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Article Summary


Hydrocodone is a prescription narcotic pain killer used to treat moderate to severe pain. Hydrocodone is an opioid, meaning it is in a category of prescription drug which has many of the same effects of opiate street drugs such as heroin. Prescription opioids such as hydrocodone can be very beneficial for short term use in patients who require pain relief after surgeries or after sustaining an injury for example. However, these narcotic drugs are known to cause tolerance and dependence which may ultimately lead to addiction in even legitimate users. Because of this, there is a very evident and serious prescription drug epidemic with drugs such as hydrocodone at the forefront.

There are a couple of common scenarios where abuse of hydrocodone can occur through legitimate use of the drug. Abuse of hydrocodone can occur for example if an individual has had no history of substance abuse, but develops a tolerance to a certain dose of hydrocodone and ups their dose without consulting with their physician. In low doses, hydrocodone can help with pain management by affecting the way the central nervous system responds to pain. In higher doses however, hydrocodone can produce a high very similar to heroin or any other opiate. So if an individual who is a legitimate user takes too high of a dose in an effort to receive more pain relief, they may be taking a large enough dose to actually experience a high. This can lead to abuse of the drug to get high instead of its intended use to relieve pain, and this happens more often than one would think.

There are of course many examples of individuals who are legitimately prescribed hydrocodone for pain who do have a history of substance abuse, who end up abusing this drug and other prescription opioids. Individuals who have a past or current history of substance abuse, opiate or prescription opioid abuse in particular, are at the highest risk of abuse of prescription opioids such as hydrocodone even when legitimately prescribed. Physicians don't always take the time to determine if this is the case, and individuals who do have a history of abuse of these types of drugs may not make them aware of this fact. Even if not currently caught up in substance abuse, use of hydrocodone can throw them back into substance abusing behavior and cause a relapse. There are alternative medications for such circumstances which are non-narcotic, and these are the types of medications which should be prescribed in these cases if at all possible.

Hydrocodone Abuse

Hydrocodone is of course sought after by individuals with no legitimate prescription who abuse opiates such as heroin and prescription pain killers. As mentioned before, hydrocodone in high enough doses produces the exact same euphoric high as heroin. Much like heroin and other drugs of abuse, hydrocodone can also be administered in a variety of ways to get high. Individuals who want to get high from hydrocodone may crush the drug and either snort it or dilute it and inject it for more immediate and intense gratification.

Whichever way abuse of hydrocodone occurs, whether through legitimate or illicit use, individuals will ultimately develop physical and emotional dependence to the drug over time. The user will find that they need to take hydrocodone and possibly other opiates or prescription drugs more often and in higher doses to achieve the desired effect. The dangers are numerous, because hydrocodone and other opiates and prescription opioids are depressants. If too much is administered, the individual is likely to suffer respiratory depression to the point where they simply stop breathing. This is the typical outcome of an opiate overdose. This is of course particularly likely if the user is combining hydrocodone with other prescription drugs, street drugs, and/or alcohol which is often the case. This category of user often mixes a number of substances to intensify the high and their effects. In attempt to do so, they are also intensifying the side effects and significantly raising the risk of overdose and ultimately putting their lives in jeopardy.

Addiction and abuse of hydrocodone and other opiates is so prevalent because when an individual stops using the drug abruptly, they will begin experiencing hydrocodone withdrawal symptoms, which are similar to those experienced in heroin withdrawal. Legitimate users who may have no drug history at all and begin experiencing this type of withdrawal may not understand it, and can be perplexed as to why they are experiencing typical signs of opiate withdrawal; only to find that these symptoms are quickly alleviated if they take more hydrocodone. This can be very discouraging for someone who didn't know what they were getting themselves into when simply wanting a little pain relief. Typical opiate abusers know this scenario all too well, and know that they will need to seek out and use more hydrocodone or other suitable substitute for relieve the often harsh symptoms of withdrawal. This can be a very vicious cycle and one which can seem nearly impossible to break which will often continue until the individual receives proper help in the form of drug rehab or other treatment.

Hydrocodone Addiction Treatment

Both patients and illicit users of Hydrocodone who are abusing the drug will require treatment, much like any other individual who is addicted to heroin or any other type of street drug. If family and friends see that this is the case and they won't get help, it may be time for a drug intervention. It is very easy to live in denial, especially for legitimate prescription holders because they have all manner of excuses to continue their habit. An intervention can help end the lies and put the truth on the table so that both legitimate and illicit users can break the cycle of addiction and get their lives back.

Opiate addiction is one of the toughest to treat, and individuals who are abusing hydrocodone will benefit most from inpatient and residential drug rehab programs which can help them completely immerse themselves in treatment. This type of treatment involves a safe detox but more importantly helps individuals understand how addiction works, what prompted their substance abuse, and how to effectively avoid this in the future.

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