Hydrocodone is a relatively common opioid pain reliever that’s used in widely used prescription drugs like Vicodin and Norco. Hydrocodone is what’s called a semisynthetic opioid, which refers to a chemical that’s derived from a natural source and then altered. Hydrocodone is derived from poppy plants that produce substances like morphine and codeine.
Hydrocodone was first produced in 1920 by German chemists and was later approved for use in the U.S. in 1943 by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Hydrocodone is one of the most widely prescribed opioids because of its versatility as a pain reliever. It can treat moderate-to-severe pain for up to eight hours and begins working in as little as 10 minutes.
Hydrocodone works in a way that’s similar to other opioids. It binds to opioid receptors in the body, brain, and spinal cord to block pain signals from being sent and received. Opioid receptors typically bind with your body’s naturally occurring endorphins. Endorphins are very similar to opioids like morphine, and they work to regulate pain in the nervous system. However, prescription opioids are often much stronger than your own endorphins, causing potent pain relief, euphoria, and relaxation. In higher doses, they can cause intoxicating euphoric effects along with sedation.
If you take hydrocodone for long periods, or if you take it in high doses, your body may start to get used to it. Dependence occurs when your body adapts to the presence of the drug in your system and begins making changes to your brain chemistry to counteract the foreign substance.
If you stop using hydrocodone after your body has integrated it into your normal brain chemistry, you’ll experience withdrawal symptoms. Withdrawal is the consequence of a chemical imbalance in the brain, and it lasts as long as it takes your body to adapt to life without the drug.
Hydrocodone withdrawal symptoms are similar to those of other opioids. Opioids are sometimes grouped with central nervous system depressants because they cause similar effects when it comes to sedation. However, opioids work in the brain differently, and they have different effects during withdrawal. Unlike depressants, opioids aren’t known to be life-threatening during withdrawal. However, they can cause extremely uncomfortable symptoms that can be a daunting barrier for many people. Hydrocodone withdrawal symptoms are often compared to a particularly severe case of the flu with effects like fever, nausea, and sweating. Other withdrawal symptoms include:
Though opioids aren’t known to be deadly, they can cause some potentially dangerous symptoms. For instance, opioid withdrawals can cause sweating, diarrhea, and vomiting, which means you may start to dehydrate quickly. For most people, dehydration is easily avoidable by drinking plenty of fluids through the process, just like you would for the flu. If you can’t get enough fluids, it can cause life-threatening complications.
The hydrocodone withdrawal timeline that you experience will depend on several factors, including how long you’ve been dependent, the size of your usual dose, and the size of your last dose. However, you are likely to experience a withdrawal timeline that’s similar to the following:
Though hydrocodone withdrawal isn’t known to be life-threatening, it is a serious barrier to sobriety for many people. Some try to achieve sobriety multiple times without success because the withdrawal symptoms and cravings are so difficult to overcome.
However, medical detox and other levels of care in addiction treatment can increase your chances of making it through detox successfully. It’s still a difficult task, but medical and clinical professionals can help maintain your safety and make you as comfortable as possible. Withdrawal also comes with drug cravings.
Opioids are notorious for causing powerful compulsions to use, especially during the withdrawal period. If you try to go through withdrawal on your own, it can be difficult to resist cravings, especially if they are combined with uncomfortable symptoms.
Not everyone who goes through opioid withdrawals will need medical detox, but it can help people that are likely to experience severe withdrawal. Detox can also help people with other medical concerns like heart disease or other conditions that might be complicated by withdrawal symptoms. However, if your doctors or treatment professionals don’t believe detox is necessary, you may go through other levels of care.
You may enter and complete an inpatient or residential treatment program. If you are able to live independently, you may go through an intensive outpatient or outpatient treatment program. No matter what level of care you’re in, your treatment program should be tailored to your needs.
Addiction is a chronic disease that can get worse if it’s left without treatment. You may think you have it under control, but substance use disorders have a tendency to get out of control before you realize there’s a problem. If you have become chemically dependent or addicted, maintaining your addiction may require you to plan your life around finding and taking the drug.
Opioid addictions are notoriously challenging to overcome. But with the right help, addiction is treatable. Addiction treatment can help prevent some of the worst consequences of the disease that develop over time, including long-term health issues, relationship problems, financial instability, and legal issues. Learn more about addiction and how it can be treated to take the first steps toward lasting recovery.
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National Institute on Drug Abuse. (n.d.). Opioids. Retrieved from https://www.drugabuse.gov/drugs-abuse/opioids
National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2016, February). 8: Medical detoxification. Retrieved from https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/teaching-packets/understanding-drug-abuse-addiction/section-iii/7-medical-detoxification
Scheve, T. (2019, July 25). What are endorphins? Retrieved from https://science.howstuffworks.com/life/inside-the-mind/emotions/endorphins.html
U.S. National Library of Medicine. (2019, October 1). Hydrocodone: MedlinePlus Drug Information. Retrieved from https://medlineplus.gov/druginfo/meds/a614045.html