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How Does Oxycodone Affect a Developing Brain?

As an opioid, oxycodone directly affects the brain. When people are in adolescence, their brains are still developing. In fact, studies show that the brain continues to develop until age 25 or so. As a result, abusing oxycodone before that age will have an effect on the brain in a developmental stage.

Effects on the Brain

The body produces endorphins, which are its own natural painkillers. Opioids affect the brain by landing on the same brain receptors that endorphins use.

Receptors work with neurotransmitters—think of them as message carriers—to carry a message from your nervous system to your brain. Opioids stop these messages from transmitting to your brain via your nervous system. This is what stops you from feeling pain.

Besides affecting the pathways in our brain that detect pain, opioids also affect the locus coeruleus. This is a part of the brain stem that slows your breath, reduces alertness, causes constipation, and reduces blood pressure due to stimulation from opioids.

The brainstem connects with the prefrontal cortex, which governs how you make decisions and judge between what is good or bad. Your mind will start to think the medication is good, and you will then start to crave it because your body will adapt to functioning with it present.

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How Does Oxycodone Affect a Developing Brain?

More studies are needed to understand how oxycodone specifically affects the brain of teenagers and young adults. Still, most drugs affect the brain in similar ways, no matter what substance is used.

The brains of teenagers and young adults continue to mature until about their mid-20s. Drugs can get in the way of the brain’s normal development and could even change its structure with continued use. This explains why a teenager or young adult may become addicted to substances faster than older adults.

In addition to this, drugs may also cause teenagers to react extremely to certain situations as compared to adults. Taking drugs can also delay the development of the parts of the brain that make decisions, set goals, and establish value judgments. Since teen brains already struggle with impulse control, drug use further compounds the issue.

How Parents and Caregivers Can Help

Addiction is a disease that affects the brain. It doesn’t spontaneously resolve on its own. Treatment is needed to prevent further damage to the brain.

Parents and caregivers can help teens and young adults who may be dependent on or misusing drugs. They can equip themselves with information by talking to addiction experts and finding the best ways to convince their child or loved one to seek treatment. Oftentimes, it can help to involve medical professionals or addiction treatment experts in the process.

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), these professionals can include:

  • Your child’s doctor
  • A psychiatrist
  • A physician who focuses on addiction
  • An interventionist

Is the Damage Reversible? 

Data on the effects of brain damage because of oxycodone specifically is not available. But we do know a lot about the brain damage sustained by teens who abuse alcohol or marijuana.

Teens who drink alcohol may damage nerve tissue in their brains. Scientists feel this damage could affect girls’ ability to understand and make sense of visual information. It could affect boys’ ability to concentrate.

While research into the effects of drugs on developing brains is ongoing, heavy use of any kind of drug during the teen and young adult years is something to worry about. Prompt intervention is needed to stop the abuse before significant damage to the brain takes hold.

What Is Oxycodone?

Oxycodone is a pain medication classified as a narcotic analgesic. The medication is an opioid, and it relieves pain by acting on the central nervous system (CNS). It is known by various brand names, including OxyContin, Oxydose, Oxyfast, and Dazidox. It requires a prescription, and it is available in tablet, solution or capsule form.

The medication is also known by various street names. Among them are:

  • Oxy
  • Oxy 80s
  • Kickers
  • Killers
  • Blue
  • Hillbilly heroin

Oxycodone is also included in Percocet, along with other drugs, to alleviate pain.

According to the Mayo Clinic, oxycodone should only be used when needed. It is not meant for mild or short-term pain. Instead, it helps with severe or chronic pain. Oxycodone is listed as a Schedule II drug, denoting that it has a medical purpose as well as a high risk for abuse and addiction.

It comes in short-acting and long-acting versions. Short-acting versions can reduce pain about 30 minutes after taking it, and effects can be felt for up to four hours. Long-acting forms of oxycodone can be taken about every 12 hours to control pain.

Risks and Side Effects

Dependence is a risk if oxycodone is used for a long time. With continued use, tolerance forms, and users may need higher doses to manage pain effectively. People who use oxycodone for nonmedical purposes can also quickly become tolerant to its effects. This increases the chances of misusing it, as people simply take higher doses of the drug more often.

There are various side effects associated with oxycodone including:

Side Effects of Oxycodone

  • Constipation
  • Drowsiness
  • Fever
  • Chills
  • Dizziness when standing up or sitting after a long time

Other side effects are less common, but some people do experience them. They include:

Less Common Side Effects of Oxycodone

  • Blood in urine
  • Fainting
  • Difficulty swallowing
  • Hives
  • Vomiting
  • Unexpected weight loss

More research is still needed, but in extremely rare cases, some people may experience:

Extremely Rare Side Effects

  • Gagging
  • Irregular breathing patterns
  • Yellowish skin or eyes

It is important to talk to your doctor if you experience any of these effects. Along with this, tolerance may make it easy to overdose. People take increasingly larger doses to feel the effects of oxycodone, and they can easily take a dose that is simply too high, triggering an overdose.

Oxycodone overdose can be deadly. Signs of it include:

Signs of Oxycodone Overdose

  • Pinpoint pupils
  • Chest pain
  • Reduced or shallow breathing
  • Excessive sweating
  • Slow heartbeat

An overdose requires immediate medical attention. Call 911 immediately if one is suspected.

oxycodone-pills

Misuse of Oxycodone

Those who take Oxycodone for recreational purposes tend to misuse it by:

  • Taking doses more often than prescribed
  • Taking higher doses than prescribed
  • Crushing the pills into a powder to be snorted
  • Dissolving crushed pills into water and injecting the solution with a syringe
  • Chewing the tablets
  • Mixing oxycodone with alcohol or other substances of abuse

Misusing Oxycodone increases the chance of an overdose.

Physical Dependence and Withdrawal

Becoming dependent on oxycodone may cause you to experience withdrawal symptoms if you suddenly stop taking it. If you’ve been using it medically, and doctors determine that you no longer need it, they will slowly reduce your dosage to avoid the unpleasantness of withdrawal. The process is uncomfortable but not lethal.

These symptoms may signify opioid withdrawal:

Symptoms of Withdrawal

  • Insomnia
  • Runny nose
  • Anxiety
  • Muscle pains
  • Yawning
  • Tearing on the eyes
  • Nausea
  • Dilated pupils
  • Chills

Many of the symptoms feel similar to a bad case of the flu. Withdrawal typically sets in 30 hours after last using oxycodone.

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