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The US is facing an ongoing addiction epidemic, and it continues to destroy lives daily. The biggest misconception is that only the addicts are being affected. Still, in reality, the friends, families, and loved ones of the individuals shackled with addiction are also subject to significant negative effects. Even though people are aware of the drugs that get most of the bad press, like meth, cocaine, and heroin, a flood of legal drugs are misused and subsequently abused.

These drugs are the ones that doctors and other healthcare professionals legitimately prescribe to treat conditions or manage chronic pain. Prescription opioid painkillers are the most commonly abused prescription drugs in the country. While they are abused by those who don’t have legitimate needs or prescriptions for the substances, they are also abused by those who take them for approved and legal reasons. Even when prescribed and administered carefully, those who live with pain can often find themselves taking more than needed, or taking their next dose a little earlier, which can both be seen as signs of misuse and potential addiction.

One of the most commonly recommended prescription painkillers, hydrocodone is a powerful opioid that is highly effective in pain relief. This semi-synthetic opioid is often prescribed to help treat pain in the short term, typically after an injury or dental surgery. Also known as Vicodin, hydrocodone is quite easy for the body to become dependent on. After using it regularly, it’s common to experience withdrawals upon quitting. The fact that dependence and addiction can happen so quickly makes this a very dangerous prescription, and it should be used with caution.

What is Hydrocodone & What Are The Side-Effects of Use?

Hydrocodone is a fully synthetic opioid derived from the opium poppy. The sole reason for manufacturing is for it to be used to treat moderate to severe levels of pain throughout the entire body. It works by bonding with the opioid receptors in the brain, weakening or completely blocking the pain signals.

Vicodin is a highly effective way to manage pain, whether it stems from surgery or injury. Because it is given to patients frequently, it’s not surprising that addiction and overdose rates are rising. The most common way people get hooked on it is to begin abusing it while under the supervision of a doctor. They may have been prescribed one pill every 4-6 hours, but on a high pain day, they took an extra one, or they took their next dose at 2 or 3 hours. Another possibility is that they continued taking the medication beyond what their physician recommended.

No matter how one becomes dependent on it, hydrocodone misuse is a serious problem in the United States and can lead to serious side effects. Some of these effects are immediate, and others take longer to see. Some of the immediate side effects include:

  • Blurry vision
  • Confusion
  • Diarrhea
  • Dry mouth
  • Euphoria
  • Itchy skin
  • Nodding in and out of consciousness
  • Pinpoint pupils
  • Slowed breathing
  • Vomiting

When abused in the long term, the effects can be much more serious. At some point, Vicodin begins to impact thought patterns, mood, and the overall function of the brain. Those who abuse hydrocodone frequently experience anxiety and insomnia, while others may deal with kidney or liver disease. Medications and therapy can help anyone dealing with depression or anxiety, but one of the most important steps is to stop taking Vicodin.

What Are The Withdrawal Symptoms & Timeline of Hydrocodone?

Hydrocodone is usually found in immediate-release formulations, meaning they take effect within minutes and often last only 4 to 6 hours on average. This means that withdrawals can occur about 6 to 12 hours after the last dose, with the peak occurring within 72 hours after the last dose.

When the symptoms peak, they will last from 1 to 4 weeks, depending on the abuse profile of the individual. Once the peak has subsided, the symptoms begin to recede and fade away, ushering in the post-acute withdrawal stage. For heavy users, the post-acute stage can last for months or even years.

The symptoms that individuals can expect during the withdrawal process include:

  • Suicidal ideation
  • Intense hydrocodone cravings
  • Elevated blood pressure
  • Restlessness
  • Fatigue
  • Night sweats
  • Irritability and agitation
  • Emotional instability
  • Anxiety or panic attacks
  • Lack of focus & diminished concentration
  • Headache
  • Depression
  • Inability to feel pleasure
  • Muscle aches
  • Flu-like symptoms
  • Sweating
  • Chills
  • Drowsiness but the inability to sleep
  • Abdominal cramps
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Dehydration
  • Seizure 

What Are The Warning Signs That An Addiction to Hydrocodone May Be At Hand?

If you have been taking hydrocodone to manage or reduce chronic pain or other conditions, you have possibly wondered what to look for that might signal that dependency and addiction were growing. While hydrocodone is generally prescribed with specific administration directions and guidelines, and refills are often closely monitored and regulated, the drug still has an incredibly high potential for abuse. It can cause dependency to form even in those to closely adhere to the directions given by their physician.

One of the major signs that there may be a hydrocodone addiction is that withdrawal symptoms begin to appear when the dosage is reduced or eliminated. Since hydrocodone is not particularly long-lasting, the withdrawal symptoms will often begin within several hours of a missed dose. If addiction is at hand, the withdrawal symptoms will rapidly fade and abate once more hydrocodone is taken. The formation of withdrawal symptoms in the absence of hydrocodone isn’t the only sign that an individual may be addicted. There are several more.

Additional signs that someone is addicted to hydrocodone are outlined in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, or DSM 5, and include:

  • Intense cravings to use hydrocodone. The cravings will often be felt anytime hydrocodone is not actively being used or felt.
  • Having the desire, but not the ability, to reduce or stop using hydrocodone. This may even extend to asking for help because they cannot manage their usage themselves.
  • The development of tolerance to hydrocodone. This generally leads to taking larger amounts or taking similar amounts on a more frequent basis.
  • Neglecting other aspects of personal, educational, or professional life. In the user’s personal life, they often begin to neglect their appearance, grooming, and personal hygiene. If they have children, there is usually a component of neglect in their care. If the user is a student, one of the more obvious signs will be a decline in grades and even attendance, sometimes failing entirely. In a hydrocodone user’s professional life, they will generally develop attendance or performance issues at work. 
  • Continuing to use hydrocodone even when it creates obvious problems and negative impacts on the user’s relationships. This may be one of the most noticeable signs of hydrocodone addiction, particularly for someone whose partner or other family members may be the one addicted. In addition, personal relationships are often significantly affected by behavioral changes, as well as the financial impact of the addiction.
  • Continuing to use hydrocodone even when it puts the user directly or indirectly in danger. This can manifest as the hydrocodone user engaging in risky behavior while under the influence, or it can be more difficult to notice. Many users will begin to develop health issues related to their addiction, and rather than seek help for the addiction or the condition that has developed, they will often choose to continue to use hydrocodone, progressively making the condition worse.
  • Ignoring or forsaking previously enjoyed or important activities or events in favor of using hydrocodone. For friends or family members of an addict, this can be another relatively easy sign. The user will lose interest in activities and hobbies they once loved and skip social engagements if they are not focused on hydrocodone. The user’s social circles will also shrink and revolve solely around hydrocodone.
  • Spending much time obtaining, using, or recovering from using hydrocodone. This will become necessary for nearly all addicts, particularly once psychological dependence sets in. They will spend most of their time either using or finding hydrocodone to prevent the inevitable withdrawal symptoms.

What Are My Treatment Options?: How To Get Help For a Hydrocodone Addiction

If you or a loved one may be living with a hydrocodone addiction, one of the most beneficial steps you can take today is to reach out and speak to someone confidentially to help you begin a personal recovery plan. While some individuals attempt to detox from hydrocodone solo, this can be uncomfortable, even painful, and has a very high relapse rate. 

Working with experienced local addiction professionals allows you to complete hydrocodone detox and withdrawals in a comfortable, safe, medically supervised environment. Not only is this the safest way to get help, but it also paves the way for a long and successful recovery.

Sources:

  1. Hensler J. Hydrocodone Addiction: 4 Signs You May Have a Problem. WebMD. Published June 28, 2021. Accessed August 28, 2022. https://www.webmd.com/connect-to-care/addiction-treatment-recovery/prescription/signs-of-hydrocodone-addiction

Medical Content Writer

Amanda Stevens, B.S.

Amanda is a prolific medical content writer specializing in eating disorders and addiction treatment. She graduated Magnum Cum Laude from Purdue University with a B.S. in Social Work. As a person in recovery from disordered eating, she is passionate about seeing people heal and transform. She writes for popular treatment centers such as Ocean Recovery, Epiphany Wellness, The Heights Treatment, Infinite Recovery, New Waters Recovery and adolescent mental health treatment center BasePoint Academy. In her spare time she loves learning about health, nutrition, meditation, spiritual practices, and enjoys being the a mother of a beautiful daughter.

Last medically reviewed August 28, 2022