The medication Percocet is designed to help curb and control moderate pain. Each pill contains two medications: oxycodone (a narcotic) and acetaminophen (an analgesic). The two medications augment one another; the narcotic helps the person feel relaxed and contented, while the analgesic reduces pain and stiffness, allowing the person to feel better and function normally. When taken properly, Percocet can be an incredible weapon in the fight against pain. The problem is that many people don’t take Percocet properly.

For example, the website reports that of 400,000 patients 66 and older who had a short stay in a hospital for a surgery, nearly eight percent were prescribed a narcotic medication like Percocet. Of those patients, more than 10 percent were still taking the medication one year later. It’s possible that these patients still had pain issues that the original surgery didn’t cure. It’s likely, however, that these patients were still taking these medications because they had become addicted to them.

A Powerful Pathway

Percocet Addiction Basics

Acetaminophen isn’t considered addictive. It can kill pain, but it doesn’t tend to cause the sorts of physical and structural changes that are associated with addiction. Oxycodone, on the other hand, is associated with addiction. In fact, it’s considered quite addictive. The medication works in much the same way as heroin. When a user takes a Percocet tablet, the oxycodone component of the pill splits away and travels to the brain. The brain is accustomed to working with a chemical called dopamine when it needs to prepare for something pleasurable or work through something painful. The dopamine seems to shut down some pain receptors, but it also seems to just bathe the brain in the idea that all is well and will always be well. The brain is sedated, happy and carefree.

Over time, however, the user and the user’s brain begin to engage in an arms war. The brain begins to respond less enthusiastically to Percocet. Receptors turn off, the brain produces fewer chemicals of its own and the brain requires more Percocet in order to produce the same result. Soon, the user is taking in more Percocet, just to keep up. Each time the user increases the Percocet dosage, however, the brain responds with more chemical changes of its own. Soon, the drug use becomes compulsive as the user can no longer function normally due to those chemical changes. In short, the addiction has taken hold.

Effects on the Liver

While the person taking Percocet may be doing so in order to feel the effects of the narcotic, the acetaminophen in each pill is still entering the system. Acetaminophen must be processed by the liver, and ingesting huge amounts of acetaminophen can actually cause irreversible damage to the liver. According to an article published by the University of Iowa, the liver does have the ability to heal itself. In fact, a person who ingests a large amount of Tylenol may kill 50 to 60 percent of the liver cells at once, but that damage can be completely reversed in 30 days. A person who abuses Percocet, by contrast, may take huge amounts of the drug each and every day. The liver has no opportunity to heal between bouts, and the liver may fill up with scar tissue that will not heal without assistance. In fact, some people do so much damage due to their Percocet addiction that they must have a liver transplant.

Some people with liver disease have no symptoms at all. Others have vague signs of damage such as:

  • Fatigue
  • Lack of interest in outside activities
  • Itching skin
  • Confusion

Other people develop specific symptoms including yellowing of the eyes and skin, dark urine or light-colored bowel movements.

Dangers of Overdose

Overdose on Prescription Pills

Addiction to Percocet can do more than just damage the liver, however. In fact, people who abuse Percocet and other narcotics run a very high risk of overdose. As the user takes in higher and higher doses of the medication, hoping to achieve some sort of mental boost or “high,” it’s relatively easy to depress the body’s vital systems to such a degree that death is soon to follow. Narcotics tend to slow down the heart rate and they can cause people to breathe slowly as well. If a user takes in too much medication, the user could easily stop breathing altogether. It might sound like a relatively rare occurrence, but in reality, many people succumb to narcotic overdoses each year. In fact, the number of people who enter hospitals due to overdoses of narcotics seems to be on the rise.

According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, 144,644 people entered emergency rooms for painkiller abuse in 2004. By 2008, that number had risen to 305,885. It’s a clear danger for people who abuse drugs like Percocet. Some people overdose on drugs that they think are Percocet, but which are actually completely different drugs altogether. Journal articles make this risk quite clear. According to an article published in the Journal of Emergency Medicine, a 17-year-old boy bought what he thought was Percocet from a classmate. In reality, the pills contained propafenone, a drug used to correct an irregular heartbeat. The boy endured a seizure as a result of taking this medication. People who abuse Percocet often resort to buying the medication from other people, and each time they do that, they run the risk that the pills they buy won’t contain any Percocet at all, or that they’ll contain a completely different drug altogether. It’s a dangerous risk to take.

How Abuse can Harms a Pregnancy

According to, Percocet is considered a Class C medication, meaning that it could cause breathing problems or addiction problems in an unborn baby. Women who abuse Percocet during pregnancy could, in addition to harming their own health, cause a great deal of harm to the babies growing inside them. Some babies can be successfully treated after birth with conservative care. Extra nutrition, low lights and extra warmth can help these babies work through the withdrawal symptoms they feel. But some babies need additional medications to help them learn to live without access to Percocet. And some of these babies develop lifelong issues with learning and development as a result of the exposure they endured while in the womb.

Telltale Signs

high on painkillers

Every addiction is a little bit different, so the signs of addiction that appear in one person may not look anything like the signs of addiction that appear in another person. In general, however, there are some specific signs that can point to Percocet abuse, and perhaps addiction.

According to the Mayo Clinic, these signs include:

  • Confusion
  • Constipation
  • Depression
  • Low blood pressure
  • Slow breathing

People who abuse prescription medications may also spend a significant amount of time in doctors’ offices, making multiple visits to health professionals in order to get written prescriptions for Percocet. These people may also steal Percocet from the family medicine cabinet, or from the medicine cabinets of friends and family members. They may also claim that they have “lost” medications frequently, in the hopes that their prescriptions will be refilled more rapidly.

Percocet addiction can also be incredibly difficult on the function of the family as a whole. The addict might steal or lie to family members on a regular basis, breaking down trust. Or, the addict might spend increasing amounts of time in an altered state, breaking away from the family or just seeming absent altogether. It can be hard for family members to watch, and they might even engage in enabling behaviors that can allow the addiction to strengthen. This can make family members feel even more guilty. In short, addiction can hurt almost everyone the addict comes in contact with.It can be difficult to even contemplate confronting someone with a Percocet addiction, especially if that person has been given a valid prescription for a pain issue. Sometimes, it’s best to bring the family doctor into the discussion. If the doctor has been writing the prescription, the doctor should know about the potential for abuse, and be allowed to offer solutions for that addiction. Sometimes, families include the doctor in a formal intervention conversation in which all members of the family discuss the addiction behaviors they’ve noticed and they ask the addict to get help. Other times, families make appointments with the doctor, and they hold private conversations with the addict there. In either case, the addiction issue should be brought into the open and discussed. The longer it hides in the shadows, the more potential damage can be done to the person’s body.

At Michael’s House, we specialize in providing care for people who are struggling with Percocet addiction. At our beautiful facility, we provide around-the-clock care that can help people recover from the chemical and mental damage caused by the addiction, and we provide support that can allow the whole family to heal. It’s the best way to combat Percocet addiction, and we’d like to talk with you about it in detail.

Please contact us today to learn more about the help we can provide.