Long term effects of oxycodone on the brain (INFOGRAPHIC)

Long-term effects of oxycodone may cause damage to the brain. More on the science, research, and effects of oxycodone here.

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Reviewed by: Dr. Manish Mishra, MBBS


The brain on Oxycodone

Oxycodone has the ability to alter your perception and emotional response to pain. It binds to the mu, kappa and delta opioid receptors in the central nervous system. As a result, it changes the way you perceive pain and is very useful as pain management therapy. As a side effect, it also creates euphoria, an extreme sense of well-being.

Long term effects of oxycodone on the brain (INFOGRAPHIC)

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Oxycodone affects the brain and nervous system by acting in the same way as other opioids. It binds to  receptors in the central nervous system, inhibits adenylyl-cyclase and hyperpolarisation of neurons, and decreases excitability. Here are some more specific effects of oxycodone:

1. Neurological effects – Oxycodone changes the neurological structure of the brain and hijacks the reward center.

2. Brain changes – Bombarding the brain with pain-relieving and euphoria-inducing chemicals (neurotransmitters), the brain adjusts to the overwhelming stimulation by reducing the number of receptors or decreasing their sensitivity to dopamine.

3. Personality alterations – The longer you use a drug – the more it changes you. Obsessing over obtaining and using oxycodone, withdrawing from once pleasurable activities, turning introvert, etc. are some of the usual personality shifts seen in oxy addicts.

4. Psychological effects – Depending on genetic predisposition and pre-existing mental health disorders, the psychological effects from oxycodone can be less or more adverse. From mood swings, hallucinations, paranoia, to psychotic episodes; oxycodone can seriously damage your psyche.

5. Behavioral changes – Addiction changes people’s behaviors. When you are in the grips of oxycodone addiction, you may go doctor shopping, appear drowsy, or isolate yourself from your social interactions. Helping an oxycodone addiction may require inpatient or residential treatment, much time, and money.

Main Long Term Effects

Specific long term effects of oxycodone on the brain include:

Nervous System

  • Delirium
  • Mental depression
  • Impaired mental abilities
  • Impaired physical abilities


  • Slows brain activity
  • Can be Responsible for respiratory depression
  • Causes sedation and mental clouding
  • Affects motivation and emotions
  • Compromises mental function and thinking process


  • Changes in personality
  • Low self-confidence
  • Social isolation


  • Anger
  • Anxiety
  • Abnormally cheerful mood
  • Abnormally despondent mood
  • Emotional liability
  • Paranoid behavior
  • Unusual thoughts


  • Addiction
  • Cravings and compulsion
  • Decrease in awareness or responsiveness
  • Difficulty thinking
  • Sudden mood swings
  • Vivid dreams

Does Oxycodone Kill Brain Cells?

We do not know if oxycodone kills brain cells, or not.

Doctors, researchers, and medical experts DO NOT YET KNOW exactly what effects prescription opioids may have on the human brain. When you take oxycodone, certain changes occur in the brain. As explained by the National Institute of Drug Abuse, these drugs act by attaching to opioid receptors in the brain and spinal cord. Chemically, oxycodone blocks the transmission of pain messages to the brain. Oxycodone also causes you to feel high by acting on the reward system in the brain.

Side effects of prescription painkiller drugs include drowsiness, slowed breathing, and slowed heart rate. However, these effects pass once the drug is out of your system. Still other symptoms occurs that affect the brain when you take oxycodone over time. Researchers looking at the neurobiology of oxycodone effects in the early 2000’s found that continued use of oxycodone produces

  • Addiction, or intense drug craving and compulsive use.
  • Dependence, or the need to keep taking drugs to avoid a withdrawal syndrome.
  • Drug liking that overrides executive brain functions.
  • Tolerance, or the need for increasing drug amounts for initial therapeutic effect.

These are considered brain abnormalities. Drug dependence, well understood by science, appear to resolve after detoxification, within days or weeks after you quit oxycodone. The abnormalities that produce addiction, however, are more wide-ranging, complex, and long-lasting.  So, prolonged use of drugs like oxycodone create long-lasting changes in the brain that related to compulsive drug-seeking behavior.

The medical journal, Brain: A Journal of Neurobiology, published a study in 2010 that found that prescription opioids are likely to interfere with:

  • normal decision-making processes.
  • normal reward processes.
  • interoception.

…and executive control of ones’ ability to resist consuming prescription opioids despite their known harmful potential. In other words, oxycodone is thought to “hijack” the brain under the influence of oxycodone. The related adverse consequences that are the hallmarks of addiction may be the result of morphological and functional changes in the brain!

Can You Reverse the Effects?

Experts are still not sure.

Most of the acute effects of oxycodone resolve upon cessation of use. If you are oxycodone-dependent, this means that you can benefit from medical help as you stop taking oxycodone. Certain step-down dosing, tapering protocols, and withdrawal therapies can help you as you remove oxycodone from your system.

However, the long-term damage to your brain is still unknown. A 2011 study written by Stanford University’s Jarred Younger showed that when people chronic low back pain were administered oral morphine daily for 1 month, they experienced significant changes in the volume of several critical areas of the brain (some got bigger and some got smaller) compared to those who received placebo. Even after stopping the morphine and measuring for up to 4.7 months later, these changes persisted.

As scientists investigate further, one thing is certain: oxycodone is a problem drug in the U.S. In 2014, almost 2 million Americans abused or were dependent on prescription opioids. Every day, over 1,000 people are treated in emergency departments for misusing prescription opioids.

So, whether you are a beginning user or are looking to stop for good…we’re behind you! Know what you risk so that you can avoid long-term damage. And, ask us if we can help futher.

Want to learn more?

We hope to have informed you about what can long-term use of oxycodone can do to you and your brain? What adverse side effects have you observed in the nervous system as a result of taking oxycodone? We invite you to post your feedback and comments in the section at the end of the page. We’ll try to respond to all real-life questions personally.

Did you explore our infographic? Like it? Feel free to share or email to a friend or colleague. We hope to inform as many people as possible about the real effects oxycodone has on the brain!

Reference Sources: CDC: Prescription Opioid Overdose Data
NIDA: Brain Power Curriculum: Drugs in Cupboard
The State of Colorado: The Psychological and Physical Side Effects of Pain Medications
About the author
Lee Weber is a published author, medical writer, and woman in long-term recovery from addiction. Her latest book, The Definitive Guide to Addiction Interventions is set to reach university bookstores in early 2019.
Medical Reviewers
Dr. Manish Mishra, MBBS serves as the Chief Medical Officer of the Texas Healt...

All of the information on this page has been reviewed and verified by a licensed medical professional.

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