OxyContin addiction is a physical and psychological dependence on the prescription opioid painkiller oxycodone. This drug is approved to treat pain in some patients, but it is also habit-forming, causes euphoria and relaxation, is susceptible to abuse, and can cause addiction. Treatment is effective when it includes medication, residential treatment, therapy, and social support.
What Is OxyContin Addiction?
OxyContin is an opioid painkiller, one of many narcotic medications derived from the natural substances found in the opium poppy. There are several opioids prescribed to treat pain, and any of them can lead to abuse and dependence. OxyContin has played a big role in the rise in abuse of these drugs, beginning with an epidemic of abuse and addiction in some rural communities in the U.S.
As an opioid drug, OxyContin is effective at relieving pain, but it is also habit-forming and addictive. Even patients taking the drug as directed run some risk of becoming dependent, although the greatest risk is for people who abuse it.
OxyContin addiction results when someone using or abusing the drug spends a lot of time and energy on getting more of the drug and continues to abuse it even when it starts to cause problems in their lives.
Someone addicted to OxyContin may want to stop using it but experiences withdrawal symptoms and cannot stop.
Facts and Statistics
OxyContin is the brand name for a generic opioid narcotic called oxycodone. The brand name version was developed and is still made by Purdue Pharma. It comes in multiple doses and is an extended release drug, which means that it is approved to treat pain in patients who need 12 hours of constant pain management.
- OxyContin is a Schedule II controlled substance, as listed by the Drug Enforcement Administration. Schedule II drugs are dangerous and habit-forming.
- An investigation by the LA Times found that while Purdue claimed OxyContin would provide lasting pain relief for 12 hours, this proved untrue for some patients, causing them to experience withdrawal and cravings.
- That same investigation uncovered the fact that Purdue knew about the problem and that it could lead to addiction, but continued to market it for 12-hour pain relief.
- Eighty-one percent of the oxycodone in the world, brand name or generic, is prescribed in the U.S.
- The number of prescriptions for opioids like OxyContin in the U.S. went up from 76 million to over 200 million between 1991 and 2013.
- The number of overdose deaths caused by prescription opioids tripled between 1990 and 2010.
- Since 2010, abuse of prescription opioids like OxyContin has declined, while abuse of heroin has increased. This trend came after an abuse-deterrent form of OxyContin was introduced.
Symptoms and Diagnosis of OxyContin Addiction
Signs of abuse of OxyContin include taking the drug when it hasn’t been prescribed, taking more than was prescribed, or taking it more often than directed. Another sign of abuse is using OxyContin in a way that is not recommended. For instance, people who abuse the extended release drug figured out that crushing and inhaling or consuming the powder would result in getting the full dose at once and a quicker, more intense high. The introduction of the abuse-deterrent formula was designed to discourage this practice.
OxyContin addiction signs include signs of abuse as well as an intense focus and a lot of time spent on trying to get more of the drug. A person addicted to OxyContin will begin to develop a tolerance to it and seek out larger and more frequent doses. This person may try to stop using the drug but experiences withdrawal and cravings and continues to go back to it. Symptoms of abuse and addiction of OxyContin include:
- Poor coordination
- Nausea and vomiting
- Slow and shallow breathing
- Slurred speech
- Low motivation, apathy
- Changes in sleeping habits
- Not engaging in normal activities or responsibilities
Abuse of opioids like OxyContin can cause a fatal overdose. An overdose requires emergency medical treatment that includes the injection or nasal spray of naloxone, a substance that can reverse the overdose. OxyContin and other opioids can be fatal because they depress the central nervous system and can cause a person to stop breathing. Signs of an overdose include:
- Loss of consciousness and unresponsiveness
- Breathing that is slow, erratic, or completely stopped
- A slow, erratic, or stopped pulse
- Constricted pupils
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Causes and Risk Factors
The causes of addiction are being investigated by researchers, but drugs like OxyContin are known to make changes in the brain that likely result in addiction. Abnormalities in the brain have been seen in imaging scans of people addicted to opioids. These are known to be the physical or biological cause of addiction, but there are many underlying causes and risk factors that make some people more susceptible to addiction and more likely to abuse a drug like OxyContin.
The most important risk factor for developing an addiction to OxyContin is abusing the drug. Not everyone who uses this drug will develop dependence, but the risk increases with higher doses, extended use, and with abuse. Other risk factors for both abusing OxyContin and other opioids and for becoming addicted include:
- A family history of substance abuse and addiction
- Having been abused as a child
- Stress or traumatic events
- Having a prescription for OxyContin or having easy access to the drug
- Risky behaviors and an impulsive personality
- Having a mental illness
- Having an untreated mental illness
OxyContin Withdrawal and Detox
Withdrawal is what a person experiences when no longer taking a substance he or she has been abusing. The symptoms of withdrawal are uncomfortable, but they also may be painful or even dangerous. Withdrawal is a big reason so many people addicted to OxyContin and other drugs are unable to stop using. As soon as they use again, the symptoms disappear. Withdrawal from OxyContin can trigger the following withdrawal symptoms:
- Muscle pain
- Watering eyes
- Runny nose
- Excessive sweating
As withdrawal progresses or becomes more severe it can cause more uncomfortable symptoms, like stomach cramps, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, and chills. For most people, withdrawal is not life-threatening, but it is very uncomfortable and painful and makes it extremely challenging to not use again.
Withdrawal is what people with an OxyContin addiction experience as they detox, the first step in being treated. Detox is the time it takes for the drug to be eliminated from the body. It is necessary before ongoing treatment can begin, but it is tough to get through. Anyone trying to detox from OxyContin should not attempt to do it alone, and detox will be easier to manage with professional or medical supervision.
It is not uncommon for people with opioid addictive disorders to also have mental illnesses. The most common co-occurring disorders are mood disorders, like depression, and anxiety disorders. Other co-occurring disorders that are possible with OxyContin addiction are attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, eating disorders, schizophrenia, narcissistic personality disorder, and borderline personality disorder.
OxyContin Addiction Treatment and Prognosis
Detox is the first step in OxyContin addiction treatment, but it is not the only step. A person who has gone through detox will still struggle to avoid using the drug again and may have relapses. Ongoing treatment can be effective in minimizing relapses, and that treatment often includes both medication and various types of therapy.
OxyContin and opioid addiction is one type of substance dependence that can be effectively managed with medications, although it is recommended that this medical treatment be combined with therapy. Medications like buprenorphine can be used to treat the symptoms of withdrawal, which in turn can prevent someone from relapsing to get relief. Vivitrol is a drug that can be taken in pill or injection form and can prevent relapse by blocking the action of opioids in the brain.
Research shows that the use of medications along with individualized treatment and behavioral therapies can effectively treat addiction to opioids like OxyContin. There is also evidence that remaining in treatment for at least three months is necessary for a positive prognosis. If patients commit to residential treatment, work with therapists, get good social support, and use medications that are effective, they can successfully stop using OxyContin and minimize the likelihood of future relapses.
In addition to the months of active treatment for addiction, good relapse prevention should include a plan for ongoing care. This could mean making lifestyle changes like avoiding old friends, building up a strong social support system and attending support meetings, engaging in self-care and healthy habits, treating any mental illnesses, and continuing with regular outpatient treatment for addiction.
OxyContin addiction recovery rates are good when patients take treatment seriously and commit to long-term lifestyle changes. This prescription painkiller can be very dangerous, even to patients using it as directed. It should be used with caution and never misused in order to avoid dependence. If addiction does occur, comprehensive residential treatment can help.