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Oxycodone Abuse And Anxiety: Can Oxycodone Trigger Anxiety?

Isaac Alexis, M.D., AAMA, AMP-BC

Medically reviewed by

Isaac Alexis, M.D., AAMA, AMP-BC

Research has shown a relationship between anxiety and abuse of opioids like oxycodone. Treating co-occurring substance abuse and anxiety requires addressing both issues for a successful recovery.

Oxycodone (OxyContin) is an addictive opioid that can be dangerous when taken for non-medical or recreational purposes. Although it can be effective for treating intense pain, oxycodone also has a risk for abuse, dependence, and addiction.

People who do not take oxycodone as prescribed, or take it without a prescription, may experience moderate to severe side effects. This includes mental and psychological effects such as anxiety. Taking large or frequent doses of oxycodone can cause even worse anxiety and complicate anxiety treatment.

Oxycodone And Anxiety: Which Comes First?

Researchers have found several relationships between anxiety disorders and opioid abuse. Some people may develop anxiety as a result of their oxycodone abuse. People may also have developed an anxiety disorder prior to their issue with oxycodone abuse.

Several mental disorders, including depression and anxiety, can be a risk factor for abusing prescription opioids. One study found that up to 43 percent of patients receiving treatment for opioid abuse also struggled with mental health problems.

In addition, anxiety can also be a side effect of oxycodone withdrawal.

How Oxycodone Can Cause Anxiety

Oxycodone affects several different areas of the brain and body, including the central nervous system (CNS). This controls heart function, breathing rate, and body temperature among other things. Taking oxycodone causes activity to slow in the CNS, resulting in lower heart rate, slower breathing, and drowsiness.

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Oxycodone also affects parts of the brain that control pleasure, pain sensation, and mood. Taken as prescribed, anxiety is just one of the more commons side effects that can occur. Taking high or frequent doses may cause these side effects to be even more intense. This includes severe anxiety and agitation.

Long-term abuse of oxycodone can lead to more severe mental and psychological symptoms, including paranoia and confusion. Insomnia and frequent mood swings can also occur as a result of oxycodone abuse.

Risk Of Oxycodone Abuse Among People With Anxiety

Anxiety may not always occur as a result of oxycodone abuse. In some cases, people may struggle with anxiety before developing an opioid problem.

According to research, people with an anxiety disorder can be at greater risk than others for abusing opioids like oxycodone. This risk also extends to people with depression and mood disorders.

One potential reason for this is self-medication. People who struggle with severe anxiety may turn to drugs or alcohol to ease, numb, or escape their symptoms.

Self-medicating symptoms of anxiety with oxycodone is a form of drug abuse. Taking oxycodone without a prescription, or taking it for reasons other than prescribed can also be very dangerous.

Abusing drugs like oxycodone can decrease the effectiveness of treatment for anxiety, and may worsen symptoms of anxiety disorders. Certain anxiety medications can also be risky for people with co-occurring substance abuse because of their potential for abuse. Consideration for safety and effectiveness in treating both problems, then, is necessary for recovery.

Oxycodone Withdrawal And Anxiety

Lastly, another relationship between oxycodone and anxiety is their overlapping symptoms during withdrawal.

Oxycodone withdrawal occurs when someone who has developed physical dependence stops using the drug. The symptoms of withdrawal can vary depending on dependence severity, how long a person has been using the drug, and other factors.

Anxiety is just one of the uncomfortable symptoms that can occur during the withdrawal process. Among some physical symptoms, people may often experience depression, insomnia, and strong drug cravings. These can increase the risk of a person relapsing, if only to ease these symptoms.

The most effective way to detox from oxycodone and reduce your risk for relapse is to enter a medically assisted detox program.

How Is Oxycodone Abuse And Anxiety Treated?

Early intervention for anxiety problems may reduce the risk of abusing addictive substances like oxycodone. This is also true for intervening early with oxycodone abuse. Long-term oxycodone abuse and anxiety struggles may be more difficult to treat.

However, effective treatments do exist and may be helpful regardless of how long you have been struggling with these co-occurring issues. One effective treatment for co-occurring anxiety and substance abuse is dual-diagnosis.

Dual-Diagnosis For Anxiety And Substance Use Disorders

Dual-diagnosis is a type of treatment that can be effective for co-occurring substance abuse and mental disorders. This involves creating a personalized treatment plan capable of addressing all issues related to a person’s substance abuse and mental health problems.

Most often, this will include therapeutic approaches such as cognitive behavioral therapy. This can be effective for treating both addiction and anxiety.

Treating severe anxiety will not be effective if a person is still engaging in opioid abuse. This may only worsen the anxiety and increase other health risks. The most effective way to treat both anxiety and oxycodone abuse is with formal addiction treatment.

Getting Treatment For Oxycodone Abuse And Anxiety

Treatment for oxycodone abuse and anxiety is often a multi-step process. The type of treatment a person needs can vary depending on personal needs, but will likely begin with some form of detox. Medical detox programs are the safest and most effective way to stop using oxycodone and remove it from your system.

Many people struggling with addiction will also need inpatient treatment within a rehab program. This can provide people with coping tools for long-term recovery and treat co-occurring issues such as anxiety.

Doctors may also prescribe certain medications to ease oxycodone cravings and other persisting withdrawal symptoms. Your inpatient treatment team will work with you to develop a treatment plan that is right for you.

Additional treatments for addiction and anxiety within inpatient rehab may include:

  • Individual therapy
  • Group therapy
  • Family counseling
  • Mindfulness skills
  • Relaxation techniques

Recovering from co-occurring oxycodone abuse and anxiety is possible. To learn more about treatment options for oxycodone addiction, contact one of our specialists today.

Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health - Opioid Abuse Linked to Mood and Anxiety Disorders

U.S. National Library of Medicine: MedlinePlus - Oxycodone

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