OxyContin is a powerful pain reliever containing oxycodone, an opioid analgesic that works by altering the way the central nervous system responds to pain. Like many opioids, OxyContin is highly addictive. According to the American Academy of Neurology, researchers have found that 50 percent of people who take opioids for more than three months are still using them five years later.
Harvard Health Publications reports that individuals most likely to develop an addiction to OxyContin are those who have a history of alcoholism or past drug abuse, and Monitoring the Future found that more than 21 percent of high school seniors have abused prescription drugs at some point:
OxyContin addiction is a very real problem that can have serious negative consequences, but there are ways to treat it. The first step on the road to recovery is entering a medical detox program and undergoing withdrawal. Once individuals have stabilized, they can then enter treatment and gain the tools they need to lead a life without the compulsive desire to take oxycodone anymore.
General Withdrawal Timeline
Withdrawal symptoms vary among individuals depending on a variety of factors. These factors include:
- The extent of the person’s tolerance on oxycodone
- The person’s overall health before entering the medical detox phase
- The person’s willingness to commit to maintaining health during detox by eating well and exercising gently when possible
- The general extent of the person’s addiction
- The medication that the person takes in order to ease withdrawal symptoms
For most people, it takes the body about one week to flush oxycodone out of its system. During that time, people experience the worst of the physical withdrawal symptoms.
A general OxyContin withdrawal timeline looks like this:
- Days 1-2: The first two days of withdrawal are the hardest for many people, and they also happen to be when most relapses occur. Symptoms can arise within a few hours of the last dose. The most common initial symptoms are muscle pain, aching joints, nausea, diarrhea, loss of appetite, trouble sleeping, anxiety, and excessive sweating. Because individuals have essentially been numbing their muscles with oxycodone for so long, the initial pain they experience can be excruciating.
- Days 3-5: Symptoms continue, and by day five, the worst of the physical symptoms have usually passed, though some may still linger. Nausea and vomiting are often still present, and aching muscles are common. People may also experience cramps and tremors around this time. It may be difficult to keep food down at this stage, but it is important that individuals eat what they can in order to regain their strength.
- Days 6-7: By day six, most of the physical symptoms of withdrawal have subsided, but anxiety and nausea may remain. Once the person is no longer focusing on the physical symptoms of withdrawal, they may start to recognize the psychological ones that have arisen. Common psychological symptoms at this stage include depression and anxiety.
- Day 8 and beyond: Once the body has adjusted to life without a steady supply of oxycodone, it is time to address the psychological symptoms that the addiction has left in its wake. By day eight, many people being to feel remorse for the consequences of their OxyContin addiction, and it is important to get into therapy immediately in order to prevent relapse.
The Benefits of Opioid Replacement Therapy
Because OxyContin addiction changes the circuitry of the brain, it can be incredibly painful and even dangerous to quit taking the drug cold turkey. According to a review originally published in Expert Opinion on Pharmacotherapy, there are a variety of drugs that people can take to help their bodies adjust to life without oxycodone. These include:
- Agonist medications for opioid dependence, like methadone and LAAM
- Partial agonist medications for opioid dependence, like buprenorphine
- Agonist medications for opioid detoxification, like clonidine and lofexidine
- Antagonist medications for opioid dependence, like naltrexone
In opioid replacement therapy, individuals replace the opioid that they were abusing with another opioid that is longer-acting but does not promote the same feelings of euphoria as their drug of choice. Opioid replacement therapy is not simply replacing one addiction with another because the effects are not nearly as strong, and patients take the new medication under a doctor’s supervision. Once they have reached a certain point in their recovery, they can taper off that drug as well.
According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), methadone can minimize withdrawal symptoms and relieve cravings by acting on the same parts of the brain that oxycodone does. Buprenorphine is also effective at reducing cravings for users who have stopped using OxyContin, and clonidine can ease anxiety and general restlessness during withdrawal.
Undergoing treatment for an addiction to OxyContin is sometimes hard, but opioid replacement therapy makes it far more manageable for many people. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, oxycodone is one of the most common drugs involved in fatal prescription opioid overdoses. If a loved one shows signs of an addiction to OxyContin, family and friends should encourage treatment as soon as possible.
Potential Complications of OxyContin Withdrawal
Abusing OxyContin is dangerous, but so is trying to quit without any help, especially if the individual has been abusing oxycodone for more than one month. During medical detox, client are monitored 24/7, and they have immediate access to quality healthcare in case they experience any physical complications while going through withdrawal. For example, patients may get severely dehydrated due to vomiting and diarrhea. Other withdrawal symptoms that pose serious risk of complications include violent tremors, hallucinations, and suicidal thoughts. The most common complication of withdrawal is relapse, which merely prolongs the addiction, giving it more time to wreak havoc in all aspects of the individual’s life. In addition, overdose is always a risk with relapse.
Clients in medical detox do not have access to OxyContin, so they cannot relapse during that time, which is one of its greatest benefits. Though going through oxycodone withdrawal is rarely life-threatening, it can be painful and unsettling to attempt to do so alone. Not only does medical detox shorten the withdrawal timeline, but it also places clients in a safe, supportive environment, where they have the freedom to confront their addiction without having to worry about the outside world.
According to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health, 1.9 million Americans met the criteria for a prescription painkiller use disorder in 2014. That statistic can feel frightening, but it also highlights the fact that individuals who are battling an addiction to OxyContin are not alone. In fact, group therapy can be incredibly beneficial for clients in treatment. The American Psychological Association discusses a review of 40 studies originally published in the International Journal of Group Psychotherapy that found the most effective groups are those with a common identity, like opiate addiction, and a common shared purpose, like staying sober.
In addition to group therapy, clients will also undergo individual therapy in treatment once their health has stabilized. There are a variety of treatment options, including residential programs and intensive outpatient programs, that individuals can enter following withdrawal. Different approaches work for different individuals, and clients can select the program that best fits their particular situation and lifestyle.Undergoing OxyContin withdrawal may not be easy, but with the right approach, its symptoms are manageable, and it brings people one step closer to sobriety.