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Hydrocodone Addiction

Finding relief from pain sends many on a search for the drugs that promise to make them feel better, even if for a short time. Some people will use these potent opioid medications as they should while the powerful pull of these habit-forming drugs will cause some to misuse and abuse them.

Right now, the opioid crisis in the U.S. is showing that many are in the latter two categories. Prescription drug abuse has increased across groups, from teenagers to the elderly. Hydrocodone, a pain-relieving medication, is among the opioid medications that have a role is at the center of it, and it doesn’t appear to be slowing.

The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Administration (SAMHSA) cites data showing that in 2015, nearly 60 million people were reportedly using hydrocodone; more than seven million people were reported to have misused or abused it. Adolescents and teenagers are also drawn to the powerful substance. SAMHSA reported that in 2013, about 10 percent of all 10th- and 12th-graders reported using Vicodin (made with hydrocodone) recreationally. 

People who abuse hydrocodone and opioids, in general, are risking their lives when they do so. If they don’t overdose, they will be fighting an addiction, a long battle that may not end unless one gets professional help.

What Is Hydrocodone?

Hydrocodone is a powerful opioid medication that is commonly prescribed to treat moderate-to-severe pain. It also can be prescribed as a cough suppressant. Its potency has been compared to that of morphine. Like most other opioids, hydrocodone binds to pain receptors in the central nervous system and blocks nerves from sending pain signals to the brain. This changes the way hydrocodone users perceive pain. Though the source of pain has not been reduced or eliminated.

Hydrocodone is more widely recognized under the trade names Vicodin, Norco, Lorcet, and Lortab. Vicodin actually is a combination drug of the opioid pain reliever hydrocodone and acetaminophen, an over-the-counter pain reliever. Pure hydrocodone is sold under the trade name Zohydro ER, and it comes in an extended-release capsule.

Medications containing hydrocodone are prescribed more frequently in the U.S. than any other opioid medication, the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) reports. Common side effects of this drug include nausea, vomiting, constipation, drowsiness, dizziness, anxiety, slowed or irregular breathing, and mood swings, among others. When used for short-term treatment as directed, hydrocodone has been effective for some users. Still, this medication is addictive and can be habit-forming. Regular use can develop into a physical and psychological dependence that isn’t easy to end one’s own. 

Hydrocodone may be more widely known on the recreational drug scene as Vikes, Vics, Vicos, Hydros, Lorris, Fluff, Norco, Tabs, Watsons, or Idiot Pills, among others.

What Are the Signs of Hydrocodone Addiction?

People abuse hydrocodone for its euphoric effects. It can take anywhere from two weeks to a month for someone to develop a physical dependence on hydrocodone. With this kind of chronic use, long-term users are likely to feel the onset of withdrawal symptoms if they miss a dose.

People who abuse hydrocodone to the point of addiction may exhibit these physical signs and symptoms:

  • Chronic drowsiness
  • Dizziness
  • Slower heart rate
  • Constricted pupils
  • Shallow breathing
  • Rashes
  • Lethargy
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Headaches
  • Ringing in the ears
  • Blurred vision
  • Constipation
  • Dizziness
  • Seizures

Behavioral and psychological signs of hydrocodone addiction include:

  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Insomnia

General signs of addiction also apply to people who abuse hydrocodone. Those include:

  • Strong hydrocodone, Vicodin cravings
  • Constantly thinking about hydrocodone medications
  • Going to great lengths to obtain hydrocodone, such as “doctor shopping”
  • Experiencing withdrawal symptoms hours after the drug is last taken
  • Taking hydrocodone to avoid withdrawal symptoms
  • Hiding drug use from family, friends, colleagues
  • Feeling unable to stop using the drug despite repeated attempts to quit
  • Feeling like you can’t function without the drug
  • Mixing hydrocodone with alcohol or other drugs
  • Using the drug despite the negative consequences

Chronic users may want to get stop using hydrocodone by just not taking it anymore. But, unfortunately, it doesn’t work that way. Quitting the drug abruptly after long-term use isn’t the way to go. People who do this are at the risk of relapsing, and a return to using after a break could result in overdose. If you or someone you know has recently stopped using hydrocodone, and you notice changes in how you’re physically feeling or in your body, then you likely have entered into withdrawal. Hydrocodone withdrawal is rarely life-threatening, but the symptoms are so uncomfortable that users may pick it up again just so they can stop feeling ill. There are, however, withdrawal symptoms that can lead to more serious health complications. They include:

  • Chest pain
  • High blood pressure
  • Irregular heartbeat
  • Seizures
  • Shortness of breath
  • Rapid heartbeat (which can lead to heart failure)
  • Painful urination
  • Other serious conditions that are causing great discomfort and pain

If any of these are experienced, call 911 immediately or visit the nearest hospital, emergency room, or urgent care center immediately for medical attention. Withdrawal symptoms serve as red flags that drug addiction has taken over your life. Ending it on your own may be hard do. Most people will find getting professional help from a licensed medical center as the safer option.

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How Is Hydrocodone Addiction Treated?

Ending hydrocodone dependence with the help of a treatment center is a solid decision. An effective recovery program starts with medical detox, a critical first step. This procedure, which can run from three to seven days or longer, is considered the safest way to manage uncomfortable withdrawal symptoms and rid the body of the drug(s) and other toxins. It also helps reduce the chances of relapse.

The detox period is closely monitored 24/7 by licensed medical professionals. They regularly check clients’ vitals, such as one’s heart rate, breathing rate, and blood pressure. A tapering schedule may be implemented to slowly wean a person off hydrocodone as the body attempts to stabilize itself after chronic substance use. Medical care providers also may administer medications to help ease withdrawal symptoms while monitoring clients’ overall health and vital signs.

After detox is complete and the client is medically stable, the next step is to enter into the proper treatment program. Addiction treatment varies from person to person according to one’s needs. Treatment options are a continuum from the highest level of care to the lowest level, or the least restrictive. Depending on the severity of one’s addiction and other factors, clients may be placed in an inpatient (residential) treatment, partial hospitalization programs, or intensive outpatient treatment. All of these programs give substance users in recovery the time and space needed to get the root of their addiction and learn the skills, tools, and strategies they will need to manage their sobriety. 

The detox process also includes having clients evaluated to see how far along their addiction is as well as any physical and mental health disorders they may have. The initial assessment also can determine if a person has co-occurring disorders or dual diagnosis, which is when a mental health disorder and a substance use disorder are happening at the same time. People who with a dual diagnosis benefit most when both disorders are treated at the same time is important.

Treatment can combine different programs, therapies, and services that can help the person recover from addiction. Twelve-step programs (examples: Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous) are popular among people in recovery because it keeps them focused on their new life. Other people participate in various kinds of therapies that promote health and wellness, including holistic therapy, motivational therapy, and trauma therapy. 

Effective programs may also include:

Recovering hydrocodone users may want continued support when treatment ends. They should seek aftercare services that can help them avoid relapse and stay focused on their best life they can have in recovery. Post-treatment assistance can help people with finding a job or finding transitional housing that fits their needs. Ongoing medical services also can help people manage post-acute withdrawal symptoms, known as PAWS. These can happen for weeks, months, and even years after substance use ends. Irritability, depression, and cognitive impairments, such as memory loss, are among the PAWS symptoms that some deal with. Some people join their treatment center’s alumni program so they can stay in touch with fellow people in recovery. 

How Dangerous Is Hydrocodone Abuse?

There’s always the danger of overdosing on a drug, especially if one’s tolerance for it is high. Taking too much hydrocodone or abusing it with alcohol and other drugs, such as other opioids or even benzodiazepines, which is common, can significantly increase the chances that an overdose will happen.

Signs of a hydrocodone overdose include:

  • Low blood pressure
  • Cold, clammy skin
  • Blue lips and nails
  • Drifting in and out of consciousness
  • Vomiting
  • Slowed or stopped breathing
  • Seizures

Breathing trouble and seizures should be addressed immediately with emergency medical attention. If you see someone undergoing these symptoms, call 911 immediately or get the person to the nearest hospital or medical care facility.

Hands holding an opioid prescription

Emergency medical personnel may be able to reverse the effects of a hydrocodone overdose with naloxone, a prescription medication known by the brand-name Narcan that can be used to block the opioid’s effects on the brain. A dose (or more) of naloxone can help overdosed individuals breathe more normally and make it easier to wake them up. The medication can be given as an intramuscular injection into the muscle of an arm, a thigh, or the buttocks. Or, it can be used as a nasal spray. It may take more than one dose to help bring back a person.

Naloxone is not foolproof for several reasons, especially if the hydrocodone is a mixture of other potent drugs, such as fentanyl, which is more deadly than hydrocodone on its own. Timing is everything as well. If emergency relief isn’t administered promptly, a person can overdose and die or incur permanent injury because oxygen wasn’t received in enough time. Naloxone also can be given by anyone who receives basic training on how to administer it, including family and friends.

Long-term, compulsive hydrocodone use also can cause acetaminophen toxicity and liver damage among other serious medical conditions. 

Hydrocodone Abuse Statistics

  • 24.4 million people over age 12 have used hydrocodone for nonmedical reasons, according to the DEA.
  • More than 99 percent of hydrocodone abuse happens in the United States.
  • In 2011, nearly 82,500 emergency department visits were linked to nonmedical hydrocodone use.


“Understanding Hydrocodone Addiction.” Healthline. 26 June 2014. from

“What Buprenorphine Is and Why It's Important.” National Institute on Drug Abuse. Accessed 24 Oct. 2016. from

“Treating an Addiction to Painkillers.” WebMD. 16 July 2016. from

“Prescription Pain Overdoses.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Accessed 28 Oct. 2016. from

“Therapeutic Opioids: A Ten-Year Perspective on the Complexities and Complications of the Escalating Use, Abuse, and Nonmedical Use of Opioids.” Pain Physician Journal. Accessed 28 Oct. 2016. from

“Prescription for Disaster: How Teens Abuse Medicine.” Drug Enforcement Administration. 2012 August. from

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