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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