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Article Summary

A Guide To Hydrocodone Addiction

Hydrocodone is an active ingredient used in several prescription medications, the most notable of which is Vicodin. According to Consumer Reports, these painkillers are some commonly prescribed in the US.

Due to the high incidence of abuse and diversion - as well as their potential for addiction - products containing hydrocodone are now ranked among Schedule II controlled substances by the DEA (Drug Enforcement Administration). This was after the FDA (Food and Drug Administration) scientifically reviewed hydrocodone and requested this change back in 2013.

Read on learn more about hydrocodone, its uses, effects, withdrawal symptoms, the potential for addiction, and more:

Understanding Hydrocodone

An opioid, hydrocodone is now considered addictive. It is also dangerous, especially if you abuse it. Because the number of prescriptions of painkillers containing this drug has increased since 2010, there has been a simultaneous rise in the frequency of misuse. To this end, many people have been taking hydrocodone more frequently, in higher doses, or without prescriptions.

Also referred to as dihydrocodeinone, hydrocodone is a derivative of codeine. Today, it is considered to be a semi-synthetic opioid because it is synthesized from codeine got from the natural poppy plant (opium).

Physicians commonly prescribe hydrocodone, an opioid analgesic, for patients looking for short term relief from severe pain, such as after a major surgery. When made into a syrup or liquid form, the drug is prescribed as an antitussive or as a cough suppressant. In this mode, it causes effects similar to oxycodone although liquid oxycodone tends to be 50% stronger.

Since hydrocodone is in the same family as oxycodone and morphine, it comes with a high potential for addiction and dependency. However, this will only happen if you abuse it by taking more than your doctor prescribed, or using it without such a prescription.

Hydrocodone (and any drug that contains it) is sold under various brand names. These include, but are not limited to Norco, Lortab, and Vicodin. Additionally, many opioid painkillers contain a combination of this drug and acetaminophen. If you abuse the painkillers, the acetaminophen component might cause severe damage to your liver.

That said, hydrocodone is commonly administered orally in four varieties including controlled-release hydrocodone, and immediate release with acetaminophen, with aspirin, and with ibuprofen.

The other brand names of prescription painkillers that contain this drug include:

  • Alor
  • Azdone
  • Damason-P
  • Hysingla ER
  • Ibudone
  • Lorcet
  • Vicoprofen
  • Zohydro ER
  • Zydone

To this end, you might want to ask your physician about the brand name medications they have prescribed to find out if they contain Hydrocodone. It would also be in your best interests to understand the risks involved with such medicines. Where possible, inform your doctor about your history of drug abuse or addiction so that they can prescribe alternatives to any painkiller containing Hydrocodone. After all, opioids might not always be the best choice for your particular situation.

Hydrocodone Uses

If you use it as prescribed, hydrocodone is highly likely to relieve any pain you might be feeling significantly. For instance, if you are in severe pain, this medication might prove to be a life saver.

Although hydrocodone is addictive and carries the risk of abuse, it is still ranked among the most efficient of all prescription medications for various types of pain. In fact, the Journal of Clinical Pharmacology recently published an article detailing how patients who received acetaminophen and hydrocodone did not require any more pain control for a minimum of 6 hours after their surgery.

In the same article, those who only received painkillers containing acetaminophen had to take other medications after some time. As such, it is quite clear that hydrocodone does reduce suffering.

Apart from its painkilling properties, this analgesic might also work out well in the treatment of coughs. This is because it also acts as an active antitussive or cough suppressant. The only problem is that its addiction potential is quite acute.

Hydrocodone Effects

As such, even when you take hydrocodone as directed by your doctor, it might still cause the following adverse effects:

  • Vomiting
  • Slow, shallow breathing
  • Seizure
  • Respiratory failure
  • Relaxation
  • Nausea
  • Loss of consciousness
  • Liver failure, which might prove to be irreversible
  • Liver disease
  • Euphoria
  • Drowsiness
  • Dizziness
  • Death
  • Constipation
  • Confusion
  • Coma
  • Blown or pinpoint pupils

As a commonly prescribed opiate drug, millions of prescriptions of hydrocodone are issued every year. However, tolerance might develop quickly, which is why you are highly likely to become addicted to the drug even without realizing it.

Hydrocodone Side Effects

Like with any other prescription medication, this prescription also has an extensive list of potential side effects. These effects include, but are not limited to:

  • Waves of abnormally sad or happy feelings
  • Rashes
  • Itching
  • Difficulty urinating
  • Anxiety

Although most of these side effects are inconvenient at best, hydrocodone might not interfere with your daily lifestyle if you take it according to the doctor's recommendation for relatively short periods of time. On the other hand, if you take it without a prescription or in increased frequencies or larger doses than was prescribed, it is highly likely that these adverse side effects will become life threatening.

Hydrocodone Addictive Qualities

Many prescription narcotics work to control both acute and chronic pain. However, they might also alter your mood and produce feelings of happiness and euphoria. According to NIDA (the National Institute on Drug Abuse), prescriptions for opioid painkillers such as hydrocodone went up to 207 million in 2013. The same report showed that the US consumes close to 100% of the entire production of hydrocodone in the world.

Since it is an opiate drug, hydrocodone will influence dopamine levels in the brain. When you take it regularly for a given period, your brain might become tolerant to the drug.

To this end, you will have to take more of the drug to continue feeling the happy and euphoric effects it creates. However, upping your dosage will only increase your level of dependency, which is how addiction to hydrocodone is formed in the first place.

According to ASAM (the American Society for Addiction Medicine), it is due to these addictive effects that close to 2 million individuals in the US are dependent on these types of prescription drugs. This number also includes those dealing with opioid addiction and abuse. Among the side effects of addiction and dependency include the onset of severe withdrawal symptoms, which might cause you to look for more of the drug when it runs out of your system.

Similarly, when you take hydrocodone over an extended period, your brain is more likely to become dependent on it. However, research shows that smoking or injecting the drug is more likely to increase your dependence - at least faster than if you only swallowed the pills. These types of use will also affect your withdrawal timeline.

Additionally, if you have underlying mental health or medical issues, you are more likely to suffer longer withdrawal. This is because your brain will need to work even harder to go back to the state it was in before you introduced hydrocodone into your system.

Hydrocodone Overdose

If you have been abusing hydrocodone and you continue taking it long enough, your brain and body will adapt to the drug being present in the system. This continued use might also alter how you respond to the drug, in a process referred to as tolerance.

Once you develop tolerance to hydrocodone, you might need larger or more frequent doses to achieve the same effects. While looking for a greater high or as you try to overcome the adverse effects of tolerance to the drug, it is highly likely that you will take larger doses. This is how overdose occurs.

Some of the signs and symptoms of a hydrocodone overdose might include:

  • Clammy or cold skin
  • Coma
  • Death
  • Generalized muscle weakness.
  • Loss of consciousness
  • Profound drowsiness
  • Slowed breathing
  • Slowed heartbeat

Death from overdosing on hydrocodone is likely to be caused by a severe decrease in your breathing - to such an extent that the supply of oxygen to your brain is cut off. Although this scenario is quite extreme, overdose is quite common among those who abuse the drug.

However, the less extreme scenarios might also lead to devastating effects. To this end, possible effects arising from prolonged hydrocodone use include uncontrollable shaking, insomnia, malnutrition, depression, and hallucinations.

Hydrocodone Withdrawal

If you are physically dependent on hydrocodone, the withdrawal effects might occur within 6 to 10 hours after your last dose. Although these effects might not be life-threatening, their intensity will depend on how long you have been abusing the drug as well as the amount you used.

The withdrawal symptoms might peak 48 to 72 hours after your last dose and will only wane in around two weeks. However, this duration varies from one addict to the next. These symptoms include but are not limited to:

  • Vomiting
  • Sweating
  • Runny nose
  • Muscle aches
  • Mood swings
  • Headaches
  • Goosebumps
  • Fatigue
  • Diarrhea
  • Depression
  • Cravings for the drug
  • Chills
  • Anxiety

The only way to shorten your recovery time from these withdrawal symptoms is by undergoing a medical detoxification. Therapy and medications have been proved to soothe the distress arising from hydrocodone withdrawal while reducing the risk that you will relapse.

Hydrocodone Dangers

The adverse effects arising from abusing hydrocodone are similar to those of heroin and morphine. This is mostly because these three drugs act within the same parts of the human brain.

Hydrocodone attaches itself to the opioid receptors in the brain. By so doing, it reduces pain while also creating intense feelings of happiness and euphoria. Additionally, the drug might also interact with the reward system of the brain, where it will reinforce continued use.

However, when you continue abusing the drug, you might cause short and long term damage to your mental state and body functions. Similarly, if you take hydrocodone excessively and overdose, it is highly likely that you might die.

Signs And Symptoms Of Hydrocodone Abuse

The common symptoms of hydrocodone abuse and addiction tend to vary among those who abuse this narcotic. Some of the main signs and symptoms of abuse include:

1. Mood Symptoms
  • Abnormally cheerful mood
  • Unusually despondent mood
  • Anxiety
  • Emotional liability
  • Euphoria
2. Behavioral Symptoms
  • Withdrawing from activities you previously used to find pleasurable
  • Social withdrawal
  • Requesting frequent hydrocodone refills
  • Financial problems
  • Drowsiness
  • Doctor shopping, or visiting several doctors in a bit to get additional prescriptions for products containing this drug
  • Borrowing money to acquire the drug
  • Borrowing and stealing pain medication containing hydrocodone from others
3. Physical Symptoms
  • Blood clotting issues
  • Constipation
  • Dizziness
  • Dry throat
  • Itching
  • Lightheadedness
  • Nausea
  • Physical dependence on the drug
  • Problems with urination
  • Pupil constriction
  • Rash
  • Vomiting
  • Withdrawal symptoms when you stop using the drug
4. Psychological Symptoms
  • Psychological dependence on the drug, which causes you to believe that you must use hydrocodone to continue functioning normally
  • Difficulty thinking

Treatment For Hydrocodone Addiction

In many cases, it is the doctor who first intervenes when a patient displays the classical signs of hydrocodone abuse. If you have been abusing this prescription medication, you might be caught as you fill prescriptions from several doctors, ask for a new prescription before your last one is finished, or fill a new prescription before your next refill is due.

Although the medical professionals you deal with are likely to help wean you off this drug, a better suggestion would be to undergo a professional addiction treatment program. This is because the latter will come with detoxification as well as therapeutic support.

Some of the treatment options available for those who abuse hydrocodone include:

1. Outpatient Treatment Programs

These types of treatment programs are highly likely to provide you with the quality services you require. However, they are also flexible meaning that you can continue meeting your daily responsibilities - including childcare and work - while attending therapy.

2. Inpatient Treatment Programs

Inpatient treatment happens to be more structured and immersive than the outpatient option. As such, you need to live with other addicts while undergoing treatment. That said the inpatient facility is likely to provide you with trained staff and supervised medical care throughout the detoxification and therapy process. You might also receive medication-assisted treatment to manage your cravings and withdrawal from hydrocodone abuse.

Irrespective of the option you pick, you might also benefit from the following additional treatments:

  • Individual therapy sessions
  • Group therapy sessions
  • Educational talks about hydrocodone addiction and recovery

Overall, recovery from addiction might save your life. The earlier you get started on treatment, the easier it will be to beat your dependence on hydrocodone and recover fully.

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