Trying to stop taking oxycodone can be difficult, at best. This goes for recreational users as well as for people taking it on a prescription basis. Oxycodone use comes with a high risk of abuse and also addiction. Not being able to stop taking it is one of the reasons why it’s a high-risk medication. Knowing how to taper off oxycodone may help you avoid some of the pitfalls involved with using this drug.
Why Bother With Tapering?
Oxycodone works well as a short-term, pain-reliever but its effectiveness can come at a high cost. Like most opioids, oxycodone interacts directly with the areas of the central nervous system (CNS) that regulate your perception of pain. This works similar to other opioids like Vicodin. These interactions also affect other CNS functions, including:
- Brain functioning
- Balance and coordination
- Body temperature
Problems with oxycodone develop as your system adapts to the effects of oxycodone. When this happens, the brain and CNS start to depend on this drug to regulate the systems it affects. So if you’ve been taking oxycodone on a regular basis then stop taking it altogether, these systems are left in a state of imbalance and unable to function normally and can lead to how oxycodone will kill you. These conditions account for why it’s best to taper off oxycodone rather than go cold turkey.
What to Expect When Tapering Off Oxycodone
If you’ve only been on oxycodone for two weeks or less, tapering may not be necessary. However, using it for longer than two weeks tends to bring on unsettling withdrawal effects unless you taper your dosage amount over time. Withdrawal effects typically take the form of:
- Achy muscles
- Abdominal cramps
- Profuse sweating
- Nausea, vomiting, diarrhea
- Feeling agitated and restless
- Intense cravings for the drug
Oxycodone withdrawal can become so uncomfortable that the temptation to go back on the drug becomes overwhelming. In effect, tapering off oxycodone gives your body the time it needs to adjust to the absence of the drug, which lessens the effects of withdrawal. Granted, tapering is no guarantee that you won’t experience some discomfort, but it does decrease the intensity of withdrawal symptoms you’ll experience, especially important given the amount of time oxycodone stays in the body.
How to Taper Off Oxycodone
Knowing how to taper off oxycodone the right way can save you much physical and emotional discomfort. Keep in mind, the right way is different for each person. The way that’s best for you depends on how often and how much of the drug you use on a regular basis. If physical dependence, oxycodone abuse, or addiction is an issue, the do-it-yourself approach should not be attempted.
The Do-It-Yourself Approach
Here are a few general guidelines on how to taper off oxycodone at home:
- Decrease the number of pills you take each time by one for one to two days. So if you normally take three pills at a time, start taking two at a time.
- After the first two days, start spacing your doses farther apart. For example, instead of taking a dose every four hours, change to every five hours. Follow this dosage schedule for one to two days.
- Next, extend your dosage times even farther apart for two more days. So if you were taking oxycodone every five hours, extend it to seven hours.
- Keep repeating the above three steps until you’re completely weaned off the drug.
Drug Replacement Therapy
Long-term use of oxycodone opens the door for any number of problems to develop. Once the brain and CNS become dependent on oxycodone’s effects, a vicious cycle of substance abuse begins. Before long, oxycodone abuse gives way to addiction. At this point, your mind has come to believe you “need” the drug’s effects to cope with daily life. Under these conditions, a do-it-yourself approach comes with a high risk of relapse, which only makes the situation worse.
Rather than tapering of oxycodone, drug replacement therapy uses a less addictive opioid, such as buprenorphine or methadone, as replacements for oxycodone. These medications work by restoring your brain and CNS to a state of chemical balance. In the process, withdrawal intensity decreases considerably allowing you to feel normal again. Buprenorphine replacement therapy can be administered by a doctor while methadone replacement therapy must be done through a licensed clinic.
Tips for Easing the Tapering Process Along
Anything you can do to support your body during the tapering process can help lessen withdrawal discomfort. Healthy lifestyle habits go a long way towards helping your body’s systems adjust to being off oxycodone. Here are a few things you can do:
- Moderate Exercise – Something as simple as taking a walk every day will strengthen your body’s natural detoxification system. Regular exercise helps flush out waste materials, cleans out the cells, and helps flush oxycodone out of your system.
- Drink Lots of Water – As much as 60 percent of the body is made up of water. Proper hydration supports the systems most affected when tapering off oxycodone. Like exercise, water helps flush out waste materials, which make it easier for the body to flush out oxycodone.
- Get Proper Rest – A good night’s sleep is essential to the body’s health. Proper rest frees up energy and gives your body the time it needs to rebuild and repair cells, which are the building blocks of the systems most affected by the tapering process.
- Eat healthy – Eating healthy not only strengthens the body but also keeps your immune system running smoothly. Immune system function plays a big role in helping your body get rid of oxycodone and also helps your brain and CNS get back to normal.
When To Consider Getting Treatment Help
Oxycodone is a highly addictive opioid. With each failed attempt to taper off oxycodone, the risk of developing a full-blown addiction increases. And if you’ve reached the point where oxycodone abuse has led to money problems, relationship conflicts, or problems on the job, knowing how to taper off oxycodone won’t do you much good. Once addiction develops, there’s a very real need for professional treatment help. Try to be as honest as you can with yourself about your oxycodone use and if you need help, get it.
- ncbi.nlm.nih.gov – The Neurobiology of Opioid Dependence: Implications for Treatment
- medlineplus.gov – Opiate and Opioid Withdrawal
- pcssnow.org – Methadone and Buprenorphine: Opioid Agonist Substitution Tapers
Sunshine Behavioral Health strives to help people who are facing substance abuse, addiction, mental health disorders, or a combination of these conditions. It does this by providing compassionate care and evidence-based content that addresses health, treatment, and recovery.
Licensed medical professionals review material we publish on our site. The material is not a substitute for qualified medical diagnoses, treatment, or advice. It should not be used to replace the suggestions of your personal physician or other health care professionals.