Last updated: 08/30/2021
Author: Hannah Sumpter, MSW
Reading Time: 5 minutes
Percocet is a combination pain reliever comprised of the semi-synthetic opioid, oxycodone, and the over-the-counter medication, acetaminophen. It is typically prescribed to manage moderate to severe pain associated with conditions, such as cancer, osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, and fibromyalgia. It is also often used to relieve postoperative pain, joint and back pain, and neuropathic pain. Like other opioids, Percocet use can cause physiological dependence, even if you take it as prescribed. That said, misusing or abusing Percocet can increase the risk of dependence. Once you are dependent on Percocet, you will experience painful and unpleasant withdrawal symptoms when you suddenly quit using it.1,2,3,4,5,6
Table of Contents
Percocet Dependence, Addiction, & Withdrawal
As an opioid, Percocet carries a risk of dependence and addiction. Dependence occurs when your body and brain have adapted to the presence of Percocet and require it to continue to function optimally. When you are dependent on Percocet, quitting will cause Percocet withdrawal symptoms to emerge. These can be distressing enough that you may return to Percocet use in order to relieve these symptoms.3
Not everyone who develops a dependence is addicted. It is possible for you to become dependent on Percocet even if you take it exactly as prescribed, especially if you’ve been taking it for chronic pain. It’s important to communicate with your doctor and let them know if you are experiencing any unwanted withdrawal symptoms if you miss a dose. When it’s time to stop taking Percocet, your doctor will create a tapering schedule in which your dose is gradually decreased over a period of time in order to avoid withdrawal.
However, if you misuse or abuse Percocet in order to get high, your risk of dependence increases significantly. Misuse of Percocet includes:
- Taking more Percocet than prescribed
- Taking Percocet more frequently than prescribed
- Mixing Percocet with other substances, such as alcohol
- Taking Percocet in a way other than prescribed (e.g. injecting or snorting)
Misusing and abusing Percocet also increases your risk of becoming addicted. All opioids have a high risk of addiction due to the pleasurable effects they produce, such as euphoria, relaxation, and pain relief. Many people begin misusing Percocet in order to get high but once the high wears off, they may take additional doses to continue the high. This pattern can develop into problematic and uncontrollable use known as a Percocet addiction. When you are addicted to Percocet, you typically have a dependence as well, although the two are not the same.7
Percocet Dependence vs. Addiction
Percocet dependence and addiction are not synonymous; just because you are dependent on Percocet does not necessarily mean you are addicted to it. But both dependence and Percocet addiction can result in withdrawal symptoms when you abruptly quit use.9
Unlike dependence, which is a natural physiological reaction to the presence of Percocet, addiction is a pattern of compulsive opioid use regardless of harmful consequences. It is this set of behaviors that sets Percocet addiction apart from dependence. However, developing a Percocet dependence can contribute to the development of an addiction because someone might engage in drug-seeking behaviors in order to avoid or alleviate withdrawal symptoms.
Percocet Withdrawal Symptoms
Percocet withdrawal symptoms emerge after the sudden discontinuation of Percocet. They may appear within six to 12 hours after you’ve stopped taking the prescription painkiller and may include:8
- Rapid, purposeless movements
- Fast heartbeat
- Heart palpitations
- Flu-like symptoms
- Increasing tearing
- Runny nose
- Muscle and joint pain
- Nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea
- Abdominal cramping
- Suicidal ideation
Percocet withdrawal symptoms are similar to those of other opioids, such as Vicodin, Oxycontin, heroin, and fentanyl. For most people, symptoms of Percocet withdrawal are not life-threatening but are extremely uncomfortable.8
Is Percocet Withdrawal Dangerous?
The withdrawal period from Percocet can be incredibly painful but is not typically life-threatening. However, there are some situations where Percocet withdrawal can be dangerous, which is why medical oversight is strongly recommended before discontinuation of the medication.8
For most people who are discontinuing the use of Percocet, outpatient detoxification appears to be a sufficient level of treatment. However, the severity of withdrawal symptoms can be dose-dependent. If you’ve had a longer duration of use at higher doses, you may experience more severe withdrawal symptoms.8
If you have taken Percocet for a sustained amount of time, your medical provider may recommend that you seek inpatient detoxification services, where you can receive continuous medical monitoring and treatment as well as opioid detox medications to ease symptoms and cravings. Additionally, people with underlying health conditions appear to be at greater risk for severe Percocet withdrawal symptoms, so inpatient medical oversight is advised.8
Percocet Detox Treatment
During the Percocet withdrawal period, medical oversight in the form of detox is encouraged. If medical oversight is chosen for your withdrawal process, you will be offered a bed in a hospital-type setting, where you will have continuous care by a medical doctor and nursing care.10
When you enter opioid detox, you will most likely receive continuous checks by the nurses to monitor your vitals, such as blood pressure, oxygen levels, and temperature. They will also check in with you regarding any Percocet withdrawal symptoms you may be experiencing, such as vomiting or pain, and will offer supportive care to help manage those symptoms.10
Two medications are commonly used to reduce the withdrawal symptoms of Percocet:11
Both of these medications have shown a high success rate for managing uncomfortable Percocet withdrawal symptoms.
Post-Acute Withdrawal Symptoms
Post-acute withdrawal symptoms (PAWS) are Percocet withdrawal symptoms that may persist for weeks or months after the acute withdrawal period has resolved. It is theorized that these protracted opioid withdrawal symptoms persist due to neurological changes caused by opioid abuse.12
Post-acute opioid withdrawal symptoms that may be experienced after detoxification include:12
- Panic or anxiety
- Percocet cravings
- Sleep disturbances
Percocet post-acute withdrawal symptoms often fluctuate and may even temporarily disappear before returning again. These protracted withdrawal symptoms also seem to be related to stress and may become more severe during stressful situations.12
If you are looking for Percocet detox or addiction treatment, call 800-926-9037 Who Answers? to speak to a rehab specialist about opioid treatment programs near you.
- Kalso, E. (2005). Oxycodone. Journal of Pain and Symptom Management. 29(5)S47-56.
- Cohen, H., & Cohen, M. R. (2000). Percocet dosing: Strength in numbers. Nurse Practitioner, 25(5), 106.
- WebMD. (n.d.) Percocet.
- Ordóñez Gallego, A., González Barón, M. & Espinosa Arranz, E. (2007). Oxycodone: a pharmacological and clinical review. Clinical and Translational Oncology 9, 298–307.
- Schmidt-Hansen, M., Bennett, M.I., Arnold, S., Bromham, N., & Hilgart, J.S. (2017). Oxycodone for cancer-related pain. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 22;8(8):CD003870.
- Anastassopoulos, K.P., Chow, W., Ackerman, S. J., Tapia, C., Benson, C., & Kim, M. S. (2011). Oxycodone-related side effects: impact on degree of bother, adherence, pain relief, satisfaction, and quality of life. Journal of Opioid Management, 7(3), 203-215.
- MayoClinic. (2018). How Opioid Addiction Occurs.
- Paul, G. (2015). Opioid overdose and withdrawal. In: Sackheim, K. (eds.) Pain Management and Palliative Care.Springer, New York, NY. Pp 45-48.
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- Weimer, M., Morford, K., & Donroe, J. (2019). Treatment of opioid use disorder in the acute hospital setting: a critical review of the literature (2014–2019). Current Addiction Reports, 6(4), 339-354.
- Kleber, H. (2007). Pharmacologic treatments for opioid dependence: detoxification and maintenance options. Dialogues in clinical neuroscience, 9(4): 455-470.
- Seminal Institute for Neuroscience and Human Behavior. (2021). Post-Acute Withdrawal Syndrome (PAWS).