Oxycontin is a form of oxycodone, a strong medication used for around-the-clock pain. Doctors typically prescribe it post-surgery or for chronic pain. It is a narcotic, or opioid, extracted from the poppy plant or produced synthetically from substances within the poppy plant. Opioids are a class of drugs including the illegal drug, heroin, synthetic opioids such as fentanyl, and other prescription pain relievers. 1
Like all opiate drugs, oxycontin relieves pain by attaching itself to those brain neurons responsible for the natural suppression of pain.2 Prescription opioid pain relievers are generally safe when taken for a short time. Still, because they produce euphoria in addition to pain relief, they can be misused, which means they are taken in a different way or in a larger quantity than prescribed, or taken without a doctor’s prescription.
Oxycontin Abuse Disorder
The US Drug Enforcement Administration classifies oxycontin as a Schedule II substance. Schedule II substances are the most likely of any drugs with acceptable medical uses to be abused. Oxycontin is classified as Schedule II because it has a high potential for abuse, especially when taken for chronic pain over time. Oxycontin patients can become both physically and psychologically dependent on the drug and can suffer from a substance abuse disorder.3 A substance abuse disorder is a disease affecting an individual’s brain and leads to an inability to control their drug use. It now the preferred clinical term for addiction.4 As with any addiction, genetics, and environment play a role in determining which individuals are more at risk for the disorder.
Clinicians identify these symptoms of an opioid disorder:
- Feeling that you must use the drug even when it is no longer prescribed.
- Taking more of the drug to receive the same effect (tolerance).
- Continuing to use the drug despite it causing physical or psychological harm or other problems in your life.
- Exhibiting behaviors that indicate the use of the drug has become dysfunctional. These include being willing to do anything to obtain the drug, not meeting obligations or withdrawing from usual recreational opportunities because of the drug, or becoming overly secretive.
- Physical symptoms such as slurred speech, drowsiness, lack of coordination, decreased awareness of others around you, problems with attention, and memory.
- Experiencing withdrawal symptoms when you can’t obtain the drug.5
More than half of those who misuse opioids also report the following behaviors:
- obtaining the drugs for free or stealing them from friends or family members
- going to multiple doctors to obtain prescriptions
- filling prescriptions at different pharmacies6
Treatment for Oxycontin Abuse Disorder
Substance use disorders can be treated effectively, but professionals must handle treatment. Before beginning treatment, an individual will undergo a complete physical, psychological, physiological, and cognitive evaluation. The professional team will then develop a treatment plan targeted to the individual’s needs. Successful treatment typically includes a combination of detoxification, counseling, and medication. 7
The first treatment step generally is to reduce the physical dependence on Oxycontin. This process is known as detoxification or detox. During this period, doctors may prescribe drugs such as buprenorphine and methadone. Buprenorphine is a partial opioid agonist—it binds to the mu-opioid receptor, as OxyContin does, but only partially activates it. Methadone is a synthetic opioid that works similarly to buprenorphine. These drugs prevent narcotic cravings and help prevent the patient from experiencing significant withdrawal symptoms.
As the body withdraws from the drug, the doctor begins to taper the dosage gradually so that the patient is weaned entirely off opioids. This process takes longer than quitting suddenly. However, it allows the doctor to manage the patient’s withdrawal symptoms. It also allows the individual to engage with treatment, while balance is restored to their brain circuits.8 During this period, doctors will also administer any other drugs necessary for treating co-occurring conditions. Most of the time, professionals can better manage an individual’s withdrawal symptoms on an inpatient basis; occasionally, these symptoms can be managed for an outpatient.
A common misconception is that these drugs replace one addiction for another; however, this is untrue for patients being treated for opioid addiction. These drugs do not produce a high but simply prevent withdrawal symptoms and craving. Research shows that far more people could benefit from the use of medications during detoxification than receive those medications. Only certain treatment programs are able to administer these medications and then only to a specific number of patients at a time; our physicians administer this treatment in Los Angeles. Undergoing detoxification with this medical intervention, however, it is important to avoid significant issues in withdrawal. These issues can last for up to two weeks and can be unpredictable. They include:
- Runny nose and watery eyes
- Restlessness, agitation, or anxiety
- Irritability or mood disturbances
- Stomach cramps and nausea, vomiting, or diarrhea
- Muscle cramping
- Tremors or muscle twitching
- Chills and sweating
- Rapid heartbeat
- Suicidal thoughts
- Trouble sleeping
- Blurred vision
- Reduced appetite
Once an individual has undergone withdrawal, abstaining from Oxycontin becomes extremely important. During detox, your body has developed less tolerance for the drug; overdosing by taking the same amount of the drug you took before is not uncommon.
Medications can help significantly during detox, but therapy is necessary to prevent relapse. In cognitive-behavioral therapy, the client and therapist work together to determine the reasons behind the substance abuse and how the client’s belief systems and substance use interact. They then develop a plan for making the behavioral and cognitive changes necessary for recovery. One type of CBT is dialectical behavior therapy or DBT. DBT helps clients to manage stress better, improve relationships with others, and be present in the moment. It is based on the concept that the universe is composed of opposites, and change happens in the dialogue between opposites. It is used for a variety of disorders, such as depression and anxiety disorders, as well as substance abuse disorders.9
Motivational enhancement therapy is another modality. It aims to encourage individuals to make the changes necessary to avoid relapse. It begins with an interview, then helps the client develop a plan for change.10
Therapy takes place individually and in groups.
Often, a substance abuse disorder occurs alongside another mental health issue, such as anxiety disorders, bipolar disorders, or major depressive disorders. In fact, sometimes, a substance abuse disorder masks these conditions. Clinicians must treat these disorders simultaneously to treating the opioid abuse disorder to improve the long-term prognosis. This type of combined treatment is known as an integrated treatment.11
Social Support for Recovery
The support of family and friends is critical to a successful long-term recovery from an opioid abuse disorder. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) describes families as interconnected systems where a change in one part will spur changes in the other parts.12 Families, then, are included in treatment plans.
For families to be most supportive, they need to be educated about the importance of the use of medication treatment in preventing relapse. They also learn the best way to support their relative; for example, sometimes well-meaning family members actually make recovery more difficult because they are unsure what to do. The treatment program involves them from the start, so they understand how to love their family member. A good treatment program will also work with family members to help them assume new roles and help all members better communicate. In many cases, family members lost trust in the sick individual while they were misusing oxycontin, so the program helps to rebuild this trust. It also allows family members to participate in group therapy with other families undergoing similar experiences.
Peer support, such as through Narcotics Anonymous, also is important in long-term recovery. Participation in these groups is ongoing after the formal treatment program has concluded. Support groups are not considered therapy because they are facilitated by peers and not trained therapists. Some of these groups, such as Self-Management And Recovery Training (SMART), are based around the cognitive-behavioral theory. Members of SMART groups use science-based principles to help each other to solve problems associated with their opioid use disorder.13
Other Interventions for Opioid Use Disorder
All treatment plans are individualized and include other interventions as required. These interventions could include art therapy, equine therapy, referrals for vocational training, or to nonprofit organizations for volunteer opportunities. They also might include overall wellness training such as nutritional counseling, fitness education, and holistic therapy (which explores the body/mind connection).
Other Support for Recovery from Oxycontin Use Disorder
Those individuals who remain in recovery programs for the long term — at least five to seven years — are the most likely to avoid relapse. To enable them to participate in support groups and other long-term recovery solutions, they may need financial support, transportation, or recovery coaches.
You Are Not Alone If You Suffer from Opioid Use Disorder
More than 72,000 Americans died from drug overdoses in 2017. This figure includes illicit drugs and prescription opioids. The opioid crisis was declared a National Public Health Emergency on Oct. 27, 2017. Also, the American Medical Association (AMA) estimates that 3 percent to 19 percent of people who take prescription pain medications become addicted to them. An oxycontin addiction can develop after only taking it for four to eight weeks. If their pain medication is unavailable, many oxycontin patients will switch to heroin; in fact, about 45 percent of heroin addicts started with a prescription pain killer. 14
If you have developed an opioid use disorder, you are not alone. Anyone can develop a substance abuse disorder. You deserve help in recovering and returning to your normal life. If you’ve been asking yourself whether your disorder is bad enough for you to seek treatment, then it probably is.
You Can Recover from Oxycontin Use Disorder
Recovery is possible, and seeking help is a sign of strength, not weakness. Many people can make significant changes in their lives. We can help with your recovery. We provide an integrated approach.
We support scientific research that indicates that a 90-day minimum program is required for a typical brain to reset itself. Your program begins with an effective detox program that keeps you safe and comfortable during withdrawal. Then follows a residential care phase developed specifically for you. During this phase, you’ll experience group and individual therapy while also eating chef-prepared meals, experiencing massage, and using our fitness center. After residential care, you’ll begin a transitional program; if you don’t live nearby, you’ll be referred to upscale “sober” housing. After that, you will join our alumni aftercare program at no extra charge to help you continue your recovery.
Harmony Place offers treatment in the Los Angeles area. We are accredited through various organizations, including the California Department of Health Care Services and the International Employee Assistance Professionals Association. We accept most major insurances.
We provide a comfortable place to do difficult work. You can do this difficult work. Contact us at (855) 652-9048 or via confidential online chat to start your recovery journey today.
1National Institute on Drug Abuse: Opioids
2American Society of Anesthesiologists: What Are Opioids?
3US DEA: Drug Scheduling
4Mayo Clinic: Drug Addiction (Substance Use Disorder)
5Mayo Clinic: Drug Addiction (Substance Use Disorder)
6American Psychiatric Association: Opioid Use Disorder
7National Institute on Drug Abuse: How Can Prescription Drug Addiction Be Treated?
8National Institute on Drug Abuse: How Can Prescription Drug Addiction Be Treated?
9Verywell Mind: Overview of Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT)
10National Institute on Drug Abuse: Motivational Enhancement Therapy
11Behavioral Health Evolution: What Are Co-occurring Disorders?
13SMART Recovery: There’s Life Beyond Addiction
14American Psychiatric Association: Opioid Use Disorder