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Article Summary

A Guide To Vicodin Addiction

Over the past few years, Vicodin has gained some notoriety as one of the most abused of painkillers. Affordable and easily accessible, the rate at which this medication is abused almost doubled in the past 10 years. Today, estimates put the number of Americans suffering from Vicodin addiction at over 2 million.

Further, prescription drug use, abuse, dependence, and addiction have been increasing among all age groups with Vicodin among the most abused. While some use the drug recreationally, others become addicts accidentally while using it following a prescription from their doctor.

Further, since the original use was authorized by a medical practitioner and the drug is so widely available, it is not surprising that many addicts are in denial - which is why few seek treatment for Vicodin addiction.

Read on to learn more:

Understanding Vicodin

A blend containing acetaminophen (an analgesic) and hydrocodone (a synthetic narcotic), Vicodin is commonly prescribed for treating moderate-to-severe pain. The hydrocodone component contains a strong opioid painkiller while acetaminophen is comprised of a milder non-steroid painkiller.

Whereas hydrocodone is the more addictive of the two, acetaminophen is responsible for most of the dangers associated with Vicodin addiction. More specifically, taking more of this medication might cause liver damage on account of the acetaminophen component.

Vicodin Uses

Vicodin combines hydrocodone and acetaminophen in different portions to provide relief from severe pain resulting from injury or surgery. This combination of ingredients packs greater pain killing power, but might also be dangerous than either component taken on its own.

That said, Vicodin has been designed to work in two ways. First, it effectively blocks the neurological pathways which lead to pain sensations. Second, it will enhance the action of the primary neurotransmitter in the body (dopamine), which trigger the pleasure receptors of the brain and cause euphoria.

Unfortunately, Vicodin is quite similar in chemical composition to heroin. Similarly, it is such an addictive drug that many users are likely to become dependent on it in as little as a couple of days.

As is the case with most prescription drugs, Vicodin addicts include those who use it recreationally and those who become addicted accidentally while using the drug for the purpose their doctor prescribed.

Accidental addiction includes those who received a Vicodin prescription to treat severe pain such as from surgery. However, they continued using the drug to relieve chronic, albeit less severe pain, from such conditions as back pain and migraines.

That said, Vicodin is quite effective because it both blocks the pain receptors inside the pain while also inducing euphoria. However, this also means that it is also quite addictive and many users have a hard time quitting.

Vicodin Effects

As a strong opiate painkiller, Vicodin is quite popular in the US. For instance, 112 million doses of the drug were prescribed in 2006. This number grew to 131 million by 2011, making the medication highly over prescribed. This means that people might not need such a strong painkiller or they have been getting it for far longer than they ought to.

Despite the fact that there are many dangers of addiction, close to 1 out of every 5 high school teens have tried Vicodin at one point or the other. Some of these teenagers eventually become addicted to the drug. This might be attributed to the fact that the medication isn't as heavily regulated as other prescription drugs, which eventually contributes to its wide availability and extensive distribution.

That said, Vicodin is now associated with a wide range of negative effects. These include the ordinary short term symptoms of regular use as well as long term effects, such as mental decline, withdrawal symptoms, and addiction.

Consider the following:

a) Short Term Effects

When you take Vicodin over the short term, you are highly likely to experience the following:

  • Anxiety
  • Cloudy thinking
  • Constipation
  • Drowsiness
  • Euphoria, accompanied by a general unhappiness
  • Fear
  • Impaired mental productivity
  • Inability to urinate
  • Lethargy
  • Mood changes
  • Physical dependence
  • Psychological dependence
  • Respiratory suppression
  • Slow heart rate

If you take too much of this medication, you might also suffer from seizures and convulsions, and eventually slip into a coma.

b) Long Term Effects

When you continue taking and abusing the medication in the long term, you are likely to suffer another set of effects. The most predominant of these is the addiction, which will eventually set other changes in motion.

For instance, the drug might change you from a honest, loving, trustworthy, and reliable person into someone even you won't be able to recognize. Your addiction may compel you to cheat and steal, neglect your family and work, and commit petty crimes such as doctor shopping and stealing Vicodin from a pharmacy or an acquaintance.

Vicodin Side Effects

It won't take much for you to start feeling the effects of normal Vicodin use. Even among those who have been following a prescription or taking the drug casually, the following side effects are likely to crop up:

  • Dizziness
  • Itching
  • Stomach upsets
  • Swelling
  • Vomiting
  • Weakness

If you continue taking Vicodin for a long time, it might also cause medical and health issues, including:

  • Jaundice
  • Liver damage
  • Liver failure
  • Urinary system issues

Since Vicodin depresses the central nervous system to block pain receptors, it also naturally decreases heart rate and respirations. This is particularly so if you take it in large doses.

Vicodin Addictive Qualities

With time, taking this medication on a daily basis might lead to increased dosage. Prolonged use may cause you to need more of the hydrocodone component in your system as you long to recreate the original effects of euphoria.

Although doctors are yet to understand the reasons behind tolerance to Vicodin, this might be a signal that you are increasingly dependent on the medication. Although chemical dependence and increased tolerance do not characterize full addiction, might coincide. Further, there might be indicators that you are becoming addicted to the drug.

After the original pleasurable effects from hydrocodone wear off, you may experience some withdrawal symptoms. These symptoms will take over after you become physically dependent on the drug.

Vicodin users and abusers might suffer from both psychological and physical dependence. It won't take long, for instance, for you to build high tolerance for the drug, which is why doctors are likely to refuse to prescribe it to individuals with a history of mental illness or addiction.

Although you might eventually use Vicodin recreationally, you should keep in mind that it was designed for prescription use every 4 to 6 hours. If you consume too much of the drug within a short period, you are likely to become dependent on it and start developing intense cravings for another dose.

As you tolerance increases, the original effects of the medication may diminish, further intensifying your cravings. These cravings might compel you to take more of the drug than was prescribed ending in your becoming dependent on Vicodin, as well as being addicted to it.

Vicodin Overdose

Vicodin works by blocking the brain's pain receptors. However, it also creates feelings of relaxation and euphoria, which tend to be addictive. Over time, you might become tolerant to the drug and require more of it to recreate the original effects you experienced when you first took it. Not surprisingly, some addicts report to taking anywhere between 20 and 30 pills a day.

As a central nervous system depressant, Vicodin works by naturally decreasing respiration and heart rate. This means that abusing the drug is deadly since it carries a high risk of overdose, particularly when combined with other central nervous depressants such as alcohol, or another barbiturate, or opiate.

If you take too much of this medication, your heart rate may slow down even to the point of death. Abusing the drug over the long term also increases the negative side effects you are likely to experience.

According to the US National Library of Medicine, the following are some of the symptoms of Vicodin:

  • Coma
  • Constricted or pinpoint pupils
  • Cyanosis (blue hue to fingernails and lips)
  • Difficult, shallow, or slowed breathing
  • Fatigue.
  • Low blood pressure (Hypotension)
  • Nausea
  • Respiratory arrest
  • Seizures
  • Vomiting
  • Weak pulse

Vicodin Withdrawal

Among the problems accompanying Vicodin abuse is withdrawal, the symptoms to which might set in if you reduce your dose or try to wait longer before taking your next dose. It is because of these withdrawal symptoms that many users decide not to seek treatment or start a recovery program.

The unpleasant effects of withdrawing from this drug are likely to set in immediately after you stop taking the medication abruptly. These symptoms include, but are not limited to:

  • Aches
  • Agitation
  • Bone pain
  • Chills
  • Cramps
  • Depression
  • Diarrhea
  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Dilated pupils
  • Feeling cold
  • Insomnia
  • Intense cravings
  • Extreme sweating
  • Irritability
  • Muscle pain
  • Nausea
  • Restlessness
  • Runny nose
  • Uncontrollable leg movements
  • Vomiting

Vicodin Dangers

Using and abusing Vicodin on a regular basis is dangerous. In fact, recent studies cite this drug as being among the top illicit medications that are highly likely to lead to drug-related accidents and fatalities. Further, the drug might even result in serious injury or death, particularly if you decide to combine it with other substances.

As an opioid painkiller containing hydrocodone and acetaminophen, Vicodin is dangerous due to its acetaminophen component. To this end, taking more than the recommended acetaminophen might lead to liver damage or even death in some dire cases.

Signs And Symptoms Of Vicodin Abuse

The symptoms of Vicodin use, tolerance, abuse, dependence, and addiction vary from one person to another. These signs and symptoms will most likely depend on how long you have been abusing the drug, and might include:

a) Mood/Psychological Symptoms
  • Euphoria
  • Anxiety
  • Severe mood swings
  • Fear
  • Confusion
  • Obsession with getting and using more of the drug
  • Inability to focus
  • Hallucinations
  • Delusions
  • Memory problems
b) Behavioral Symptoms
  • Doctor shopping
  • Going through medical prescriptions too quickly
  • Repeatedly reporting stolen and lost prescriptions
  • Secluded behavior
  • Dishonest behavior, lying and stealing
c) Physical Symptoms
  • Drowsiness
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Itching
  • Swelling
  • Weakness
  • Dizziness
  • Slow heartbeat
  • Lightheadedness
  • Convulsions
  • Seizures
  • Headache
  • Ringing in the ears
  • Constipation
  • Constricted pupils

Treatment For Vicodin Addiction

As you can see, the effects and symptoms arising from Vicodin abuse are quite serious. More specifically, the withdrawal symptoms are so severe that if you try to cure your addiction without medical help, the chances are quite high that you might eventually end up in relapse.

To this need, one of the most effective options for treating addiction to such an addiction involves checking into and receiving treatment from a residential rehabilitation facility, where there will be teams of medical professionals and counselors to help you deal with the problem.

At the facility, the first step might involve a detoxification process as supervised by a medical team. Although detoxification takes some time, it will eventually remove most of the traces of the drug from your body and system. Detoxification will usually be used in addition to such synthetic opiates as Suboxone, which will take over from Vicodin and alleviate your withdrawal symptoms.

At the second stage of your treatment, your medical team might prescribe intensive therapy lasting for a couple of weeks. Over this period, the therapists may help you explore your predicament, those issues that eventually led to your dependency on the drug, as well as alternative ways to deal with and manage and manage these issues.

In case you are at risk of chronic pain, the medical team may teach you several pain management techniques that have nothing to do with Vicodin. These include meditation, self-hypnosis, as well as biofeedback.

However, you should remember that pain management is only a small part of your treatment. Since you might be suffering from other psychological and emotional issues on top of your Vicodin addiction, you may be assigned to attending group and individual therapy sessions.

After the therapy improves your situation enough, you might be allowed to leave the addiction treatment facility, at which point your doctor will recommend after care as the third and, hopefully, last step.

During aftercare, you will still have to attend Narcotics Anonymous, outpatient therapy, and continued medication use. As with any other substance abuse and addiction, you may want to continue remaining alert, as well as vigilant about the real possibility of relapse. Last but not least, you need to continue with aftercare over the long haul until your doctor informs you that you are well enough to stop attending these sessions.

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