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.

minute read
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)

Embed this infographic to your website

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.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

I have read and agree to the conditions outlined in the Terms of Use and Privacy Policy.

  1. My father was an oxycontin for over 15 years for an injury that he obtained it work. When he was first prescribed this it was the miracle drug and it was supposed to help him not to be in pain to be free of is narcolepsy of his anger is depression. All this drug did was create a dependence and more depression and it changed my dad. Over 15 years he had tried to get off of Oxycontin how many times and he always went through serious withdrawals. I remember the first month he was on it and he let his prescription lapse on accident. I thought my dad was having a heart attack and I was ready to take him to the ER. I had never seen my dad like this. He has now been off of Oxycontin for over 2 years and he did not do it the way his doctor wanted him to do it because he knew that if he did it that way he would never get off of it. I had a friend who is able to make a placebo from an Oxycontin pill it’s a natural medicine thing it basically takes the vibration of that pill and puts it into a sugar pill. That is what got my dad off of Oxycontin permanently. His doctor was completely amazed and in disbelief by it and now has no time for him. What I want to know is what this drug does to the brain tissue. I know people who’ve used this horrible substance recreationally and after they had an MRI it was found that pieces of their brain had completely deteriorated away. Is this what happens after long term use using it as your doctor prescribed? My my dad is not the same person I grew up with. I know any injury is going to change somebody but this is different it’s almost like the part of his brain that deals with rational reasoning, common sense, knowing what to say and what not to say at the appropriate times is just gone. There are people in his life that do not understand, I would like to be able to show them that this is not all his fault the way he is is not because he chooses to be that way but because the long term use of this drug deteriorated his brain. In reading all of the different comments on this site I am so sad that any of you have to go through this. No one should ever be prescribed this drug I feel like it should be taken off the market altogether. I have not seen one person that it is done something good for yet. I wish all the best to all of you who are struggling. Please no that there is hope and that a man who was on this drug for 15 years was able to get off of it finally and if he can do it I know it can be done. It won’t be easy but you can do it good luck and God bless

  2. I am a long time chronic pain opiode patient . Although not a addict I know I am physically dependant after many years on oxycodone . We finally legalized MM in Flat last Nov . However the training for doctors and dispensaries are lagging behind . Those who are afraid of opiate deaths due to overdose should become more knowledgeable about MM and use it as a tool to fight opiate use and abuse

  3. If a person took oxicodine for over a year and ended up addicted to it would there be adverse life long brain and psychological changes? After not using for a year would brain and psychological adverse effects diminish. ? Or would they remain.

  4. I would like to know what an effective detox would be. I experience withdrawal by the time I wake up; and as the day goes on if I don’t have oxy the withdrawal gets much worse. My legs and arms start moving uncontrollably, I’ll get nauseous and also experience pain throughout my body. It’s horrible and all I can do is cry. I want to get off of the oxy entirely now, even if my crohnic pain continues. My doctor wants me to wean off as I did with the fentanyl I was on previously. I just can’t do it, I’m not strong enough to cut back. What do the detoxes offer in terms of medications and withdrawal? One told me they give “comfort meds”, but wouldn’t tell me what they give. Can you please guide me? I take about 120-160 mgs a day.

    1. Hi Cathy. First, consult with you doctor to help you plan an individualized tapering schedule. Then, consult with a pharmacist to recommend some over-the-counter aid, teas, hot baths, vitamins and supplements that can help you ease withdrawal. Many people use hydroxyzine and promethazine to prevent or reduce nausea and vomiting, while methocarbamol is used to treat muscle cramps and joint pain. Also, download our free e-book ‘How To Quit Opioid Painkillers’ to learn more about the quitting process of opioids, here: https://addictionblog.org/ebooks/how-to-quit-opioid-painkillers/
      Keep in mind that the safest and best way to quit any dependable drug is under medical supervision. And, if it too hard for you, I suggest that you call the number you see on the website to get in touch with a trusted treatment consultant who can help you find the right rehab program for you.

  5. I have been on oxy 15 MG 3 times daily, for over 2 yrs. I take it along with the muscle relaxer Soma. I’ve been trying to ‘cut back’ on my own and I don’t think I can do it. I meditate, take showers, walk, even tho unsteady and hurting, and I can’t sleep. I got to my pain management Dr in 5 days but I wonder if I can make it that long. I’m wondering if I will have to be hospitalized to come off this med. Any advice?

  6. My live in boyfriend with chronic pai hasbeen perscribed oxy for 7 years now. He has been binging a week out of the month for a year now. Before he took it every day. His state of mind is detoriating: psychotic yelling that makes no sense, withdrawl from human interaction, serious memory loss, misplacing or throwing away important things, no common sense in important issues. He also has angina and pain in his arms. He refuses to take it seriously. I am execting to wake up one day to him dead. What are the chances of this seriously. Am i over reacting?

  7. Over the last 2 months I have lost all my emontions/feelings. I do feel happy,sad, can’t laugh or even cry. And a new symptoms, I don’t even feel hungry, thirsty or even the need to take my pain pills
    What is going on with me? I need help

  8. I am so lost. I have no one except my ex girlfriend, ( we are still friends), and am a 60mg to 80mg a day addict. All she does is down me and tell me what an idiot I am. She left me because of the addiction. I’ve lost my job, have no insurance, and have had cervical spine surgery 4 weeks ago, so all I can do is just sit, trying to recover from this surgery. My oxycodone is prescribed, as I have been suffering from chronic pain from my spinal condition for over 8 years, and I have been on the medication for that length of time. Finally had the surgery, now I’m left with the addiction and having no job, who’s going to help me for free??? NO ONE.

    1. Hi Steve. Call the helpline you see on the website to speak with a trusted treatment consultant who can help you find a suitable rehab program for you.

  9. Please stop this medication immediately, my lovely Son attempted suicide 3 times while on it eventually succeeding in ending his life, I think a charge of manslaughter should be mandatory for doctors who prescribe it long term

  10. Back injury 3 year’s ago. Injections then surgery. Not great success . Pain relief started at 1 to 2 endone a day and has moved to 60 to 80 mg of targin a day. For the last 12 months I’ve increased to the 80mg total. I’ve sometimes had more as a forget what I’ve had. I’ve started getting the jitters. Forgetful. Unreliable and moods of hi to completely low. I’m trying cold turkey . But with some Valium and a wine. Lots of sweats hot cold fighity and uncertain and watery eyes a lot.. My pain remains but I realise my health is declining mentally and physically. I’m nearly at day 3 with no opioid. My last 3 year’s have blended into 1 long blur. Only thing I have going for me is I have stayed active and reasonably fit. Socially I have lost it all. Love has gone as too has my career. I’d love it all back. So tomorrow will be day 4. Less wine and less Valium. I may be doing it wrong but one day at a time and I’ll be a month without oxy. I cant wait to see again smell again laugh again love again and live again. Wish me luck. Good luck to those of you trapped in my position. X

  11. I understand that this medication can cause long-term changes both mentally and physically. How does one address the difference in social or personal disorders caused by a dysfunctional family, a dad that cusses you out every time you speak to him, a Mom who treats you like an 8 year old, both who make you feel like every decision ion your life is a mistake, and 12 disabilities now with Lymphedema which has no cure and is so painful? I have worked since I was 15, raised myself since I was 16 and
    obtained a CPA and MBA and have worked for large companies and very long hours for years. Are you saying it’s better to suffer from all this than be on any meds? I don’t know what to do. I am a Christian and have consulted with my pastor. Any advice would be appreciated.

  12. I have been on Oxycodone since 2012 tell March 2016 while most of the years was talking 30 mg 6 times a day. Not on it now but have terrible mental problems resulting from it. I can’t get house work done of take care of my family any more. THE CRYING SPELLS are really out of hand. No Anti Depression Meds stop the crying. PLEASE TELL ME HOW LONG THE CRYING WILL LAST. It’s a daily basis thing. The only thing that stops the crying is Suboxone. They also say that is harder to get off than the Oxys. PLEASE I AWAIT YOUR ANSWER AS WHAT TO DO.

    1. Hi Kim. You may consider speaking with a psychologist about your issue. Also, try enrolling into support groups just to share your experience.

I am ready to call
i Who Answers?