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 Effects of Percocet
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.
Signs of an Opioid Use Disorder
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:
- The person experiences significant cravings to use Percocet.
- The person obtains Percocet illegally, or if they have a prescription for Percocet, they use the drug in manners not consistent with their prescription (e.g., taking more than a prescription instructs, grinding up the pills and snorting or injecting the powder, etc.). Some individuals may try and get multiple prescriptions from multiple physicians in order to fuel their opioid use disorder.
- Individuals often mix Percocet with other drugs of abuse, such as alcohol, other painkillers, benzodiazepines, and even stimulant medications, such as cocaine or Ritalin. This is a sure sign of abuse.
- The person spends a significant amount of time trying to get Percocet, using Percocet, or recovering from its use.
- The person continues to use Percocet in spite of the development of obvious negative impacts as a result of their Percocet use, such as issues at work, problems in personal relationships, troubles at school, issues with the legal system, financial problems, etc.
- The individual’s use of Percocet often results in them failing to fulfill major life obligations.
- The individual often uses Percocet in situations where it is dangerous to do so.
- The individual often uses more Percocet than they had originally intended to use, or they use it for longer periods of time than they had originally intended when they began taking the drug.
- The individual demonstrates clear signs of both tolerance and withdrawal.
- Empty prescription bottles for Percocet are often found in the individual’s clothing, room, car, etc.
- The person often attends important functions under the influence of Percocet and/or other drugs.
- Individuals with opioid use disorders often become moody and may isolate themselves from family members and close friends. They may become easily agitated or irritated over seemingly trivial matters. This type of emotional lability is often a sign that the individual needs to get involved in some type of professional recovery program.
- Individuals with substance use disorders often become very defensive or angry when others discuss their substance use with them. This is sometimes considered to be a sign of “denial”; however, it is a common defense mechanism used by individuals who do not wish to realistically face certain issues.
Treatment Options for Opioid Use Disorders
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.
- Individuals should get involved in a professional withdrawal management program. Because individuals who chronically abused drugs like Percocet will inevitably have developed physical dependence, the first step is to navigate the withdrawal process without relapsing and without any potential dangers. A professional withdrawal management program should be supervised by an addiction medicine physician who can use opioid replacement drugs and other medicines to reduce the symptoms of withdrawal and help the individual negotiate the withdrawal process without relapse.
- During the withdrawal management program, the individual will get involved in some form of counseling or therapy. This should continue after the withdrawal management program has been completed. Individuals who just go through withdrawal management and do not continue in recovery are highly prone to relapse. Individuals who continue in treatment following withdrawal management relapse at much lower rates. The therapy portion of treatment should allow the individual to address any co-occurring psychological issues or disorders, learn recovery skills, develop a program relapse prevention, and develop skills for stress management. In addition, many individuals will need to continue the use of certain medications for other psychological disorders and/or medical problems. These medications should be administered and supervised by a psychiatrist or other physician.
- It is important for individuals in recovery to address any family problems. The families of individuals in recovery can also get involved in the individual’s treatment through group therapy, family therapy, and social support groups comprised of family members of recovering individuals.
- Individuals in recovery should develop a social support group that consists of family members and other recovering individuals. These people can motivate them and provide a safe space to talk about issues during times of need. Some of the best social support groups to meet these needs are 12-Step groups, although alternatives are also available.
- Individuals in recovery should also attempt to make positive changes in their lives in terms of education, occupation, and hobbies. Other types of therapists and facilitators, such as vocational rehab specialists, case managers, occupational therapists, nutritionists, etc., can assist here.
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.