Table of Contents
Percocet Addiction, Abuse, and Symptoms


The Basics

This guide explains the effects, trends, and dangers of Percocet use, as well as an unbiased analysis of the medicinal and behavioral treatment methods for Percocet addiction based on current research and publicly available statistics. In some cases, usage statistics are derived from general prescription opioid use, including other products containing oxycodone.

Primary Percocet Dangers

  • Addictiveness: Chronic use of Percocet causes changes in the brain, the underlying cause of opioid dependence, so there’s a high risk of addiction. A comprehensive 2007 study by Nutt et al. evaluated the addictive potential of 20 substances based on physical dependence, psychological dependence, and pleasure. While prescription opioids like Percocet weren’t included in the list, heroin, the illicit equivalent, was included. Heroin ranked highest of all substances, scoring 3 out of 3 in each category.
  • Risk of overdose: An overdose of oxycodone and acetaminophen found in prescription Percocet can cause death. Taking Percocet with alcohol, other opioid medicines, or other central nervous system depressants can cause breathing problems, coma, and death. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, opioid overdoses rose 30% between July 2016 and September 2017, which included a 30% increase in men and a 24% increase in women. Opioids were involved in 47,600 overdose deaths in 2017, which accounted for 67.8% of all drug overdose deaths.
  • Unintended side effects: Percocet use can lead to headaches, chills, fever, dizziness, nausea, stomach pain, loss of appetite, vomiting blood, dark urine, black or light-colored stools, skin rash, fatigue, weakness, bad breath, and yellow eyes or skin.
  • Legal risks: Percocet is a Schedule II controlled substance. If you have a legitimate prescription and obtained the substance legally, you aren’t in violation of the law and are exempt from prosecution. However, possession of Percocet without a valid prescription is a misdemeanor with a first offense commonly punishable by up to one year in prison and/or a $1,000 fine. Subsequent offenses include higher fines and lengthier prison sentences.

Percocet Background Information

Derived From Oxycodone Hydrochloride (semisynthetic opioid analgesic derived from the poppy plant) and acetaminophen (analgesic)
Ways Used Orally, crushed and snorted, smoked, injected
Scientific Name Percocet
Slang/Street Names for Percocet Percs, Ercs, Kickers, M-30s, Rims, Greenies, Tires, Wheels, 512s
How Long in Bodily System Percocet has a half-life of 3.5 hours with an average of 19 hours for complete elimination from the system but can take longer for chronic, heavy users. It can usually be detected for 48 hours in urine tests, starting two hours after the first dose.
Punitive Legal Measures: Using/Possession Because it’s a Schedule II controlled substance, it’s illegal to possess Percocet without a doctor’s prescription. Legal measures vary from state to state, but the first offense of possession is usually a misdemeanor. Potential legal ramifications include up to $1,000 in fines and up to one year in prison. Subsequent offenses may result in increased fines and jail time.
Punitive Legal Measures: Selling/Distributing Selling and distributing Percocet is a felony. Trafficking any Schedule II substance can result in fines of $1 million to $5 million and up to 20 years in prison.
DEA Drug Rating Schedule II

Signs of Abuse

Behavioral Symptoms of Percocet Usage and Abuse

How Percocet affects the brain

Percocet blocks your brain’s perception of pain and causes feelings of euphoria and relaxation. Like other opioid medications, Percocet activates the reward center of the brain, so it produces a sense of well-being and pleasure. Over time, Percocet can slow your brain’s production of natural chemicals that help your body relieve pain. Your body can also develop a tolerance to the drug’s effects, which makes you need more of the drug to achieve the same results.

Behavioral signs of Percocet usage and abuse

Because you can build a tolerance to Percocet and begin taking higher doses more frequently, you may develop a pain reliever use disorder that causes changes in your behavior. According to the 2018 National Survey on Drug Use and Health, an estimated 1.7 million people ages 12 and older had a pain reliever use disorder, representing 0.6% of this demographic. Pain reliever use disorder can cause persistent or increased use, physical withdrawals, health problems, and failure to meet major responsibilities at home, work, or school.

A Percocet abuser may develop an uncontrollable urge to take the drug and keep using it without a doctor’s consent, even if it’s causing health, legal, financial, or relationship difficulties. Because it requires a prescription, it can be difficult to obtain Percocet through legal means, so people addicted to Percocet may seek other ways to locate it. This may lead to forging prescriptions or stealing medication from family members, friends, or even strangers. Abusers may pretend to lose their prescription so they can get another one and visit multiple doctors and/or pharmacies to keep from being caught.

Other behavioral signs of Percocet abuse can include continued use even after experiencing negative effects during prior use, taking the drug even when you’re not in pain, or taking the drug not as intended or prescribed. Abusers may try to borrow or steal Percocet from others or borrow or steal money to buy more Percocet. They may attempt to reduce or quit using Percocet but find themselves incapable of doing so. Abusers may withdraw socially and exhibit mood swings, irritability, anger and aggression, poor decision making, changes in sleep patterns, anxiety, and depression.

Percocet can be a gateway drug because the oxycodone in Percocet affects the body similarly to heroin. Someone addicted to Percocet may be more likely to use heroin, because it’s often easier and cheaper to get on the street. According to the Center for Behavioral Health Statistics and Quality, in 2011, an estimated 4% to 6% of people who misused prescription opioids switched to heroin, and about 80% of heroin users misused prescription opioids first.

Physical Symptoms of Percocet Abuse

How Percocet affects the body

The oxycodone in Percocet binds with natural receptors in your brain to diminish your body’s ability to feel pain, while the acetaminophen strengthens the painkilling effect. Like any opioid, the oxycodone also increases dopamine, which regulates your body’s ability to feel pleasure. Therefore, you not only feel relief from pain, you’re also flooded with a feeling of well-being or euphoria. It’s this effect on your body that often leads to Percocet abuse and addiction. Negative impacts on the body can include weight loss, insomnia, slurred speech, difficulty with balance and motor skills, constipation, exhaustion, shallow breathing, slowed heart rate, and withdrawal symptoms.

Early physical effects of Percocet

You should feel relief from pain within 15 to 30 minutes of taking Percocet, but it typically reaches its peak in about an hour. Effects generally continue for three to six hours. Physical side effects can be unpleasant and potentially life-threatening.

This table illustrates the possible short-term physical effects associated with Percocet.
Short-term Physical Symptoms
Initial (direct effects of drug, 30 – 60 min.) Pain relief
Slowed breathing
Slowed heart rate
Lingering (within an hour of taking the drug) Impaired motor skills
Dry mouth
Loss of appetite
Post-Use (several hours to days after use) Hypoxia (too little oxygen reaches the brain)
Changes in the brain
Mood changes
Nausea and/or vomiting

Severe and long-term physical effects of Percocet

Long-term abuse of Percocet can lead to addiction, which can negatively impact your health and well-being. The oxycodone in Percocet may cause hypotension (low blood pressure), especially if you already have difficulty maintaining blood pressure. If you also have an alcohol use disorder, the acetaminophen in Percocet can stress your liver and cause long-term damage, increasing your risk for acute liver failure.

Chronic users may experience serious adverse reactions, including decreased respiration, respiratory arrest, decreased circulation, and shock. If you take more than prescribed, chew the tablets, or combine Percocet with other sedatives, including alcohol or sleeping pills, an overdose may occur. Combining Percocet with alcohol, benzodiazepines, other central nervous system depressants, or other opioid medicines can also cause breathing problems, severe drowsiness, coma, and death.

Long-term use of Percocet puts you at a high risk of dependence and/or addiction with severe withdrawal symptoms that make relapse more likely. Individuals who follow prescribed doses may also have withdrawal reactions if they stop taking it abruptly. Talk to your doctor about tapering off your medication to prevent opioid withdrawal, which can include dangerous symptoms.

This table illustrates the possible long-term physical effects associated with Percocet.
Long-term Physical Symptoms
Casual Dizziness
Loss of appetite
Slowed breathing
Serious skin reactions
Physical dependence

Including all the above effects for casual use

Sexual dysfunction
Absence of menstrual cycles
Decreased lung function
Liver damage/failure
Kidney damage/failure
Severe constipation
Yellowing of the skin and eyes
Abdominal pain
Black/tarry stools
High/low blood pressure
Heart damage/disease/failure
Irreversible brain damage (possible)
Withdrawal Muscle and bone pain
Nausea and vomiting
Cold flashes
Fever or sweating
Rapid heart rate

Further Resources

Both the National Institute of Drug Abuse and the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration offer in-depth information on both the symptoms and treatment of prescription opioid addiction.

Percocet Usage

Global prescription opioid usage has increased with prevalence remaining in North America

According to the 2019 World Drug Report, in 2017, an estimated 53 million people globally used opioids at least once. This represented 1.1% of the global population between the ages of 15 and 64. North America had the highest prevalence of nonmedical opioid users, with nearly 4% of the population between 15 and 64 using opioids, representing one-quarter of opioid users worldwide. Pharmaceutical opioids remain the biggest concern in North America, which includes nonmedical use of oxycodone, hydrocodone, codeine, and tramadol.

Prescription Opioid Use Throughout the World
Highest Second Third
Regions with the Highest Number of Pharmaceutical Opioids Users North America

(including Mexico)

Australia and New Zealand Asia and Oceania
Countries with the Largest Availability of Pharmaceutical Opioids for Medical Use (daily dose per million people), Average over 2015-2017 North America (30,814) Oceania (12,563) Europe (8,812)

*This table includes data from users of pharmaceutical opioids, including substances that include oxycodone, hydrocodone, codeine, and tramadol.

Sources: United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime – 2019 World Drug Report, Booklet 3

Percocet Usage Demographics in the U.S.

Prescription opioid misuse remains high in the U.S. among all age groups

According to the 2018 National Survey on Drug Use and Health, approximately 10.3 million people age 12 and older misused opioids in the past year, representing 3.7% of the population. Opioids in the survey included heroin and prescription pain relievers containing oxycodone, hydrocodone, or morphine. However, a majority of people who misused opioids in 2018 misused prescription pain relievers. While 9.9 million people over the age of 12 misused prescription pain relievers, only 808,000 were heroin users.

Comparing opioid misuse in 2018 by age group, about 699,000 adolescents between the ages of 12 and 17 and 1.9 million young adults between the ages of 18 and 25 misused opioids. However, adults ages 26 and older represented the largest age group of misusers with 7.7 million people.

The percentages of 2018 misusers in all three age groups were lower than the percentages in 2015 and 2016. The 2018 percentage was also lower than those in 2017 for the 18 to 25 age group but similar to 2017 percentages for the 12 to 17 and 26 and older age groups. While the decreases are encouraging, the numbers remain high.

Demographics of Prescription Usage
Past year (2018) Lifetime
8th grade (14-15 yo) N/A N/A
10th grade (15-16 yo) N/A N/A
12th grade (17-18 yo) 3.4% 6%

Statistics were pulled from the category “narcotics other than heroin,” which could contain prescription pain relievers, such as oxycodone, hydrocodone, codeine, and morphine.

Source: 2018 National Survey on Drug Use and Health

How to Find Help

Dependency on Percocet often occurs after prolonged abuse of the drug; however, consistent use over several days may also cause a physical addiction. Once you’re physically addicted, you may experience extreme withdrawal symptoms when you stop. Physical symptoms of withdrawal can occur in as little as four to six hours after taking your last pill. The discomfort of withdrawal may keep a person using even after they’ve recognized they have a drug addiction and need to stop.

Treating Percocet addiction is a multistep process that slowly tapers you off the drug to gradually reduce the amount you take and prevent relapse. Withdrawal symptoms can be severe and dangerous, so you should never quit cold turkey. To learn more about the treatment process, read the Percocet rehabilitation guide, which provides a comprehensive resource for starting treatment.

Staging an Intervention

If you have a loved one who’s struggling with addiction, staging an intervention is often the first necessary step towards sobriety, but it’s important to be strategic and loving in your approach. Even the most well-meaning of interventions can have a negative effect if they aren’t handled correctly.

5 Tips for Staging an Intervention

1. Don’t Do It Alone. A professional interventionist is always the most qualified to guide a successful intervention. Also, rely on non-addict family and friends – especially those who have a close relationship with you or the addict.
2. Research Ahead of Time. It’s best to do plenty of research ahead of time to gather insight on the addiction and how it affects the addict. Also, be prepared with local resources for getting help.
3. Write Out Your Statement. During the actual intervention, emotions will likely be running high, so it’s best to have a statement of how the person’s addiction has impacted you and your relationship with him or her. These statements should be honest, yet written from a place of love – no personal attacks.
4. Offer Help. It’s important for everyone attending the intervention to offer tangible help and support as the person works through detox and rehabilitation.
5. Set Boundaries. If the person refuses to seek help and take the next steps outlined, it’s important that they understand that everyone present will end codependence and enabling behaviors.