By Naomi Carr

Last updated: 09 February 2024 & medically reviewed by Morgan Blair

Percocet is an opioid analgesic medication that is regularly prescribed and misused. Taking Percocet, whether prescribed or illicitly, can result in side effects, including constipation, stomach pain, drowsiness, confusion, and mood changes. Severe side effects, overdose, and dependence can also occur with Percocet use, particularly with prolonged and heavy use.

Percocet Side Effects

What is Percocet?

Percocet is a pain-relief medication containing oxycodone hydrochloride, an opioid analgesic, and acetaminophen, a non-opioid analgesic. Percocet is a commonly prescribed painkiller and is widely misused and abused. [1][2]

Percocet contains oxycodone, which is a Schedule II controlled substance due to its risks of abuse and dependence.[1]

What is Percocet used for?

Percocet is prescribed to treat severe pain that cannot be managed by alternative medications. It is available as a tablet containing varying strengths of oxycodone and acetaminophen, including 2.5mg/325mg, 7.5mg/500mg, and 10mg/650mg. [1]

A typical daily dose of Percocet includes 10-60mg of oxycodone and no more than 4g of acetaminophen per day. Generally, one to two tablets are taken every six hours. [1]

Why do people abuse Percocet?

Percocet contains oxycodone, an opioid analgesic that creates a feeling of euphoria and sedation, contributing to a ‘high’ that reinforces its use and increases its abuse potential. [1][3]

Some people abuse Percocet following prescribed treatment. Percocet and other prescription opioids are common treatments for pain conditions and are easily available for misuse and abuse. Tolerance and dependence can develop quickly with Percocet use, sometimes within several days, which increases the risk of abuse. [2]

When tolerance develops, individuals require larger or more frequent doses to achieve the desired effects, which can lead to misuse or abuse of prescribed or illicitly obtained medications. Dependence on Percocet can develop within several days or weeks of use and leads to the onset of withdrawal symptoms if substance use is stopped, which can contribute to its abuse potential. [1]

Percocet is highly addictive and habit-forming, making it common for individuals to abuse the medication even after the discontinuation of prescribed treatment. This can lead to illegal purchasing of the medication, producing forged prescriptions, or ‘doctor shopping’, which involves visiting several doctors to obtain numerous prescriptions. [4]

Common side effects of Percocet

When taking Percocet, whether as prescribed or illicitly, it is common to experience side effects, particularly when commencing new treatment or increasing the dosage. Common side effects of Percocet include: [1][4][5]

  • Nausea

  • Vomiting

  • Diarrhea

  • Constipation

  • Stomach pain

  • Drowsiness

  • Dizziness

  • Sedation

  • Headache

  • Changes in mood

  • Dry mouth

  • Sweating

  • Change in blood pressure and heart rate

  • Confusion

  • Anxiety

  • Agitation

  • Low mood

  • Loss of appetite

Severe side effects of Percocet

In some cases, severe side effects can occur with Percocet use. This risk is increased when Percocet is misused or abused, such as in larger doses than prescribed or administering the substance in unintended ways. Severe side effects of Percocet can include: [1][2][4][5]

  • Rapid, irregular, or slowed heart rate

  • Persistent vomiting or diarrhea, leading to dehydration

  • Sexual dysfunction

  • Chest pain or tightness

  • Fever

  • Rash or hives

  • Swollen limbs, face, or throat

  • Trouble breathing or swallowing

  • Extreme fatigue and weakness

  • Seizures

  • Extreme changes in mood and behavior, including severe anxiety, depression, or suicidal ideation

  • Hallucinations 

  • Yellowing of the skin or eyes

  • Blurred or impaired vision

  • Difficulties urinating 

  • Tolerance

  • Dependence

  • Addiction 

Tolerance and dependence are likely to occur with prolonged and heavy Percocet use, although for some they may develop within just days of prescribed use. When tolerance develops, the effects of the medication become reduced, leading to the need for increased doses. [1][2]

When dependence develops, individuals are likely to experience withdrawal symptoms when reducing or stopping the medication. Common opioid withdrawal symptoms include anxiety, depression, nausea and vomiting, aches and pains, insomnia, sweating, and increased heart rate. [6]

Percocet addiction can also develop with prolonged use and commonly occurs alongside tolerance and dependence, although it is a distinct condition with physical and psychological effects. Addiction, or opioid use disorder (OUD), can cause compulsive drug-seeking behaviors, use of Percocet in unintended ways or in larger doses than prescribed, and harmful effects on a person's overall functioning and quality of life. [3]

Percocet overdose

People taking Percocet may be at risk of overdose, particularly when taking large doses or using additional substances. Percocet causes depressant effects on the central nervous system (CNS), so if it is taken alongside other CNS depressants, severe and even fatal effects can occur, such as respiratory depression, coma, or death. [1]

The risk of overdose is also increased if Percocet is administered intranasally or intravenously, or if tablets are purchased illicitly. Unregulated tablets may contain substances in addition to or instead of oxycodone. For example, fentanyl is often used in counterfeit tablets, as it is cheap to produce. As fentanyl is far more potent than oxycodone, individuals can be at increased risk of overdose even with small doses. [2][7]

Signs of a Percocet overdose include: [1][5]

  • Weakness

  • Severe fatigue

  • Shortness of breath

  • Trouble breathing

  • Cold and clammy skin

  • Loss of consciousness

  • Unresponsiveness

In the event of a Percocet overdose, call 911 immediately, as life-saving treatment may be required. Naloxone, an opioid antagonist, can be administered to counteract the effects of Percocet. Some doctors will prescribe Naloxone to individuals taking Percocet, to have at home in case of an emergency. [5]

Getting treatment for Percocet dependence

Individuals who are prescribed Percocet should receive regular medication reviews with their prescribing doctor. If it is deemed necessary and appropriate to end Percocet treatment, the doctor will likely make gradual dose reductions to help prevent withdrawal symptoms. [1]

Those who are using Percocet illicitly or have developed a dependence or addiction to the medication may require additional support in reducing and stopping Percocet use. It is recommended to seek professional treatment for opioid dependence, to manage withdrawal symptoms and addictive behaviors, as well as to treat underlying physical and mental health conditions. [3]

Outpatient care can be provided by attending appointments with a clinician, to receive medicinal and therapeutic support. Alternatively, inpatient or rehabilitation services can be utilized, during which professionals can provide consistent monitoring and support, alongside medications, therapeutic interventions, and holistic care. [3][6]

Medications can be prescribed to help individuals during Percocet detox and in maintaining abstinence and preventing relapse, such as: [3][6][8]

  • Opioid agonists: Buprenorphine and methadone are both opioid agonists and can be used during Percocet detox and as a long-term maintenance treatment. They have a similar effect to oxycodone, which can help prevent withdrawal symptoms and cravings, but do not cause the same euphoric effects.

  • Opioid antagonists: Naltrexone is an opioid antagonist, which means that it blocks the effects of oxycodone and deters individuals from using the substance. Naltrexone can be commenced after 7-10 days of Percocet abstinence and can be used long-term to help prevent relapse.

  • Symptom management: Various medications can be used short-term to help reduce withdrawal symptoms such as anxiety, insomnia, pain, vomiting, and diarrhea, including clonidine, benzodiazepines, and non-opioid pain relief.

It can be beneficial to receive continued support and treatment to manage Percocet dependence and prevent relapse. This can include psychosocial interventions, psychotherapy, support groups, and ongoing physical health care. [3][8]