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Percocet Addiction & Misuse: Signs, Dangers & Treatment Help

Peter Manza, PhD profile image
Reviewed By Peter Manza, PhD • Updated Aug 11, 2023 • 7 cited sources

Percocet addiction can lead to gastrointestinal problems, respiratory issues, overdose and death. Persistent misuse of the drug can cause harm to every area of life, including relationships, career, mental health and finances.

Percocet, a prescription medication containing both oxycodone and acetaminophen, is designed to ease pain. The two ingredients work together to help people recover from injuries, illnesses and surgeries. But many people who begin using Percocet for pain keep using the medication for a different reason entirely.

Opioids like oxycodone can cause euphoria, even when they’re taken at doctor-directed doses. Some people who use Percocet for pain keep using it for euphoria. 

Opioids can also cause dependence, so people feel sick between doses. Some people keep taking Percocet because they feel ill when they don’t. 

Percocet misuse involves taking the medication in ways the doctor didn’t direct. That can mean taking too much, taking it in an unusual way, or taking it for too long. 

If you’re misusing Percocet, treatment can help. Continued misuse can come with significant health risks, both from the opioid and the acetaminophen in the medication. 

Is Percocet an Opioid?

Percocet is an opioid medication, so it’s within the same class as drugs like Vicodin and OxyContin. Opioids are among the most addictive medications available within the United States. 

In a 2018 national survey, an estimated 3.4 million people misused products containing oxycodone in the prior year, including Percocet.[1] These medications work by latching to specialized receptors within the brain, triggering the release of powerful chemicals like dopamine. These chemicals are responsible for the rush or euphoria people feel when their doses become active. 

Brain cells adjust to these large surges in dopamine, and they regulate accordingly. In time, they will produce much less of the neurotransmitter without the drug. And they will require larger doses of Percocet to produce the effects people want. 

All opioids work this way. Percocet is particularly dangerous because of its acetaminophen component. People who misuse the drug often take toxic doses of acetaminophen while trying to get high. 

Why Do People Misuse Percocet?

To someone who has never used an opioid in the past, Percocet misuse can be confusing. They may not understand why someone would take a therapy prescribed by a doctor and make unusual choices in return. But there are clear and understandable reasons why people misuse this drug. 

People who misuse Percocet describe it as incredibly relaxing. Some say that the drug helps them handle things like workplace challenges and home-related stress.[2] Since they think the drug helps them function better, they may not believe it’s time to quit.

But in time, Percocet may not be strong enough to deliver euphoria or keep people from feeling sick. Some people move to stronger drugs as a result. Researchers say four in five people who use heroin started by misusing opioid painkillers.[3]

The drug can come with devastating consequences. In a study of Black students, 15% reported misusing opioids, and those who did were over 1.6 times more likely to attempt suicide in the past year than their counterparts not misusing opioids.[4] 

Who Misuses Percocet?

Anyone given a prescription for Percocet could misuse the drug. Misuse issues don’t discriminate by age, class or educational status. 

Percocet is one of the most misused opioid drugs, researchers say.[5] It’s often prescribed, so it’s easy to get from a doctor. And it’s relatively easy to get from street dealers too. 

Symptoms of Percocet addiction include the following:

  • Frequent sedation
  • Increased need for privacy 
  • Regular and unexplained visits to the doctor complaining of pain
  • Irritation or anxiety between doses 

Signs of an opioid use disorder can begin to emerge within a few days of filling the prescription, and it can worsen until the person gets treatment. 

Understand Percocet Withdrawal 

As brain cells become accustomed to Percocet, they can malfunction without it. Someone who quits taking the drug abruptly can develop significant symptoms. 

Percocet withdrawal symptoms can include the following:

  • Abdominal cramping
  • Anxiety 
  • Dehydration
  • Depression
  • Diarrhea
  • Insomnia
  • Muscle aches
  • Strange dreams 
  • Vomiting

These symptoms are often described as “flu-like,” and they can feel incredibly uncomfortable. People often relapse in an effort to simply make withdrawal symptoms disappear.

Percocet cravings can intensify during Percocet withdrawal as well. Sometimes, they become so unbearable that relapse feels inevitable. The more frequently the person moves through withdrawal and relapse, the more they may believe they will never recover. This feeling of hopelessness can deepen the cycle of addiction.

Can Percocet Cause Overdose?

The opioids inside Percocet are powerful central nervous system depressants. Take too much of them, and they can depress breathing so significantly that the person can die. 

A Percocet overdose can look a lot like significant drug intoxication. It can be difficult to see the difference at a distance, but look closely, and you may spot the following telltale signs of an overdose:

  • Pale skin
  • Bluish fingernails or lips
  • Shallow or slow breathing 
  • Inability to awaken or answer questions

A dose of the prescription medication naloxone can reverse an overdose in minutes, allowing people to awaken and breathe naturally. 

But Percocet also contains acetaminophen, and it’s possible to overdose on that ingredient too. People taking about 10 grams of acetaminophen can overdose due to the kidney damage it can cause. Sometimes (and especially when the dose increases to 15 grams) those overdoses are fatal.[6]

People who use Percocet can also overdose due to the pills they buy on the street. Dealers often make substitute pills that look like the real thing, but they contain stronger opioids like fentanyl.[7] One of these pills can cause an overdose, as it contains an ingredient that’s much stronger than oxycodone. And often, users don’t even know this ingredient is in the pills they purchase.

How Is Percocet Misuse Treated?

It’s very difficult to quit misusing Percocet without help. Your body craves the drug it’s accustomed to, and feelings of sickness can make you return to the drug even when you want to remain sober. 

Medication for Addiction Treatment (MAT) programs use prescription drugs like Suboxone (buprenorphine and naloxone) to address chemical imbalances caused by drugs like Percocet. The buprenorphine in Suboxone latches to receptors once used by Percocet and eases withdrawal symptoms and drug cravings. 

People with a history of opioid misuse do not feel high while on Suboxone. But they can feel focused enough to rebuild their lives. This gives them the space they need to build skills that sustain a life in recovery.

Suboxone can help to preserve sobriety too. This medication can help people to avoid their triggers or manage them without relapsing. Each time they do, they may feel stronger in their skills and more capable of navigating their lives without returning to Percocet misuse.

In the past, enrolling in MAT was difficult. Telemedicine reduces that problem. Companies like Bicycle Health conduct their appointments via computers or phones. 

Meet with a professional and discuss your Percocet misuse. The doctor writes a prescription that you can fill at a local pharmacy. You’ll stay connected through regular video appointments and meetings, and you can keep taking your medications as long as they’re needed. 

Contact us to find out more about this treatment model and see if it’s right for you.

Reviewed By Peter Manza, PhD

Peter Manza, PhD received his BA in Psychology and Biology from the University of Rochester and his PhD in Integrative Neuroscience at Stony Brook University. He is currently working as a research scientist in Washington, DC. His research focuses on the role ... Read More

  1. Key Substance Use and Mental Health Indicators in the United States: Results from the 2018 National Survey on Drug Use and Health. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. August 2019. Accessed April 2023.
  2. My Story: How One Percocet Prescription Triggered My Addiction. Journal of Medical Toxicology December 2012. Accessed April 2023.
  3. Key Facts About Opioids. Commonwealth of Massachusetts. Accessed April 2023.
  4. Misuse of Prescription Opioids and Suicidal Behaviors Among Black Adolescents: Findings from the 2017 and 2019 Youth Risk Behavior Survey. Journal of Racial and Ethnic Health Disparities July 2022. Accessed April 2023.
  5. Drug Use and Misuse in Youth: A Pilot Study. APHA's 2019 Annual Meeting and Expo. Accessed April 2023.
  6. Percocet Labeling. Endo Pharmaceuticals. November 2006. Accessed April 2023.
  7. One Pill Can Kill. United States Drug Enforcement Administration. Accessed April 2023.

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