Opiate use and abuse has reached epidemic levels, especially in the case of prescription painkillers. More people than ever are either inadvertently or purposefully misusing these types of drugs and becoming addicted, finding it difficult to stop the abuse and regain control over their lives.
OxyContin is one of these prescription opiates that have been reported in the news and in studies as a popular drug of abuse. While it has medical use as a painkiller and support of anesthesia for surgery, this drug is also misused for recreational purposes. It has even been used to facilitate sexual assault, giving it a reputation as a “rape drug.”
OxyContin abuse can manifest in a number of recognizable physical and mental symptoms and effects that can help a person determine whether a loved one is dealing with a substance use disorder. These symptoms result from the way the drug affects the body and brain.
What OxyContin Does in the Body
Like other opiates, OxyContin, known generically as oxycodone, is a nervous system depressant. This means that, when it reaches the brain, it slows the neural messages that pass through the brain to the rest of the body. This results in a feeling of relaxation and wellbeing that can also result in numbness and a feeling of distance from problems and anxieties.
These drugs also affect the brain’s dopamine system, as described in the journal Science and Practice Perspectives. This is the center of pleasure and reward in the brain, creating a feeling called euphoria – a sense of bliss or extreme happiness, as explained by VeryWell. When drugs affect this brain system, the body’s natural production and use of dopamine can be disrupted, resulting in the individual developing a physical and psychological need for the drug in order to function properly. This is one of the hallmarks of drug abuse or addiction.
These physical and mental actions result in the manifestation of a number of recognizable signs and symptoms. Many of these symptoms also cause changes in behavior that can help to determine whether or not the individual is struggling with a substance use disorder or addiction and needs help.
Physical signs of OxyContin abuse are based on the slowed messages from the brain. This causes slowing of, and other disruptions in, body functions, described by Healthline, such as:
- Reduced physical pain
- Slowed heart rate
- Slowed breathing
- Changes in appetite and digestion, such as constipation
- Delayed response to stimuli
Because the main action of opiates is in the brain, there are a number of mental symptoms that also occur when a person is abusing OxyContin. These include:
- Lack of focus
- Cognitive difficulties
- Loss of inhibitions
- Inability to stop using the drug, even considering negative consequences
These mental symptoms can lead to long-term challenges if drug abuse is not stopped, as explained by the National Institute on Drug Abuse. The slowed breathing that is caused by opiate use can result in a condition called hypoxia, or a lack of oxygen to the brain. This, in turn, can cause permanent brain damage.
If a person is addicted to opiates, there are often physical symptoms that occur if drug use is stopped. Referred to as withdrawal symptoms, these often make it difficult for the individual to stay motivated to abstain from drug use, as they can result in physical and mental discomfort that is extreme enough to result in the person returning to drug use to alleviate it. The National Library of Medicine’s Medline Plus states that withdrawal symptoms can include:
- Nausea and vomiting
- Cramps and diarrhea
- Appetite changes
- Aches and pains
- Insomnia and fatigue
- Sweating and goosebumps
- Runny nose
- Cravings for the drug
These withdrawal symptoms are not likely to be fatal. However, in many cases, they can be more uncomfortable than the individual expects them to be. As a result, people who try to quit using OxyContin on their own may find it extremely difficult to avoid relapsing and returning to drug use simply to help put an end to these symptoms.
Addiction can result in behavioral changes, as defined by the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), which are used by professionals to diagnose drug use disorders. These include some of the above mental signs, as well as the presence of withdrawal symptoms. Other behavioral changes from this listing, explained by the National Institute on Drug Abuse, include:
- Inability to keep up with responsibilities
- Changes in interests, such as a lack of interest in previously enjoyed activities
- Development of conflict in relationships
- Participation in dangerous or risky activities while using drugs
- Repeated, unsuccessful attempts to stop using
- Excessive amounts of time seeking and using the drug, or recovering from its effects
- Inability to control use of the substance
While not part of the DSM-5 list of behavioral symptoms, overuse or theft of prescription oxycodone, or obtaining multiple prescriptions from different doctors and pharmacies, may also indicate that drug abuse is ongoing.
The existence of two or more of these behaviors in relation to the drug can indicate that an individual has developed a drug use disorder of some kind. Diagnosis by a psychiatric or drug abuse treatment medical professional is the next step to help the individual determine whether drug abuse treatment is indicated.
What to Do if OxyContin Abuse Is Suspected
When multiple signs and symptoms of Oxycodone abuse are present, it is important to get help from substance abuse treatment professionals. Because oxycodone addiction is a disorder based in real physical and psychological responses to the drug’s presence in the body, professional medical and psychiatric treatment is more likely to be effective in helping the individual recover.
Professional treatment organizations provide research-based techniques to help individuals learn to manage cravings and change behaviors in response to drug abuse triggers, making it possible to avoid relapsing to continued OxyContin abuse. This symptom management is achieved through a variety of treatments, including:
- Medically supported detox from the drug that minimizes withdrawal symptoms
- Behavioral therapies that teach new behaviors and responses to cravings
- Family or interpersonal therapy that provides a supportive social structure
- Support group participation that offers resources and experience in maintaining abstinence
- Motivational therapies and aftercare to maintain resolve and a positive outlook
Combined, these treatments provide a powerful basis of support for stopping drug abuse, avoiding relapse, and moving forward to a more positive life free from OxyContin abuse.