Percocet Abuse

Medically reviewed by:
Dr. Conor Sheehy, PharmD., BCPS

Understanding Percocet Abuse

Percocet is one of the many brand names for a combination painkiller containing acetaminophen and oxycodone. Due to the euphoric high that can be caused by the opioid oxycodone, Percocet abuse is fairly common.

While many patients safely take Percocet and similar drugs prescribed by their doctors, the medication can also cause dangerous side effects when abused. Abuse is defined as taking a drug without a prescription, or in higher doses, more often, or any way other than prescribed by a doctor. One of the more severe of side effects of Percocet abuse is addiction, and Percocet abuse can even be deadly under certain circumstances

Signs and Symptoms of Percocet Abuse

Percocet can cause a number of adverse effects when taken as directed, and these effects worsen and new effects develop when the drug is abused. Some common side effects of Percocet include:

  • Agitation
  • Changes in heartbeat
  • Decreased sexual desire
  • Dizziness
  • Drowsiness
  • Dry mouth
  • Flushing
  • Headache
  • Hives
  • Hoarseness
  • Inability to get or keep an erection
  • Irregular menstruation
  • Itching
  • Light-headedness when changing positions
  • Loss of appetite
  • Mood changes
  • Nausea, vomiting
  • Sweating

People who abuse Percocet will crush the drug and snort or inject it instead of taking it orally. This brings on the effects of the drug to much more quickly and all at once instead of steadily over a long period of time as when taken as directed. Snorting or injecting Percocet will greatly increase the euphoria experienced, as well as the drugs’ sedating effects, making the individual appear drowsy and intoxicated. They may slur their words, and seem uncoordinated and confused. They may also exhibit unexplained mood swings., Noticing any of these symptoms is a strong indication that your loved one is abusing an opioid drug.

Dangers of Percocet Addiction

Percocet can be taken safely and effectively, but those who abuse it increase their risk of experiencing severe or dangerous side effects. These can include:

Respiratory depression
This is one of the most dangerous side effects associated with opioid abuse and overdose. When a person takes a particularly large dose of any opioid, including Percocet, they can experience severe respiratory depression to the point where they stop breathing altogether. This can lead to a coma, brain damage due to loss of oxygen, or death.

Increased intracranial pressure that can worsen a head injury
Opioids like Percocet cause people to breath more slowly, which can increase the internal pressure in the spine and brain. This can worsen the effects of a past head injury.

Anyone who is dependent on opioid drugs will experience withdrawal if they try to quit or reduce how much they take, and a person can become dependent on these drugs even without abusing them. Although the withdrawal symptoms associated with opioids are not usually life threatening, they are unpleasant, and resemble symptoms of the flu. Furthermore, opioid abuse and addiction will cause more severe withdrawal symptoms than regular use, as well as more intense psychological withdrawal symptoms, such as anxiety and depression.

A serious psychological side effects of opioid abuse is depression. In fact, approximately 10% of people taking prescription opioids as directed developed depression after a month, and the longer they took opioids, the more their risk of developing depression increased. People addicted to Percocet, who chronically take the drug at high doses, greatly amplify their risk of suffering opioid-related depression.

Oxycodone, the main ingredient in Percocet, can cause seizures in some people. This is a rare side effect, but it can be more likely to occur in those who consistently take high doses of the drug and in people with a pre-existing seizure disorder.

Liver problems
Although the acetaminophen in Percocet is not addictive, it can do serious damage to the liver when taken consistently over time. Just nine tablets of Percocet will meet the maximum daily dose for acetaminophen, meaning that individuals who are addicted to the oxycodone in this medication are highly likely to suffer liver damage from long-term Percocet abuse. This damage can lead to liver failure and death.

Signs of a Percocet Overdose

Individuals who chronically abuse Percocet will gradually develop a tolerance to the drug’s effects, which will lead them to take higher doses to experience the same level of euphoria. The more of the drug a person takes, the greater their risk of Percocet overdose. Signs that someone needs immediate medical attention for a Percocet overdose include:

  • Irregular, slowed, or stopped breathing
  • Extreme drowsiness
  • Vomiting
  • Limp or stiff muscles
  • Excessive sweating
  • Pinprick pupils
  • Low heart rate
  • Low blood pressure (can dizziness or fainting)
  • Fever
  • Hallucinations
  • Seizures
  • Rapid heartbeat
  • Delirium

Supportive measures such as oxygen and IV fluids should be administered by emergency services if Percocet overdose is suspected, and the opioid antagonist naloxone should be administered if respiratory and cardiovascular compromise is present. Call 911 immediately if you suspect that someone may be overdosing from Percocet or any other drug.

Percocet Addiction

As many people, especially younger individuals, do not realize that prescription opioid abuse is as dangerous as illicit substance abuse, and will often misuse it without concern. This can lead to compulsive use and Percocet addiction. An addiction to Percocet can develop quickly, especially if the individual is consistently abusing large doses of the drug.

Unfortunately, though, the issue doesn’t stop there. A Percocet addiction can be a stepping stone to heroin addiction. When individuals become tolerant to the effects of prescription opioids, it becomes difficult and expensive to obtain amounts large enough to prevent withdrawal. Heroin is cheaper, more potent, and more readily available than Percocet. This is one of the many reasons why a person who abuses Percocet must get help as soon as possible.

Am I Addicted to Percocet?

Drug abuse can start out as voluntary, but over time, it will develop into Percocet addiction. Ask yourself the questions below in order to find out if your substance abuse has already led to a dangerous disease.

  • Do I abuse Percocet every day?
  • Do I feel I cannot get through work, fall asleep at night, etc. without the drug?
  • Have I ever experienced severe withdrawal symptoms when I wasn’t able to obtain more of the drug?
  • Are my friends and family members concerned about my substance abuse? Did I become hostile when they mentioned this to me?
  • Is my substance abuse beginning to get in the way of my responsibilities?
  • Do I no longer care about the things that used to matter to me like school, work, hobbies, etc.?
  • Is my performance suffering in work or school?
  • Have I experienced any severe consequences of my Percocet use in the past year, including:
    • Getting arrested?
    • Losing an important relationship?
    • Getting fired?
    • Having financial problems?

If you answered yes to more than one of these questions, your substance abuse has gotten beyond your control, and it is time to seek help so you can put an end to it for good.

Percocet Addiction Treatment

Percocet addiction is treated with the same medications and behavioral therapies used to treat heroin addiction, as both of these are opioid drugs. For certain people, medications like methadone, buprenorphine, or naltrexone can be used to control symptoms of withdrawal that would normally lead to relapse. Behavioral therapies help patients change their beliefs, attitudes, and actions regarding dangerous drugs and life stressors. Family and individual therapy improves communication, heals relationships and past traumas, and addresses underlying causes of addiction.

It is particularly important for an individual in Percocet addiction treatment to be screened and treated for any potential co-occurring mental health disorders such as depression, schizophrenia, anxiety disorders, and others. If these disorders go untreated, they can derail addiction recovery progress, leading to relapse, and should therefore be treated simultaneously with the addiction.

Other treatment options that are often included in aftercare plans are:

  • Support groups like Narcotics Anonymous or SMART Recovery
  • Art or dance therapy
  • Pet therapy
  • Yoga or meditation
  • Massage therapy

Recovery does not end when an addiction treatment program is completed. People who want to stay away from drug abuse for the long term need to stay aware of their emotional and psychological health, and remain in touch with the recovery community and aftercare services.