How Long Does It Take to Get Addicted to Percocet?
Percocet, a brand-name painkiller formulated from oxycodone and acetaminophen, is typically prescribed to relieve moderate or severe pain. Like all opiate medications, it can also lead to addiction and a wide range of associated problems, especially if taken improperly or for more than a few weeks.
A Schedule II painkiller, Percocet, which combines the opiate drug oxycodone with acetaminophen, has been well known in the U.S. since the 1970s. (Its predecessor was Percodan, which combined oxycodone and aspirin: one advantage of Percocet was that, containing no aspirin, it carried little risk of blood-clotting side effects. Oxycodone itself was developed in the early twentieth century as an alternative to heroin and codeine.)
By the end of the twentieth century, Percocet was among the most popular drugs prescribed to reduce pain from physical labor, the medication of choice for blue-collar workers. Like other opiates of that period, it was also a drug frequently prescribed with little thought and used with even less thought.
GETTING ADDICTED TO PERCOCET
From the 1990s to the early years of the twenty-first century, the likelihood that doctors would prescribe opiate-based medication for a pain complaint increased substantially. So did cases of opiate addiction. And, so did the dangers associated with both addiction and careless use: from 1999 to 2017, fatal overdose from prescription opioids increased fivefold (the total death count for that time period reached nearly 218,000).
(Note: If anyone who has been taking Percocet suddenly collapses, and especially if this is accompanied by such symptoms as clammy skin, weak pulse and lips turning blue, they may be experiencing an opiate overdose. Call for medical help immediately. Occasionally, Percocet also causes acetaminophen overdose, for which the common symptoms are vomiting, severe stomach pain, heavy perspiration and a yellowish tinge to the skin.)
In some cases, Percocet addiction has developed in less than two weeks. Taking it regularly for more than three weeks is nearly always risky, even if the user sticks to prescription instructions. Many people, even those who start off taking the drug strictly as a painkiller, are drawn in by its potential to induce euphoria: they then begin taking higher doses than needed to kill the pain, which encourages addiction to develop even faster.
If you have pain issues and your doctor recommends Percocet, the best way to avoid becoming addicted is to stay aware of the possibility:
- When you accept the prescription, ask how long you will be taking it. If the recommended period is longer than two weeks, ask whether the prescription will end with gradually reduced doses (tapering off to avoid physical symptoms, in case any degree of dependence has developed), and if any additional precautions are recommended to minimize addiction risk. (If your doctor is dismissive of the addiction possibility, get a second opinion.)
- Take the prescription strictly according to directions. If it doesn’t seem to be doing its job, or if you develop any unusual symptoms, make a new appointment with your doctor to discuss the problem.
- Don’t rely on the Percocet to solve all your pain problems. Practice supplemental and alternate means of pain relief: relaxation exercises, meditation, good physical health.
SIGNS OF PERCOCET ADDICTION
To further minimize the risk, know the symptoms of Percocet addiction and talk to your doctor immediately if you see them developing.
- Chronic constipation
- Change in sleep patterns
- Frequent drowsiness
- Slow breathing
- Perspiring for no obvious reason
- Unexplained drops in blood pressure
- Clumsiness or confusion
- Reduced functioning in normal work or home duties
- Frequent mood swings or depression
- Spending more money on Percocet than a normal prescription would warrant
- Obtaining Percocet refills from additional doctors or illicit sources
- “Borrowing” prescription Percocet from others, with or without permission
- Becoming defensive if anyone suggests Percocet use is getting out of hand
- Withdrawal symptoms if a dose is missed (see next section)
People who are seriously addicted may crush Percocet tablets, dilute them and inject the mixture for a faster high. Therefore, addiction symptoms may also include needle marks on arms, or long sleeves worn in hot weather to hide needle marks.
(Note: If any but the mildest symptoms have become frequent, you—or a loved one in whom you notice the symptoms—have a serious problem already. Talk to an addiction specialist as well as your regular GP: you likely need professional detox treatment. If someone else has Percocet addiction, and won’t listen to you, talk to a detox counselor anyway and get advice on how to deal with the situation. It’s important to avoid enabling the addiction, and to get professional guidance if your loved one needs an intervention.)
SYMPTOMS OF PERCOCET WITHDRAWAL
Once a person develops addiction, they will experience withdrawal symptoms when the drug supply is cut off. Percocet withdrawal produces physical and mental symptoms common to most opiate addictions:
- Runny nose
- Stomach cramps, nausea, diarrhea and/or vomiting
- Goose bumps, often accompanied by violent shivering
- Severe anxiety or depression
If no additional Percocet is taken, withdrawal illness will run its course in about a week (occasionally it takes several days longer). However, some people experience periodic fatigue and depression for months after quitting, which places them at particular risk of relapse. The actual detox isn’t risk-free either: while withdrawal is rarely life-threatening, a person may become extremely ill and even suicidal. Thus, it is never a good idea to try to detox from addiction without medical advice, professional care during the withdrawal period, and follow-up medical supervision.
HOW LONG DOES IT TAKE TO GET OFF PERCOCET?
Unfortunately, it often takes much longer to truly get off Percocet than it does to get addicted to Percocet. While some people manage to stick out one withdrawal and never touch the drug again, many give up mid-detox and take a fresh dose. This is not only self-defeating but extremely dangerous: with the body partly detoxed and personal judgment clouded, the risk of overdose is high— just one more reason to seek out professional detox where Percocet is nowhere on the premises and where experienced supervision and counseling stay close at hand.
Many other people, even after physically detoxing, battle recurrent cravings for months, or give up and return to addiction. The first few months of sobriety are particularly dangerous (which is why many medical experts recommend beginning the post-detox period with 90 days at an inpatient treatment facility), and a person can remain at high risk for a year or more. Ongoing counseling and involvement in an active support group reduce these dangers: an understanding friend or two can be a big help in reducing “no one cares” feelings and other negative emotions that tempt to relapse.
In some cases, a person may receive medication-assisted treatment (MAT), which typically involves a prescription for Suboxone or another replacement drug less addictive than Percocet. People who opt for this approach to getting off opiates are spared the worst of the withdrawal symptoms, but they spend much longer getting weaned off opiates than do people who go it “cold.” In addition, some users become addicted to the replacement drug itself, so if you’re considering MAT for your Percocet addiction, thoroughly discuss all possible risks with your healthcare provider in advance. And always ask when you’ll be tapering off the replacement and how long it will take: MAT is only a stopgap solution!
STAYING OFF PERCOCET, LONG-TERM
In a sense, most people with addictions (to Percocet or any other drug) never really get “off” it: addiction is considered a chronic disease like diabetes or asthma. Even after living sober for years, being addicted once means that if you ever take the drug again, you will still develop full-blown addiction symptoms faster than when you originally started.
So sobriety is a lifelong journey. But it doesn’t have to be a painful one. The best way to stay off Percocet for life is to develop a lasting habit of enjoying life without it:
- Learn drug-free approaches to managing physical pain.
- Pinpoint and deal with any psychological issues (or mental illnesses) that fed the addiction.
- Know your personal triggers—the situations that most tempt you to think, “I need a pill”—and plan ways of avoiding or dealing with them.
- Take good care of your physical health. Find favorite recipes that are nutritious and Get involved in regular physical activity (sports, hiking, aerobics classes) you truly enjoy. Go to bed on time, and keep your bedroom comfortable so you truly can get a good night’s sleep.
- Find new hobbies and/or volunteer opportunities that are drug-free and purposeful, and that appeal to your deepest passions.
- Stick close to friends and family you can rely on to support and not judge you.
- Learn to believe in yourself. Do things you’re good at. Make friends who appreciate you. Affirm your worth and potential daily. Remind yourself that you can deal with your problems—from physical pain to feelings of depression—without Percocet or any other chemical crutch!
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For related information on opiate painkillers and their addiction risks, see the following articles: