Percocet is highly addictive. Its addictive potential is due to the opioid medication contained in the drug.
All opioids have a high potential for abuse, although addiction is a complex process that results from the combination of many personal variables and drug use.
Percocet (acetaminophen and oxycodone) combines two analgesic (pain-relieving) medications.
Acetaminophen is an over-the-counter medication that is included in familiar drugs like Tylenol. Oxycodone is a relatively potent opioid pain reliever.
Percocet tablets will typically contain 325 mg of acetaminophen and different doses of oxycodone, ranging from 2.5 mg to 10 mg.
Combining these two drugs into one medication offers an effective pain reliever that gives physicians more options to address different types of pain and discomfort in their patients.
Any substance containing oxycodone is a controlled substance (C II). It can only be legally acquired when one has a written prescription from a physician.
Abuse of Percocet
Figures for oxycodone use and misuse are available through the national survey conducted by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA). Estimates are derived from survey data.
- In 2016, it was estimated that 27.6 million people took a product containing oxycodone at least once during the previous year.
- Of the individuals taking oxycodone in 2016, it is estimated that about 3.9 million individuals reported misusing oxycodone at least once.
- In 2017, it was estimated that 26.7 million individuals used a product containing oxycodone at least once in the previous year.
- Of the individuals reported using oxycodone at least once in 2017, it was estimated that 3.7 million individuals misused an oxycodone product at least once.
What the Figures Suggest
Based on survey data, it can be seen that about 14 to 15 percent of individuals who use an oxycodone product will misuse it at least once.
Further estimates based on data from SAMHSA and other sources suggest that about 8 to 10 percent of individuals who use an oxycodone product develop a substance use disorder as a result of oxycodone use (an opioid use disorder or opioid addiction).
Is Percocet Addictive?
Not everyone who uses an oxycodone product like Percocet will misuse it, and the number of individuals who develop an addiction to opioids like oxycodone is relatively small.
However, products containing oxycodone are considered to have a severe potential for abuse and the development of an addiction. The development of any form of addictive behavior is a result of many interacting factors.
Alterations in the Brain Due to Oxycodone Abuse
The potential of oxycodone products and other opioids to result in addiction is partly based on their mechanism of action.
Briefly, opioid drugs attach to receptor sites in the brain that are specialized for neurotransmitters that are designed to relieve stress, pain, and feelings of exertion. Some of these neurotransmitters are known as endorphins and enkephalins. Using opioids relieves these feelings and also results in some feelings of well-being and euphoria.
The continued use of opioids results in the development of tolerance to the drug (needing more of the drug to achieve the same effects). There is a reaction in the person’s system to counteract the effects of the drug by producing more neurotransmitters and other substances that have the opposite effects that the drug produces.
Over time, the system will produce less of the endogenous substances that are associated with the experience of reinforcement and pleasure and more substances that are associated with feelings of general discomfort in an effort to balance the effects of oxycodone. Eventually, people who chronically misuse opioids begin using more, and experience less pleasure from other activities.
This process results in the potential to develop a physical dependence on opioids, which also contributes to the addictive potential of the drug.
What is Physical Dependence?
Physical dependence on any drug occurs when a person has continually taken the drug over time and develops withdrawal symptoms after they stop using the drug.
The process discussed above, where the body produces substances that have the opposite actions that the drug produces, is an attempt for the body to maintain a state of balance when there is a certain level of the drug present in the system.
However, when chronic drug users stop taking their drug of choice, their metabolism breaks down the drug and the levels of the drug in the system decline, leading to an imbalanced state.
This imbalanced state results in negative withdrawal symptoms. In the case of opioids, these negative symptoms include aches and pains, anxiety, mood swings, nausea, and vomiting.
When the withdrawal symptoms become uncomfortable enough, people will begin to engage in drug-seeking behavior to avoid these very negative feelings. This accelerates their cycle of addiction to Percocet.
A Complicated Disorder
The addictive potential of Percocet lies in the action of the oxycodone in the medication and the effects it produces, as well as certain personal factors of the individual taking the drug.
The data above clearly demonstrates that not everybody who uses Percocet develops an addiction to it. In fact, the majority of people who take the drug at some time do not.
This means that there are individual factors that contribute to the addictive potential of any type of drug.
What are Risk Factors?
A risk factor is some condition that is associated with an increased risk or probability that someone will display some type of behavior or develop some type of disorder or disease.
Risk factors do not guarantee that these events will occur. They only increase the risk or probability that such an event may occur.
There are many different factors identified by research studies that increase the risk that someone might develop an addiction.
Other Risk Factors For Addiction
In Addition to Using Certain Drugs Like Percocet, the Significant Risk Factors Associated with Addictive Behaviors Include:
- Genetics or heredity, such as a family history of addiction or some other mental health disorder
- A history of a psychological disorder
- A history of trauma or abuse, especially as a child
- Being exposed to substance abuse at an early age
- An environment where substance abuse is considered acceptable or where substance abuse is prevalent
Risk Factors Can Be Additive
Risk factors are not guarantees that a person will develop anything, but they can stack the deck, such that the person might develop some specific condition or disorder.
Nonetheless, outside of being at risk to develop an addiction, many people who have significant risk factors associated with the development of addiction do not actually develop one. There is no specific situation or factor that will absolutely guarantee that any person will develop an addiction to an opioid such as Percocet or any other drug.
The risk factors associated with the development of an addiction consist of issues that cannot often be fully changed, such as genetics, past experiences, and the mechanism of action associated with certain types of drugs. There are some aspects of addiction that can be changed, such as a person’s expectations, beliefs, learning experiences, and personal choices of whether or not to use a substance for a specific issue.
Addiction treatment focuses on changing the issues about the behavior that can be altered for the betterment of the person.
Effective treatment for an opioid use disorder as a result of Percocet abuse would combine both medications (medication-assisted treatment) and behavioral treatments like therapy, support groups, and other interventions. This combination can help an individual to change their behavior and may even help to rewire some of the alterations of the brain that have occurred as a result of chronic addictive behavior.
Overall Treatment Protocol
Treatment for substance use disorders follows an overall approach that has been demonstrated to be effective by numerous research studies. This empirically validated approach is always adjusted or personalized to suit the situation and to fit the needs of the specific person in treatment.
The Basic Overall Program Includes:
- A thorough assessment of the person to develop a formal plan that is specific to their needs.
- An initial period of medical detox or withdrawal management to help the individual get through the withdrawal syndrome in a safe and more comfortable manner. The medical detox process typically uses medications to lessen withdrawal symptoms and cravings.
- Therapy to help the individual change their dysfunctional beliefs and expectations and learn new manners of coping.
- Participation in support groups like Narcotics Anonymous to help with the above interventions.
- Treatment of any co-occurring mental health disorders to ensure recovery occurs on all fronts.
- Care for other issues, such as family problems, work problems, housing placement, and other areas of need.
The Key Focus in Treatment is Abstinence
Substance use disorders (addictions) are treatable disorders. The strongest treatment programs emphasize abstinence from alcohol and other drugs as a continued goal.
Medications taken under the supervision of a physician are not excluded from this process, but individuals who are in recovery should use certain types of medications with precaution. Such use should always be supervised by a physician.
Even though abstinence is the focus, there is a chance that people in treatment will relapse. When this occurs, the relapse should be used to initiate changes in the program to help the individual move forward in their recovery.
Relapses should not be viewed as treatment failures. They should be viewed as opportunities to strengthen the overall recovery program.