How does Percocet work?

Percocet works by interacting with opioid receptors in the central nervous system. Learn how the brain and body react to Percocet here.

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Percocet is the brand name for a combination pain medication that contains oxycodone hydrochloride and acetaminophen. Percocet is used to treat moderate to severe pain, but how does Percocet work? How fast? How long? And what can make Percocet work better? We answer here, and invite your questions about Percocet at the end of the article.

How does Percocet affect the brain and nervous system?

Percocet contains oxycodone, an opium-derived synthetic substance which effects brain activity, and acetaminophen, an over-the-counter pain reliever. In general, as the main ingredient in Percocet, oxycodone is a central nervous system depressant. Oxycodone seems to provide pain relief by acting on µ and kappa opioid receptors in the spinal cord, brain, and possibly in the tissues directly. Specifically, Percocet binds to opiate receptors in the central nervous system, numbing feelings of pain and sometimes causing a euphoric “high.” Keep in mind that using Percocet to get high comes with risks of dependence and addiction.

How does Percocet work in the body?

Percocet provides pain relief by stimulating the opioid receptors found in the central nervous system that activate responses ranging from analgesia to respiratory depression to euphoria.  How much is too much Percocet?  More than four (4) Percocet tablets per day can start to affect your liver.  Some effects of Percocet on the body are:

  • analgesia (pain relief)
  • euphoria (deep sense of well-being)
  • dizziness
  • drowsiness
  • impaired coordination
  • itching
  • slowed heart rate
  • nausea/vomiting
  • respiratory depression
  • urinary retention

The more serious and life-threatening side effects caused by oxycodone are more likely to occur when Percocet is not taken as directed. Most people taking Percocet as directed experience only mild side effects. Finally, it only takes 2-3 days for  Percocet to get out of your system. So if the side effects of Percocet are undesirable the drug leaves the body relatively quickly.

How fast does Percocet work

Percocet is a short acting opioid, and onset of effects begin in 20-30 minutes after dosing. Percocet hits its peak blood plasma levels very quickly; peak effects of oxycodone occur in 30-60 minutes after you take Percocet. While some people chew, crush, snort or inject Percocet to try to get more immediate effects, these modes of administration increase risks for adverse Percocet effects or potential Percocet overdose. This is especially true for Percocet, which contains acetaminophen.

How long does Percocet work?

Percocet works for anywhere between 2-4 hours. As a short acting opioid, Percocet, should be prescribed at a dosing interval not to exceed 4 hours since the typical duration of effect from an oral dose is 3-4 hours. Percocet is taken as needed, generally every 4-6 hours. It should continue working for at least that long and should not be taken more frequently.

What makes Percocet work better

Percocet should work efficiently as a pain reliever and is taken as needed. Taking Percocet on an empty vs. full stomach does not change the effectiveness of the pain medication. However, there are guidelines to follow in order to take Percocet safely.

1. Avoid other CNS (central nervous system) depressants. Percocet should not be taken along with other central nervous system depressants like alcohol or benzodiazepines, which can cause excessive drowsiness and raise the risk of overdose.

2. Take orally. Percocet needs to be taken exactly as directed. That means it can’t be crushed, chewed, or snorted – when it’s taken in any of these ways, more oxycodone and acetaminophen than is safe may be released into the bloodstream, leading to a potential overdose.

3. Use as prescribed. Percocet should be taken in dose amounts and frequencies AS PRESCRIBED. Taking more Percocet than prescribed can result in serious advserse side effects and possible overdose.

Does Percocet work for everyone?

No. Percocet is not right for everyone. Percocet can trigger many unwanted or uncomfortable side effects. Plus, the oxycodone in Percocet can be addictive. This is why Percocet is not recommended for those with a history of drug or alcohol abuse. Other medications can react with Percocet which can limit your use. Always check with your pharmacist when starting a new medication. Anyone who experiences problems while taking Percocet should talk to their doctor immediately.

How Percocet works questions

Do you still have questions about how Percocet works? Please leave your questions here. We do our best to respond to you with a personal and prompt response ASAP

Reference Sources: National Drug Intelligence Center: OxyContin Diversion and Abuse
Medical College of Wisconsin: Improving Pain

ToxNet: Oxycodone
PubMed Health: Oxycodone
DailyMed: Percocet
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.


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  1. What name brand of Percocets/Endocet, does a pharmacy always have in stock, they always say its on back order, when I request the Endocet.. What does that mean ? Or what type of prescription should I tell my doctor to switch to that the pharmacy will always have in stock.

  2. Ive been taking Percocet for 2 years for chronic pain. 10-325 3 times a day. Csn ypu tell me if this is/or will affect my liver? If so what would be symptoms?

  3. Im taking percocet for pain. Now i have pain in my arm and numb hands. I go to a sprcial doctor to see if i have r.a. wouldnt the pain killer i take. Take away that pain also. Im taking percocet for different pain

  4. I take percocet at least once per day to control my fibromysagia. Ive round that taking it right before I eat is more helpful to me. During the day I can tolerate my pain. Some days are worse than others but I never take more than two on a 24 HR period.

  5. My aunt has been on perc 10/325 for 15 years for a botched back surgery and does not take it like prescribed. We started noticing that she would take more and more and be out for two weeks at a time. She was shaky irritable but never complained of pain much. Her docs tell her to take it four times a day but she isn’t even awake that many hours in the day. I think because she is older and not honest about it they just keep giving it to her.

  6. Please, please, PLEASE, do not leave Nucynta as a patent. I works so much better fhan regular opioids, it is FAR less dependent (I know, as I he taking it for well over 5 years…if the pain is gone, I will INSTANT quit all of it, It works FAR better with virtually ZERO effects). The most problem is it is STILL patented, and it costs FAR too much (over $1,500 per MONTH). The ONLY question, if ANYBODY knows, when will be available as a generic format? Please, dear God, please make it so ASAP…

  7. I had surgery on my knee on 10 26 and was given a peracet that day but my surgeon didn’t give me a script for it till Monday I was taken hydrocodone before my surgery for pain but ran out of it but took peracet had strong reaction to it so stopped it and took 800 ibprofen then I had severa reaction to it as well acid relux and heartburn went to ER for it bc of severe nausea and chest pain and couldn’t sleep. But now went back to peracet only 1/4 the pill but felt it’s still to strong experiencingredients strong heartburn and pain in chest from acid reflex. Going to stop taking it again but I have severe issues now headache can’t relax anxiety and tremors sensitivity to light. Need help want to do know. I know I’m not addicted to peracet haven’t taken it long enough but I did take hydro for a month. Please help idk what to do managing all these medications causing issues for my body and mind.

  8. I’m currently taking percocet. It’s been 1&1/2 hours and no relief. Can I take another? I had a tooth pulled on Friday.. And have been in pain ever since.. Since Friday I have been taking 1/2 of the pill every 2&1/2 hours.. I stopped taking the percocet this am to start weening myself off. I took a Tylenol with codine during the afternoon. At 9pm I started back on the percocet due to no relief of the codine. Please answer a sap.. I don’t want to overdose!!

  9. My husband is an addict. His drug of choice is Percocet. He recently had an issue with not being able to get a deal breath and small chest pain. Want to er and everything checked out ok but was sent for stress test. Dr called and said he in his office Monday morn for results instead of a way later apt that was originally scheduled. Could his addiction have any bearing on his heart? Or results to a stress test

    1. Hi Evelyn. I suggest you talk with your doctor to help you plan an individualized tapering schedule. Also, consult with a pharmacist to recommend some over-the-counter aid, home remedies, baths and teas to ease Percocet withdrawal symptoms.

  10. I agree with Jake, all of you junkies out there looking to get high are giving the real pain sufferers and Percocet a bad name. I have had two failed lower back surgeries, spinal stenosis, degenerative disc disease in L4 – L5 and a tear in S-1. Been like this for 10 years. I’ve had 14 different injections, nerve burns, stimulator implant and no relief. I’ve been told by two pain centers that there is nothing else they can do for me. Percocet is the only thing that gives me any relief. You idiots out ther there looking for a quick high are making it more difficult for me to get the only drug that helps me live my life. I don’t want to take this crap but, I have no choice. Two kids and a mortgage, I don’t have a choice. Do us real pain sufferes a favor and quit blogging about a better way to get high and allow us to communicate on ways for us to help each other.

  11. I have taken percocet for one straight week due to pain. Since then I have been having severe mild to heavy numbness in my arm and fingers. Also a tingling sensation occurs. I’m trying to make an appointment to see the nuerologist. Do you think that taking large amounts of percocets is causing this numbness and tingling in my left arm?

  12. I’ve had ms for 22 years and since 2006 it has become progressive. I have been prescribed percocet since 2009 until now for the severe pain in my feet and neck and it has helped tremendously, however after studying the affects more thoroughly, I am concerned that the medicine may be the cause for my illness going from RRMS to progressive i.e. increased spasticity, severe gait and going from walker aides to wheelchair. I’m afraid that by stopping the pain management will be more difficult than the benefit gained unless of course I regain my ability to walk with any type of aide, then it’s a “no brainer”.. I plan on speaking with my neurologist in Jan. but would like to collect some other opinions.

  13. Amy: I’m taking the occasional Percocet (10-325) right now for an appendectomy I had done yesterday morning. So far it has not made me that drowsy. It makes me feel a little fuzzy and medicine-y and will help me doze if I try to, but it doesn’t make me nod or anything of the sort. Of course, you may react differently. I’d imagine something like morphine would affect you more like you describe.

  14. Will percocet make you drosey to the point that you will doze off but, when someone calls your name you open your eyes. If so, how long will that last?

  15. I have just had my wisdom teeth cut out they gave me norco 5- 325 for the day time hours and now have give me Percocet 10-325 is this safe it says to take one Percocet every 8 hours . Can these to mess be taken in the same day

  16. Two questions, please…
    1. Does Percocet (generic or not) contain any kind of lithium or lithium compounds?
    2. To avoid potential liver damage from acetaminophen, I had my Pain Mgt Specialist switch me to 10 mgs of Oxycodone hydrochloride (contains no tylenol or aspirin) but it didn’t give me the pain relief I get from the Percocet (I use generic). I wound up switiching back to 10/325 Percocet. Why didn’t the Oxycodone hydrochloride work as well as the Percocet?

  17. Hey jake I used to be addicted to opiates with no pain condition or anything….it was hell. I cleaned up my act only to have an accident and now have ruptured, herniated, compressed, degenerated, and slipped discs in my back as well as a pilonidal cyst from the impact. I now totally understand your frustration as its really hard to get powerful paun meds for severe pain an I’m in Ga one of 2 of the strictest opiate prescription states in the country thanks to fla not having a prescription database so addicts flocked there and then when they added the database everyone flocked to Ga where the state government shut alot of pill mills down and honestly yes the addicts play into this equation but the Drs running these mills prescribing 30s for what seems to be mild pain without a conclusive mri or ct bone scan to justify writing that rx. Godbless you all!

  18. Thank you to all the addicts, you make t difficult for people like me who have real severe pain to get the medications. I have nerve damage.

  19. Hello Cindy. I am so sorry to hear of this tragedy. Percocet contains oxycodone and not hydrocodone. You do need to consult with a toxicology expert; I’d suggest that you call a diagnostic / drug testing lab and ask to speak with the Medical Review Officer. Learn more about some of the limits that an opioid naive person can handle before overdose. And perhaps even seek help with a private investigator? I wish you peace during this unsettling time of challenge.

  20. I wanted to add autopsy showed .059 ethanol and 94ng/ml hydrocodone which is in the theraputic range done at 7:00 am one say later. I need a toxicology expert.
    pulmonary congestion

  21. My daughter had her wisdom teeth pulled and the next eve a friend gave her a beer and 3 percs 10/325 around 8:45. She died at 4:00 am. This timeline does not add up to me. I think she rejected this person and he smothered her. She was 5’10.5″ and 156 lbs.
    Never had taken an opiate before.

  22. I have a lot of questions about percocet’s. Does anyone else take them for depression? If I’m depressed or un motivated, I’ll take a 5mil and snap right out of my slump and get a lot done that day. My biggest problem is that I love the way it works for me. Is there any natural supplements that work the same way? Please let me know!!!

  23. I’m a nursing student. I am researching the exact science as how to Percocet leads to constipation. Any help or explanation would be greatly appreciated.


  24. Hi Mistake. It depends on whether or not the test includes “Extended Opioids”. If not, the oxycodone will probably not be detected by a standard 5 panel or opiate drug test.

  25. Ive been clean for 5 months an hit a stupid moment an snorted 60mg i did 30mg on Sun & 30mg on Monday. I have a drug test tomorrow morning which is Friday an im soo nervous i made a huge mistake an need advice. Im 140lbs & 5’7. Do you think i will pass a urine test?

  26. I am shocked at Marty’s question. I’m convinced it was a prank. It wasn’t a serious question…I hope it wasn’t…for his mental sake.

  27. Hey i just got prescribed percocet for Toothache pain and it works great , ive been on it now for 4 days still the same result pain relief and also its the least dose you can get 5mg/325mg is it ok to keep taking it for the toothache pain . Could it be used for a long period of time being as its only 5mg ?

  28. Hi Paul. Onset of oxycodone, the main ingredient in Percocet, is about 30-45 minutes after oral ingestion and can last for 4-6 hours. Wwhen the effect of oxycodone starts wearing off, oxycodone no longer occupies the opioid receptors in the brain. This time will be different for each person, but is around 4-6 hours after dosing.

  29. How long till perc starts to detach of the opiod receptors in your brain and how long till fully detached. Thank you in advance……

  30. Hello Marty. Thanks for your comment. As far as I know, all Percocet contains oxycodone. Are you interested in trying a pain medication alternative, like tramadol, or hydrocodone? If so, you might request more information from your doctor.

  31. I cant find percocet that doesnt have oxycodone. it tends to make very sick . and its hard to find it w/o .

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