Medical professionals prescribe OxyContin as a last-ditch effort to manage difficult chronic pain. Also called Oxy, it’s made from oxycodone. That’s a strong opioid that can be taken up to twice a day to manage pain. Unlike other opiates/opioids such as heroin, morphine, or fentanyl, it’s designed for a slower release. That means a longer, less intense effect. This makes OxyContin Withdrawal Symptoms different from other opioids.
OxyContin is a drug owned by Purdue Pharmaceuticals. It was designed for people with pain from degenerative diseases, terrible injuries, or cancer. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has clarified that doctors should only prescribe Oxy in extreme cases. That’s because OxyContinin is addictive. And even then, a patient must be closely monitored to reduce the risk of abuse.
But there was a period of time from the late 1990s to the mid-2010s when Oxycontin was believed to be “much less addictive.” In 2003, Purdue Pharmaceuticals got a warning letter from the FDA regarding their statements.1
In more recent years, they’ve been sued for billions of dollars related to their part in the Opioid Crisis.
During this time, doctors prescribed it more freely. And as a result, many people developed a dependence on the drug beyond their need to treat chronic pain. They continue to despite the increased restrictions.
OxyContin Dosing and Benefits
OxyContin doses may vary from 10mg to 80mg. Medical professionals favor lower doses, except in extreme situations. The extended-release is a lifeline for many chronic pain sufferers who would otherwise have to take pain killers constantly.
OxyContin Vs. Percocet or Vicodin
Percocet and Vicodin do not extend the release over 12 hours as OxyContin does. So those who use them experience a much more intense experience. Because of this, Percocet and Vicodin are more often abused. But some people do prefer the extended-release of OxyContin and abuse it as well.
How Do People Use OxyContin?
They may take it in very high doses to experience a more euphoric sensation like other opioids. Others believe they have found a secret to canceling out the extended-release to feel the full effects in a shorter time.
People abuse it. And they can become addicted to it. They can get to the point where they feel they must have it to function even if the pain for which they were receiving it would otherwise be gone. Those who are in recovery or have struggled with addiction should usually not take OxyContin or other opioids.
Those who abuse OxyContin have a high risk of overdose or death. They may take more after the initial high wears off but before 12 hours, significantly overloading their system. Worse yet, people develop tolerance within a short time, so they need more of it to experience the same sensations. OxyContin withdrawal symptoms come on more quickly and intensely with higher doses.
Even people who use OxyContin as prescribed can build up a tolerance. That means that over time even someone who is trying to be responsible may feel they need more to stop the pain. This does not necessarily mean they are addicted to Oxy. But they don’t want to feel the pain, so they may begin using more than directed. They will experience withdrawal.
The Two Phases of OxyContin Withdrawal Symptoms
OxyContin withdrawal symptoms come in 2 phases. The acute (most severe) symptoms of OxyContin withdrawal may last up to 2 weeks. With other opioids, it’s usually 4-7 days. The extended-release nature of Oxy can explain the difference.
Short-term Symptoms of Oxy Withdrawal
Short-term OxyContin withdrawal symptoms include:
- Anxiety, irritation, restlessness, and other mood changes
- Insomnia and other sleep disturbances
- Muscle aches, cramps
- Uncontrollable yawning
- Runny nose, sweating, chills, stuffy sinuses, fever
- Intense cravings
Long-term Symptoms of Oxy Withdrawal
Long-term OxyContin withdrawal symptoms include:
- Intense abdominal cramps
- Lack of desire to eat
- Dilated pupils/sensitivity to light
- Shivering / Goosebumps
- Racing heart
- High blood pressure
- Blurry vision
OxyContin Withdrawal Timeline
Everyone is unique. But here’s what a typical timeline for Oxy withdrawal might look like.
- 4-8 hours after the last pill – Those who use a lot, use frequently, or depend on more than one substance may begin feeling withdrawal in this short time.
- 12-24 Hours – Oxy is still in the system, so some people may still have no symptoms until 12-24 hours.
- Day 1 after symptoms begin – A person starts to feel like they’re “coming down with something.” The symptoms intensify into a flu-like condition.
- Day 2 – 3 days– The other early signs of withdrawal occur.
- 4 days to 2 weeks – Long-term symptoms kick in and continue. During this time, symptoms may occur unexpectedly. They subside for a little while, then come back in waves. This is a potentially dangerous time. Unexpected symptoms could put a person at risk if they think the withdrawal is over after the intense short term signs stop.
Withdrawal can continue past two weeks. Some people experience severe mental withdrawal symptoms like agitation and anxiety for months.
What Determines the Withdrawal Timeline?
The withdrawal timeline for Oxy depends on these factors:
- How long they’ve been using it
- Whether they have found ways to bypass the extended-release
- Work, home, and life stressors that complicate the withdrawal
- Biological factors. Some people may just be more likely to experience longer withdrawals.
What Causes OxyContin Withdrawal Symptom?
Dopamine is a natural neurotransmitter that the brain’s limbic system produces to communicate from nerve to nerve. In small amounts, dopamine acts as a natural reward. When something good happens unexpectedly, the brain produces a little. This causes a person to feel happy, delighted, proud of something, or a similar positive feeling. Dopamine is also a natural pain reliever. It lowers the heart rate, breathing rate, and anxiety levels.2
OxyContin increases the amount of dopamine the brain produces slightly for up to 12 hours when used as prescribed. It can significantly increase dopamine when not taken as directed. The brain is not intended to live with this amount of dopamine in the system. So it adapts all of its functions to account for the OxyContin being there.
Eventually, a person only feels “normal” when they take OxyContin.
When a person goes into detox, they suddenly remove the drug from their system. But the brain no longer knows how to function without it. This causes these symptoms. Because the limbic system helps regulate emotions, even after withdrawal is officially over, a person may struggle to manage impulses and emotions for as long as a year.
But the brain does heal. This can be seen on brain scans. They show that the limbic system does heal itself. It does begin responding normally to dopamine again after an extended period of sobriety.3
Is OxyContin Withdrawal Life-Threatening?
Oxy withdrawal is miserable. But unlike some other drugs like alcohol and cocaine, it’s not usually life-threatening. Those who are detoxing from cocaine or alcohol at the same time should definitely consider the risks of serious and even deadly symptoms. They should plan for them and strongly consider medical detox.
Medical detox is also recommended for opioid withdrawal, but not because it’s deadly. It’s because it’s nearly impossible not to give in to the cravings. Those having OxyContin withdrawal symptoms experience incredible mental and physical discomfort. They know that taking a pill will stop the pain. So it takes more than rock-solid willpower to withstand that.
How Does Medical Detox Support the Process?
In medical detox, a person has 24/7 care and support from professionals. These medical and mental health professionals can monitor the process to ensure a person is safe. They can also provide a level of moral support through it all, explaining what they expect and reassuring the person this will not last forever.
Very importantly, they make sure that a person cannot give in to their cravings. If they did, they would have to go through it all over again.
After the initial detox period, a person continues to detox in a residential treatment center for a period of time. Removed from the stresses of their home environment, a person can focus on themselves and what they need to do to heal. Addiction professionals guide this very personal process.
Nutrition and exercise help the body heal. Mindfulness and Trauma-informed care can begin to heal the soul. Developing powerful mental tools to manage stress, relationships, and addiction help restore the mind.
How Medications Can Ease Withdrawal
Fear of enduring withdrawal may prevent some people from choosing detox and addiction treatment.
Medication-assisted treatment (MAT) can help them overcome this barrier.
As an alternative to the “Cold Turkey” approach, doctors may prescribe methadone or buprenorphine. These two make the brain think it’s still getting the OxyContin to some extent. This reduces withdrawal symptoms and cravings. While in a medication-assisted program, the person will complete a treatment program. They will learn to manage their cravings, emotions, and life without opioids.
As they regain their emotional strength and heal wholely, their doctor slowly lowers the dose until they no longer need medication to manage the symptoms.
The medication clonidine is another alternative for those who choose the cold turkey approach. It can ease some of the flu-like symptoms as well as the mental ones.4
Additionally, some people may also have a mental health condition like General Anxiety or Depression. These individuals may need mental health medications to support recovery. When a person suffers from addiction and a mental health disorder, those conditions need to be treated together to prevent relapse. This is called dual-diagnosis treatment.
Naloxone is more commonly used to treat a person who is having an overdose. It blocks some of the impact of the opioid on the brain, but only for a short time. This gives emergency response time to get a person to the emergency room.5
However, researchers are currently exploring whether it can be used for medication-assisted treatment. It is not yet approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for that use, so that may be a few years down the road.
OxyContin treatment is provided in a continuum of care to meet an individual’s unique needs as they progress and heal. That continuum may include
- Medical Detox
- Residential Treatment
- Partial Hospitalization
- Intensive Outpatient
- Aftercare, Relapse Prevention, and Alumni Programs
Medication-Assisted Treatment, Dual Diagnosis Care, Chronic Pain Management, and Transitional Housing may be a part of various care levels.
As a person becomes stronger and more able to manage their addiction without constant care, they graduate to the next level.
How Harmony Place Provides OxyContin Treatment
Harmony Place takes an integrative approach to addiction. We focus on the individual and support you through the healing of body, mind, and soul. We recognize the power of emotions to intensify cravings and addiction. We work to help you heal emotional trauma and learn to live constructively with those emotions.
We focus on nutrition and exercise because we believe a healthy body can better manage stress and life.
Other healing methods include:
- Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT)
- Dialectical behavioral therapy (DBT)
- 12 Step program
- Energy healing
- Art therapy
Addiction recovery is a very personal experience. It’s a journey that will last a lifetime. We encourage you to explore your treatment options at Harmony Place and get on the path to wellness in recovery.
1Food And Drug Administration (2020). Timeline of Selected FDA Activities and Significant Events Addressing Opioid Misuse and Abuse
2National Public Radio (2016). The Way Opioid Hijack the Brain
3National Institute of Drug Abuse (2020). Drugs, Brains, and Behavior: The Science of Addiction
Treatment and Recovery
4National Institute of Health (1982). Clonidine Therapy for Narcotic Withdrawal
5Food And Drug Administration (2020) Continued Efforts to Improve Naloxone Availability