule, liquid, or tablet
  • Can be swallowed, snorted, or injected


  1. Van Zee, A. (2009, February). The promotion and marketing of oxycontin: Commercial triumph, public health tragedy.
  2. National Institutes of Health. (2020, June 05). The role of opioids in the treatment of chronic pain.
  3. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. (n.d.). Help and Resources: National Opioids Crisis.
  4. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. (n.d.). Opioid overdose.
  5. National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2021, February 18). Commonly used drugs charts.
  6. U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency. (n.d.). Drug scheduling.
  7. National Institute on Drug Abuse. (n.d.). Mind matters: The body’s response to opioids.
  8. National Institute on Drug Abuse. (n.d.). Mind matters: The body’s response to opioids.
  9. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. (n.d.). Opioid overdose.
  10. Compton, W., Jones, C., & Baldwin, G. (2016, January 14). Relationship between nonmedical prescription-opioid use and heroin use. New England Journal of Medicine, 374(2), 154-163.
  11. Kosten, T., & George, T. (2002, July). The neurobiology of opioid dependence: Implications for treatment. Addiction Science and Clinical Practice, 1(1): 13-20.
  12. Wesson, D. (2003). The clinical opiate withdrawal scale (COWS). The Journal of Psychoactive Drugs, 35(2): 253-259.
  13. National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2020, June 03). Types of treatment programs.
Dr. Anjali Talcherkar Headshot
Dr. Anjali Talcherkar, PhD, MA
Author & Adjunct Professor
Dr. Anjali Talcherkar holds a PhD in Integrative Medicine from Saybrook University and an MA in Psychology from Antioch University Los Angeles. Dr. Anjali's focus is in the area of Complementary & Alternative Medicine (CAM) in addiction treatment. Her versatility emanates from 7+ years of experience working in evidence-based treatment programs and facilitating various recovery mod