When many people think of drug addiction, they probably picture illegal substances like heroin, cocaine or methamphetamines. While these illegal drugs are a huge problem, the misuse of and addiction to prescription drugs is also an increasing concern throughout the UK.

Prescription drugs like oxycodone are increasingly being used recreationally as people seek out the sense of relaxation and euphoria that they can provide. In other cases, however, an addiction can develop from legitimate drug use as prescribed.

The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE), which provides national guidance on healthcare providers in the UK, warns that drugs like oxycodone lead to addiction even when used as prescribed.

It said: “Prolonged use of opioid analgesics may lead to drug dependence and addiction, even at therapeutic doses. There is an increased risk in individuals with a history of substance use or mental health disorders.”.

What is Oxycodone?

Oxycodone is a strong opioid-based painkiller. According to the NHS, it is used to treat severe pain such as that experienced following surgery, a serious accident or during cancer treatment. It can also be prescribed if other, weaker painkillers, such as paracetamol or ibuprofen, are no longer effective. 

It comes in several formats, including regular pills or tablets, slow-release tablets and a liquid taken orally. It can also be given as an injection, but this is generally only done in a hospital setting.

Like other opioid-based painkillers, oxycodone targets opioid receptors in the central nervous system. This reduces pain feelings by interrupting how pain signals to travel between the brain and the body.

Why is Oxycodone Addictive?

As well as its painkilling effects, oxycodone can produce euphoria and extreme relaxation. Some people find these sensations very enjoyable and will try to recreate them with more of the drug. At the same time, prolonged use can lead to increased tolerance and physical dependency.

The increased tolerance means that you need to have more and more of the drug to get the same effect – both in terms of its intended painkilling properties and the euphoric and relaxing effects. This can lead to people using the drug more frequently and/or using larger doses.

Dependency means that your brain and body become used to the drug in the system and will rely on it, changing the production of other chemicals to compensate. When the oxycodone is suddenly removed – or even reduced – this can result in a range of physical and psychological withdrawal symptoms. This can quickly lead to addiction, whether you started using the drug as directed or were using it recreationally.

A Government statement on opioid medicines warns that “addiction can happen gradually”.

It adds: “[Addiction] can make you feel that you are no longer in control of how much medicine you need to take or how often you need to take it. You might feel that you need to take your medicine, even when it doesn’t help to relieve your pain.”

The Effects of Oxycodone Abuse

Oxycodone has several potential side effects. These can affect you even if you are using the drug as directed, but it may be more dangerous if you use more or with no medical supervision.

The NHS says that common side effects include things like:

  • Constipation
  • Feeling or being sick (nausea or vomiting)
  • Stomach discomfort
  • Feeling sleepy or tired
  • Feeling dizzy and a sensation of spinning (vertigo)
  • Confusion
  • Headaches
  • Itchiness or rash

More serious side effects include low blood pressure (hypertension), and some people can become more sensitive to pain (hyperalgesia) when taking oxycodone for a long time.

Some people can experience severe allergic reactions to the drug, and it can also lead to overdose. All these things can be very dangerous without considering the impact of developing an addiction in its own right. This can damage your physical and mental health and put a strain on families, relationships, work and other areas of your life.

Oxycodone is also categorised as a Class A drug in the UK. This means that if you possess or consume oxycodone without a prescription, you could face a jail sentence of up to seven years imprisonment and an unlimited fine.

What are the Signs of Oxycodone Addiction?

Some signs that you might have developed an addiction to oxycodone include the following:

  • Craving the drug when you do not have it
  • Using more frequently or in higher doses than directed (if using on prescription)
  • Using oxycodone recreationally
  • Taking for reasons other than pain relief – such as ‘to relax’ or ‘help get to sleep’
  • Using dishonest means to get more of the drug (such as lying to your GP or prescriber)
  • Searching for other ‘replacement’ opioid medications
  • Feeling anxious about getting more oxycodone
  • Experiencing withdrawal symptoms when you don’t use it

Drug Rehab Options for Oxycodone Addiction

Addiction can be very difficult to overcome without expert help, but it can be successfully treated. Inpatient rehab is generally regarded as the most effective way to treat addiction for several reasons.

Firstly, it takes you away from your usual triggers and temptations. You will be in a safe, secure environment with no access to oxycodone or other opioid drugs. You will be able to go through a medically supervised drug detox, which can help you get through any withdrawal symptoms in a safe and controlled manner.

You will also address the psychological aspects of addiction through a structured programme of therapies and other evidence-backed treatments. You will learn to change how you think and behave around the drug and develop relapse prevention strategies.

An aftercare programme can provide vital support in the crucial weeks and months following the completion of the programme.

Get Help at Ocean Recovery

If you have a problem with oxycodone or any other drug, it’s always best to seek professional help and advice as soon as possible. Contact Ocean Recovery today for confidential, no-obligation advice and find out how we can help.

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John Gillen - Author - Last updated: March 15, 2023

John is one UK’s leading professionals in the addiction recovery industry. Pioneering new treatment techniques such as NAD+ and ongoing research into new therapy techniques such as systematic laser therapy, John is committed to providing the very best treatment for people throughout the UK and Europe. During his extremely busy schedule, John likes to regularly update our blog section with the latest news and trends in the industry to keep visitors to our site as well informed as possible on everything related to addiction treatment.

Dr Alexander Lapa - Clinical Reviewer at Ocean Recovery

    Dr Alexander Lapa (Psychiatrist) - Clinical Reviewer - Last reviewed: December 9, 2022

    MBBS, PG Dip Clin Ed, OA Dip CBT, OA Dip Psychology, SCOPE Certified

    Dr Lapa graduated in Medicine in 2000 and since this time has accrued much experience working in the widest range of psychiatric settings with differing illness presentations and backgrounds in inpatient, community and secure settings. This has been aligned to continuation of professional development at postgraduate level in clinical research which has been very closely related to the everyday clinical practice conducted by this practitioner as a NHS and Private Psychiatrist.
    He is fully indemnified by the Medical and Dental Defence Union of Scotland (MDDUS) and MIAB Expert Insurance for Psychiatric and Private Medical practice. He is fully registered with the General Medical Council (GMC) in the UK with a licence to practice.

    Dr Lapa is approved under Section 12(2) of the Mental Health Act (1983)

    Member of Independent Doctors Federation (IDF), British Association for Psychopharmacology (BMA) and The Association for the Study of Obesity (ASO)

    Dr Lapa’s extensive experience has also concentrated on the following areas of clinical practice:
    – Assessment, Diagnosis and Pharmacological Treatment for Adults with ADHD.
    – Drug and Alcohol Dependency and maintaining abstinence and continued recovery
    – Intravenous and Intramuscular Vitamin and Mineral Infusion Therapy
    – Dietary and Weight Management and thorough care from assessment to treatment to end goals and maintenance
    – Aesthetic Practice and Procedures