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Percocet combines two drugs: acetaminophen and oxycodone. Typically, Percocet is available with 325 mg of acetaminophen and differing doses of oxycodone that range from 2.5 mg to 10 mg (designations are 2.5 mg, 5 mg, 7.5 mg, and 10 mg of oxycodone).
Acetaminophen is the pain-relieving ingredient in over-the-counter medications, such as Tylenol. It is also useful in reducing fever. Oxycodone is an opiate medication that is synthesized from the poppy plant and in the same class of drugs like heroin, morphine, codeine, and so forth. Oxycodone is a Schedule II controlled substance, according to the United States Drug Enforcement Administration. This ranking indicates that it does have medicinal uses; however, it also has a very high potential for abuse and the development of physical dependence like all the drugs in the class.
The acetaminophen component of Percocet helps to enhance the pain-relieving effects of oxycodone and is not a controlled substance. Acetaminophen is typically not considered to be a potential drug of abuse because it does not produce the euphoria that is produced by opioid drugs, such as oxycodone, and it is not a drug that is associated with the development of physical dependence.
The immediate effects of using opiate drugs like Percocet are relief in the sensation of physical pain, mild feelings of sedation, and mild feelings of euphoria or wellbeing. The sedation produced by Percocet may also result in feelings of dizziness and lethargy if high doses are taken. The feelings of euphoria, wellbeing, and sedation increase as one increases the dose of Percocet. These effects are reinforcing both psychologically and physically.
Oxycodone, like other drugs in its class, attaches to the neurons in the brain known as endogenous opioid receptors. These receptors naturally have an affinity for these drugs because certain neurotransmitters in the brain that also occupy these neurons to relieve pain, stress, and exertion have similar chemical structures. Continually using narcotic medications, whether they are used for medicinal purposes or nonmedicinal purposes, will inevitably result in physical dependence because an individual’s body adjusts its normal level of functioning to compensate for levels of oxycodone or other narcotic medications in the system over time. Once this adjustment is made, if the individual stops using the drug, the levels of these drugs decrease as a result of normal metabolism, and the individual experiences severe negative physical symptoms (the withdrawal syndrome). The presence of a withdrawal syndrome naturally motivates the person to reduce withdrawal symptoms by taking the drug. Thus, individuals who chronically abused drugs like Percocet become motivated to continue using them in order to avoid ill effects even though the euphoria they initially experienced is no longer as salient.
The euphoric effects produced by Percocet often diminish over time because individuals will develop tolerance to opioid medications like oxycodone very quickly. Tolerance occurs when an individual needs more of the particular drug to experience the effects that the drug used to produce at lower doses. Tolerance to opioid medications like oxycodone develops rapidly, and individuals who abuse the drug may often be taking daily doses of the drug that would cause overdose in individuals who don’t have this built-up tolerance. Once an individual has developed both tolerance and withdrawal, they have become physically dependent on the drug. In addition, individuals who chronically abuse opioid medications experience changes in the brain that facilitate continued drug use.
Individuals who abuse Percocet and develop an opioid use disorder as a result often display a number of signs and symptoms. According to sources such as the American Psychiatric Association and the American Society of Addiction Medicine, these include:
Individuals with opioid use disorders will need to follow a relatively strict program of recovery that begins with addressing the physical dependence on the drug. After detox, the program should address the issues that drove them to their substance use disorder, stress-management techniques, and relapse prevention. Individuals will learn how to live without using drugs, how to get pleasure from life without the use of drugs, how to change many old habits, and how to make new connections that are conducive to recovery. Necessary components of recovery are outlined further below.
Treatment for an opioid use disorder, such as Percocet abuse, should be viewed as a long-term, intensive, and serious endeavor. It should also be viewed as a process that will have many ups and downs; the key is staying the course.