WebMD Logo Icon
WebMD Connect to Care helps you find services to manage your health. When you purchase any of these services, WebMD may receive a fee. WebMD does not endorse any product, service or treatment referred to on this page. X

Here's What Happens If Your Oxycontin Addiction Goes Untreated

By Kristen Gasnick
Medically Reviewed by Yilang Tang, MD, PhD on July 26, 2021
OxyContin addiction can result in long-term side effects that impact multiple systems of the body. While some side effects are moderate and can go away when OxyContin use is stopped, other side effects are more serious and potentially life-threatening.

OxyContin is an opioid prescription medication that contains an extended-release form of oxycodone. Patients use it to treat severe and chronic pain. Long-term OxyContin use increases the risk of abuse, dependence, and addiction, according to its manufacturer Purdue Pharma. If left untreated, OxyContin addiction can cause a variety of side effects that range from moderate to potentially life-threatening.

The following are possible long-term effects of OxyContin use:

Drowsiness and Fatigue 

Because the drug works by depressing your nervous system, OxyContin abuse can also cause drowsiness, tiredness, sleepiness, and fatigue.

OxyContin helps to relieve pain by activating specific opioid receptors called mu receptors. These receptors are located on a variety of organs and are particularly concentrated in parts of your brain, like your medial thalamus, S. Monty Ghosh, MD, FRCPC, ISAM, tells WebMD Connect to Care. Your medial thalamus regulates alertness, so by activating mu receptors located in this part of your brain, OxyContin can cause drowsiness and increased sedation, Ghosh says. 

Gastrointestinal Problems 

Gastrointestinal problems are common side effects of long term opioid use, including OxyContin, as mu receptors are also located in the gut. 

“By activating parts of the gut, it can slow down gut motility, causing constipation,” Ghosh says. 

Nausea and vomiting are also common side effects of OxyContin use, especially when in withdrawal.

Respiratory Depression  

The most serious side effect of OxyContin addiction is respiratory depression. Mu receptors are particularly concentrated in your brainstem, which regulates breathing, Ghosh says. When OxyContin activates receptors in your brainstem, depression of your respiratory system occurs, which can cause shortness of breath and difficulty breathing.

Purdue Pharma warns that if respiratory depression is not immediately recognized and treated, it may lead to respiratory arrest and death. There is a high risk for overdose and death with OxyContin because it is an extended-release drug, meaning the oxycodone in it is meant to be delivered over an extended period of time, and often in large amounts.

Don’t Wait. Get Help Now.

The long-term effects of opioids should always be taken seriously. OxyContin addiction can cause a variety of unpleasant and potentially life-threatening side effects. If you or a loved one are struggling with addiction, WebMD Connect to Care Advisors are standing by to help.

Treatment & Resources for Prescription Drugs