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Oxycodone Withdrawal, Addiction, Side Effects, Alternatives, and Tapering

Medically Reviewed
Alternative to Meds Editorial Team
Written by Diane Ridaeus
Medically Reviewed by Dr Michael Loes MD
Oxycodone (Oxycodone hydrochloride) is an opioid analgesic narcotic medication, primarily prescribed for the treatment of moderate to severe pain. Oxycodone is categorized as a Schedule II drug due to its high risk of abuse, which may lead to psychological and/or physical dependence and addiction.

Oxycodone is a medication that has become commonly prescribed for moderate to severe pain. Oxycodone has also become a frequently abused drug sold on the street, being used “to get high” rather than to treat a medical condition.

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Oxycodone has an elevated risk for addiction, which means that when you stop taking it, significant withdrawal symptoms occur, often leading to drug cravings and repeated use. This article will discuss some of the most frequently asked questions about oxycodone, why the side effects and withdrawals can be harsh, important information about recovery after addiction to oxycodone, and many other topics.

Oxycodone is a member of the opiate drug class and, as is the case with all opioid drugs, interferes with the way that neurotransmitters perceive and respond to pain.

There are two main neurotransmitters that control pain:

  • Endorphins
  • Enkephalins1

Endorphins and enkephalinsEndorphins and enkephalins are hormones, or peptides, that the body creates which have a powerful ability to kill pain. These natural chemicals can block pain so thoroughly, that should a severe injury occur, the victim may be absent of pain given that adequate levels of these are present during such trauma. These hormones also produce something of a “high,” which can be moderately addictive. For instance, a person may become chemically addicted to the rush of strenuous exercise, or the rush of endorphins that can accompany compulsive self-harm, such as “cutting.” 4

Opiate drugs mimic these chemicals. Oxycodone was manufactured to act as a synthetic analogue to natural endorphins, in other words, to take the place of naturally produced chemicals.2

When the body is exposed to synthetic analogues, such as oxycodone or other synthetic drugs, the body responds by stopping the production of the natural chemicals. This creates a pain control deficit — a major factor in the extremely painful withdrawal symptoms that occur when quitting a drug like Oxycodone.

What Is Oxycodone Used for?

Oxycodone is used to control pain ranging from moderate to severe. Many compound drugs contain oxycodone, sometimes compounded with other analgesics, such as Vicodin and Percocet. Oxycontin is an extended release form of oxycodone. Uses for these various medications have expanded to include certain “off-label” uses, such as Fibromyalgia, and treating mental disorders such as depression and anxiety.5

veterans tbi ptsdVeterans returning from active duty are often high-risk for TBI (traumatic brain injury), chronic pain, and PTSD (post traumatic stress disorder). Despite clinical guidelines advising to the contrary, a study published by NIMH showed that veterans with chronic pain, TBI and PTSD were at a significantly higher risk of being prescribed opioids.6

Common with PTSD, patients will have been subjected to a threat, usually repetitive in nature, which acts as a continuing or repeating danger to survival. This constant threat strains the levels of endorphins and can cause a depletion of them. This is the engagement of a natural survival mechanism to increase the ability to perceive threats in the environment. This endorphin depletion may explain some of the chronic pain issues that often accompany PTSD, and also supports the caution that opioid treatment for this disorder may in fact worsen the condition, as stated by the aforementioned National Institute of Mental Health report.

Oxycodone Alternative Names and Slang

Oxycodone and drugs containing oxycodone have developed a significant street presence due to their addictive, euphoric effects. Some of the street or slang names include:

  • Hillbilly heroin
  • Blues
  • Kickers
  • Oxy
  • OC
  • Ox
  • Oxycotton
  • 40s or 80s (referring to the strength in mg)
  • Killers

Oxycodone Side Effects

Oxycodone produces pain relief and a temporary sense of joy or euphoria. These effects make the drugs high risk for abuse when used recreationally. Side effects include:

  • False or unusual joy or euphoria, mood swings, crying, despondency, irritation
  • Drug cravings
  • Dizziness, syncope, lightheaded feeling
  • Fever, chills, cold sweats, perspiration, flushing
  • Difficulty or labored breathing, tightness across the chest
  • Lowered heart rate
  • Mental fog, confusion, impaired thinking
  • Pain in abdomen, chest, painful urination, headache, muscles
  • Convulsion, shaking, trembling
  • Swollen face, lips, tongue, hands, arms, legs and feet
  • Numbness or tingling, rashes, hives, itching
  • Cough, runny nose, flu-like symptoms
  • Dry mouth, inability to swallow
  • Tachycardia
  • Nausea, vomiting, heartburn, sour stomach, hiccups
  • Constipation (can be severe requiring medical intervention)
  • Increased thirst
  • Weight loss or weight gain
  • Sunken eyes or facial features
  • Tender painful lymph glands (neck, armpit, groin)
  • Extreme fatigue, drowsiness, tiredness

Oxycodone Withdrawal Symptoms

Oxycodone withdrawal symptoms can be extremely hard to bear and are best managed in a controlled, medical facility that can provide adequate support throughout the process.

Withdrawal symptoms may begin within hours of the last dose, and can include:

  • Tachycardia
  • Suicidal thoughts
  • Diarrhea
  • Nausea, vomiting (can lead to dehydration)
  • Insomnia, unusual dreams, interrupted sleep
  • Mood swings, irritability, depression
  • Anxiety, agitation, restlessness, can be severe
  • Cognitive impairment, lack of focus
  • Profuse sweating
  • Hot or cold flushes
  • Aches in muscles, joints, bone pain, headache
  • Runny nose, cough, watering eyes
  • High blood pressure
  • Excessive yawning
  • Restless leg syndrome, uncontrolled leg movements or kicking motions

Discontinuing/Quitting Oxycodone

Since synthetic opiates shut down the body’s ability to produce natural endorphins for pain control, quitting oxycodone creates a state of deficiency in these chemicals, which results in not only physical pain but also elevated emotional distress and sensitivity. This state will last until the body can normalize its production of endorphins and enkephalins.

The pain levels, both physical and emotional, can be quite severe and very difficult to bear. It is possible and helpful to employ short-term bridge medications to ease these withdrawals when done in a clinical setting.

Oxycodone FAQs

Below are some other frequently searched for topics of information relating to oxycodone and how it works in the body and brain.

Is Oxycodone an Opioid?

Yes. Oxycodone is a drug which is synthesized from opium poppies. All drugs derived from opium are opiates or opioids. These terms are interchangeable. These are drugs which bind to the various opioid receptors in the brain and elsewhere in the body.

How Does Oxycodone Work?

Oxycodone provides a synthetic version of certain natural chemicals normally produced in the body and brain. The presence of oxycodone may signal the body to shut down its production of the pain-dampening natural chemicals called endorphins, and enkephalins. As a result, the body begins to build new pain receptors.

The body is ready-made with this rugged survival mechanism, similar to enhanced radar, so there is a heightened awareness of threats such as incoming pain signals. When the drug is withdrawn, there is a general deficit of endorphins being naturally produced but also, a magnification of pain levels due to the extra pain receptors. These extra pain receptors will atrophy after a period of time, especially with precisely targeted nutritive support, allowing the body a chance to rebalance itself.

Treatment for Oxycodone Abuse and Addiction 

Alternative to Meds Center employs protocols which can ease the withdrawals from drugs such as Oxycodone.

Understanding more about opiates and their effect on the emotional aspects of an individual can help in the recovery process, as well as the physical effects.

Regarding the former, a person with adequate levels of natural endorphins could be described as possibly having a significant ability to withstand situations which are emotionally volatile or challenging. In contrast, where natural endorphins are lacking, such a person may almost feel “too emotional”, much like a tuning fork, now open to the uncomfortable onslaught of every emotion in the room.

It is this sort of vulnerable disposition in low-endorphin individuals that can draw them toward long term opiate use, in an attempt to blanket these uncomfortable emotional sensitivities.

Quite apart from emotional pain, physical pain can take a similar grip, especially in a low endorphin person. There are various methods to counter these problems which may benefit a person who wishes to correct such neurochemical deficiencies.

For example, diet is extremely important during the withdrawal and recovery phases of treatment that can significantly alter length of recovery time and intensity of withdrawal symptoms.

natural oxycodone treatmentsIf the diet provides the necessary precursors for their corrective effects on neurochemistry, this is one factor that can aid the process considerably.

For instance, the peptides mentioned earlier, such as endorphins, are constructed from amino acids. These can be made amply available through food grade supplements as well as a diet rich in proteins from meats and dense vegetables. With our orthomolecular-based meal-planning, the needed proteins can also be derived from a vegan diet and can be provided in the program.

If desired, in addition to natural endorphin support, where needed, a short-term use of bridge medications such as Suboxone can be used to ensure the withdrawal process is as mild and tolerable as possible.

More information on the treatments at Alternative to Meds Center for inpatient opiate recovery is given in the opiate alternatives section of this website and we encourage you to become acquainted with all the information provided there. If you would like to receive more information about the program, please contact Alternative to Meds Center with any further questions about how our treatments and protocols may help you or a loved one become free from opiate dependence.

1. Carroll RG Elsevier’s Integrated Physiology Ch. 13 Endocrine System, Elsevier 2007.

2. Enkephalins Encyclopedia Britannica

3. Blum K, Noble EP, Sheridan PJ, Finley O, Montgomery A, Ritchie T, Ozkaragoz T, Fitch RJ, Sadlack F, Sheffield D, et al. Association of the A1 allele of the D2 dopamine receptor gene with severe alcoholism. Alcohol. 1991 Sep Oct; 8(5):409-16.

4. Hoyt A “Can You Be Addicted to Endorphins?” 2018 Jul 30.

5. Zagorski N “Many Prescription Opioids Go to Adults With Depression, Anxiety” Psychiatric News, 2017 Aug 17.

6. Seal KH, Bertenthal D, Barnes DE, Byers AL, Gibson CJ, Rife TL, Yaffe K “Traumatic Brain Injury and Receipt of Prescription Opioid Therapy for Chronic Pain in Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans: Do Clinical Practice Guidelines Matter?” PubMed 2018 Aug 19.

This content has been reviewed and approved by a licensed physician.

Dr. Michael Loes, M.D.


Dr. Michael Loes is board-certified in Internal Medicine, Pain Management and Addiction Medicine. He holds a dual license in Homeopathic and Integrative Medicine. He obtained his medical doctorate at the University of Minnesota, Minneapolis, MN, 1978. Dr. Loes performed an externship at the National Institute of Health for Psychopharmacology. Additionally, he is a well-published author including Arthritis: The Doctor’s Cure, The Aspirin Alternative, The Healing Response, and Spirit Driven Health: The Psalmist’s Guide for Recovery. He has been awarded the Minnesota Medical Foundation’s “Excellence in Research” Award.

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Medical Disclaimer:
Nothing on this Website is intended to be taken as medical advice. The information provided on the website is intended to encourage, not replace, direct patient-health professional relationships. Always consult with your doctor before altering your medications. Adding nutritional supplements may alter the effect of medication. Any medication changes should be done only after proper evaluation and under medical supervision.

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