OxyContin is a narcotic painkiller, which contains oxycodone as its active ingredient. This potent painkiller was originally formulated only in extended-release tablets, which contain massive amounts of oxycodone that released slowly over a 12 hour period to manage moderate to severe pain. OxyContin has been the most commonly abused painkiller since its release because of the high amounts of oxycodone it contains. Individuals frequently dissolved and injected this powerful drug, leading to an epidemic in addiction and fatal overdoses. Since the explosion of painkiller abuse and addiction in the early 2000s, OxyContin has been reformulated to decrease its abuse potential in two important ways.
- A new coating makes the pills difficult to crush and snort, whereas the original formulation could be easily crushed and turned into a fine powder.
- New OxyContin pills form a gel-like substance when an individual attempts to dissolve them in water, making it very difficult to inject.
This new formulation ordered by the FDA and DEA has decreased the occurrences of individuals injecting and snorting the drug; however, OxyContin is still a preferred drug for abusers, as they can simply take more than the recommended dose to achieve the same effects.
Why is OxyContin Addictive?
The active ingredient in OxyContin is oxycodone, which is a direct derivative of thebaine, which comes from the poppy plant. Oxycodone is one of the more potent forms of opioids on the market for pain management, and although OxyContin has been reformulated, its effects are no different, and it is still at the forefront of the painkiller addiction epidemic plaguing the United States.
The way OxyContin works in the brain is just like any other opioid or opiate. The oxycodone binds to opioid receptors in the brain which release an abnormally high amount of dopamine. This dopamine stimulates the reward center of the brain, thereby producing extreme euphoria and reinforcing repetition of the behavior. When an person takes more OxyContin, he or she develops a tolerance to the drug, which is characterized as the brain adapting the presence and effects of it. As tolerance increases, higher and more frequent doses are required to achieve the same effect. Growing tolerance is a natural occurrence with any substance, and does not necessarily imply addiction. Many individuals who suffer from chronic pain and take OxyContin as prescribed may have an extremely high tolerance, but not become addicts. So, what is the difference between someone who has a high tolerance for OxyContin, and an OxyContin addict?
Tolerance to OxyContin only means that an individual’s brain has adapted to a particular dosage of the drug, and therefore lessened its efficacy. Because of OxyContin, like all painkillers acts to dull the brain’s perception of pain, when the brain adjusts to consistent doses of the drug, its perception of pain is increased, thereby increasing the required dosage of OxyContin. So long as any increase in OxyContin dosage is approved by the prescribing doctor, and done so in a responsible manner, the drug can remain effective for management of pain without risking addiction and unmanageability.
Although increased tolerance does not mean addiction, the circumstance of an individual becoming addicted to OxyContin does involve increased tolerance.
OxyContin addiction is much more common among those who use the drug recreationally or non-medically. Contrary to many misconceptions, having a prescription for OxyContin does not necessarily mean that an individual is using it medically. Any time the purpose of taking OxyContin is to feel the euphoric effects of the drug, as opposed to legitimate analgesic needs, the use can be considered non-medical.
Non-medical use of OxyContin also does not mean addiction; however, it is much more likely to develop in individuals who use the drug non-medically, than in those who use it for legitimate medical purposes.
When OxyContin addiction develops in an individual, it is primarily psychological in the way it affects behaviors, decision-making, and motivation in life. There are some very distinct differences between an individual who uses OxyContin and one who is addicted to it, as shown in the table below:
OxyContin Use OxyContin Addiction
|Taking OxyContin carefully and as directed||Using more OxyContin than directed and using it in unintended ways|
|Carrying on with one’s day without constant preoccupation over OxyContin supply and use||Using OxyContin chronically, and to the point of which it is the central motivation for each day|
|Maintaining order over obligations and responsibilities||Neglecting obligations and responsibilities to obtain and use OxyContin|
|Understanding and properly adjusting to the risks of taking OxyContin||Engaging in unsafe activities while under the influence of OxyContin (i.e., driving and operating dangerous machinery)|
|Taking responsible measures to wean off of OxyContin or medically detox when pain has faded or lessened||Emotional use of OxyContin (i.e., taking the drug when angry, stressed, depressed, disappointed, etc.)|
OxyContin addiction has far-reaching devastation and only begins with drug-seeking and irresponsible behaviors, such as those listed above.
Effects of OxyContin Addiction
Because OxyContin is an opioid, its effects are identical to any other painkiller and heroin, and include:
- Decreased heart rate
- Shallow breathing
- Constricted (pinpoint) pupils
- Muscle weakness
- Nausea and vomiting
- Dry mouth
- Heavy limbs and eyelids
When OxyContin is the subject of addiction for an individual, he or she is at an increased risk of overdose and potentially fatal complications from taking too much OxyContin or mixing the drug with other depressant drugs like benzodiazepines, alcohol, other painkillers, and heroin. All depressant drugs are central nervous system (CNS) depressants, which have varying effects, but the most dangerous are the effects they have in common, which include:
- Shallow breathing
- Decreased heart rate
When used in any combination, two or more depressant drugs can result in respiratory failure, seizures leading to stroke, and death.
The most dangerous effect of OxyContin addiction is the behaviors associated with those who struggle with it. Because addiction is so powerful in the way in which it changes an individual’s thought processes and priorities, OxyContin can become the center of one’s life, and without it, he or she feels completely unable to function or survive. Not only do OxyContin addicts engage in dangerous behaviors regarding the amount and manner of using the drug, but the measures to which many will go to maintain their addiction is also often risky, illegal and harmful to others. Some of the things OxyContin addicts will do to ensure they have enough of their drug to get by can include, but are not limited to:
- Theft and robbery to get items to sell for money to get more OxyContin.
- Theft and forgery of prescription pads from physicians to get OxyContin from a pharmacy.
- Sexual favors or prostitution to get money or OxyContin directly from a dealer.
- Taking OxyContin from loved ones for whom it was prescribed without their knowledge or permission.
- Multiple attempts to defraud emergency room physicians with complaints of pain to get prescriptions for OxyContin.
- Use of online pharmacies, which operate overseas and are not held to any safety or verification standards.
OxyContin Withdrawal and Detox
In addition to the effects of addiction, the psychological and physical dependence OxyContin produces in users can often be enough to deter an individual from withdrawing from the drug to get sober.
Beginning with an overall malaise and frequent yawning and sneezing, OxyContin addicts can feel withdrawal coming on in as little as 4-6 hours after their last dose. Depending on the individual and the severity of his or her addiction, full withdrawal symptoms can peak from 36-72 hours after the last dose of OxyContin and can be moderate to severe, although not life-threatening. The following table lists the physical and emotional withdrawal symptoms of OxyContin.
|Physical Withdrawal Symptoms||Emotional Withdrawal Symptoms|
|Muscle Pain and Spasms||Agitation|
|Nausea and Vomiting||Depression|
|High Blood Pressure||Mood Swings|
Because the symptoms of OxyContin withdrawal can be so uncomfortable and excruciating, detoxification from this drug is often done under medical supervision where an individual can be given medication to relieve the severe symptoms and facilitate sleep throughout the process, which is typically 5-14 days. When detox is attempted without any medical supervision, it most often results in the continued use of OxyContin because the symptoms and cravings are too intense for most individuals to withstand when left to their willpower.
OxyContin Addiction Help
OxyContin is an effective painkiller, but it is also a very addictive and dangerous drug for millions of Americans who have struggled with an addiction to it. Because of addiction, by its very nature, is a progressive and fatal disease, treatment is imperative for any addicted individual to have a chance at survival and a healthy life free from addiction.
The most important decision an addict can make is the one to get help for his or her addiction to OxyContin. The second most important decision is where to get this help. Unlike addiction treatment of 30 years ago, it has been proven that one approach will not work for all addicted individuals and that recovery cannot be forced into a set period.
This is why at A Forever Recovery, we offer a variety of treatment methodologies and spiritual tracks, depending on the needs and preferences of each we help. We have a results-based program that doesn’t confine addiction treatment to a preset period, but rather assesses an individual’s progress and healing based on his or her results, no matter how long it takes. We understand the devastation of addiction, and we are dedicated to ensuring that each person who graduates from our program is truly ready to tackle the real world and has accomplished the goals and tools necessary to avoid relapse and maintain a healthy and sober life in recovery.
If you or a loved one are suffering from OxyContin addiction or any addiction, please contact us to speak with a trained counselor about how we can develop an individualized treatment program that will allow each person to determine his or her path to healing and recovery. Addiction treatment is effective, and it works, but only if it works for you. Call us now, and get on your path to health, happiness, and recovery from addiction.