Hydrocodone is a powerful semi-synthetic opioid painkiller that is available in extended-release capsules or tablets, and in immediate release formulations as a combination medication with acetaminophen.
Since 2009, hydrocodone has been among the most commonly prescribed opioids in the country. Some common brand names for hydrocodone and combination medications include the following:
- Zohydro ER®
Like most opioid painkillers, hydrocodone was first engineered to relieve pain but comes with side effects of euphoria and high abuse potential.
Hydrocodone and its combination formulations containing acetaminophen are currently listed as Schedule II drugs under the Controlled Substances Act (CSA), although these medications were previously Schedule III drugs until October 6, 2014.
Professionals used to believe that hydrocodone-acetaminophen combination medicines had a lower potential for abuse because of acetaminophen’s potential to cause liver damage. However, the drug’s euphoric effects are far more impactful than the potential danger of liver damage from acetaminophen.
Hydrocodone abuse most often begins with a legitimate prescription for pain, then morphs into regular abuse, all because of the euphoria the drug produces. Most people who eventually abuse hydrocodone don’t start out seeking a euphoric high. Rather, there is often a gradual slide into abuse that may begin with one non-medical dosage. There are many ways in which someone can initially take hydrocodone in a non-medical manner, and some of those reasons include:
- doubling a dose after missing a previous dose
- taking hydrocodone to ease emotional pain or stress
- taking hydrocodone in an unintended manner (such as crushing and snorting pills, diluting and injecting intravenously)
- using alcohol, benzodiazepines, or any other central nervous system (CNS) depressant substance with hydrocodone to enhance its effects
These are only the beginnings of hydrocodone abuse. Non-medical abuse of hydrocodone or any other opioid significantly increases the chances of more intense and dangerous attempts to misuse the drug. Some examples of drug-seeking behaviors that often develop from initial hydrocodone abuse include the following:
- doctor shopping
- altered or fraudulent prescriptions
- diversion from pharmacists or doctors
- drug theft
New generations of opioid abusers and addicts seek a more intense high by combining hydrocodone with other substances like heroin, cocaine, benzodiazepines, and alcohol. The unfortunate inevitability for many who abuse hydrocodone is slipping further into the chasm of addiction by transitioning to heroin.
Although it is entirely illegal, heroin is available from the inner cities to outer suburbs throughout the country, and it is cheaper than buying diverted hydrocodone from street level dealers.
Effects of Hydrocodone Abuse
Hydrocodone has all of the same effects and qualities of morphine and other opioid painkillers. Although effects may vary depending on individual circumstances, the most common effects of the drug can include:
- difficulty balancing
- dry mouth
- decreased blood pressure
- slowed heart rate
Hydrocodone also has some serious side effects, even when it is taken as directed which can include:
- chest pain
- muscle tightness
- ringing in the ears
- back pain
- stomach pain
Since hydrocodone comes as an extended-release capsule or tablet, abusing the drug requires tampering with the pill and how the medicine is released. The most common way to do this is to crush the pill, then snort or dilute and inject the powder. For extended release pills, this process can release amounts of up to 120mg of hydrocodone at once.
The process of abusing hydrocodone is dangerous mainly because of the risk of respiratory depression and potential respiratory failure, which can cause coma or death.
Signs of hydrocodone overdose include:
- shallow breathing
- significantly reduced pulse
- constricted or pinpoint pupils
- slurred speech
- cold clammy skin
- muscle weakness
In the event of hydrocodone overdose, an antidote called naloxone can be given to reverse the effects of the opioid. Naloxone is an opioid antagonist that causes an immediate opioid withdrawal.
If hydrocodone is combined with other opioids, especially fentanyl, a regular dose of naloxone may be ineffective, thereby requiring several doses and more intensive life-saving efforts.
How Do People Get Addicted to Hydrocodone?
Even if someone takes hydrocodone as directed, prolonged use can easily lead to tolerance and dependence, which are not the same as addiction. Although addiction includes both conditions, they are different. Tolerance grows with any mind or mood altering substance, from nicotine and caffeine to opioids and alcohol. As tolerance grows, more and more of the substance is needed to achieve the same effect, and for addictive substances like hydrocodone, dependence can develop with continued use.
Hydrocodone dependence is also not the same as addiction. Although hydrocodone is not intended for long-term use, some medical conditions have required longer periods of opioid therapy, during which time, dependence can develop. Withdrawal symptoms occur if someone stops using the drug abruptly. For individuals who have been legitimately prescribed hydrocodone for a long enough time to develop dependence, their physician can safely withdraw them from the drug by slowly tapering down the doses until such time that a full withdrawal can occur without severe symptoms.
Addiction is different in that it is a behavioral change consisting of drug-seeking behaviors and psychological cravings to do more hydrocodone. Although the terms can be interchangeable, addiction is a mental health illness that carries far more serious consequences than dependence.
Some people can take hydrocodone and other opioid painkillers, then stop use without serious consequences or developing an addiction, but it is far easier for many to continue taking opioids and experiencing the euphoric high they produce. These drugs are available in a seemingly endless supply, and drug-seeking efforts like doctor shopping, buying from online black markets, and engaging street-level dealers make it easier for a teen to acquire hydrocodone than alcohol.
So, how does hydrocodone addiction develop? It happens when the massive supply of it and other opioid painkillers are readily available, and an individual finds more reasons to keep using than they do to stop.
No one sets out to become an addict, but the euphoric effects of hydrocodone and other opioids is an escape for many to lose themselves in the high and forget about their problems and worries for a short while.
Much like alcohol, hydrocodone can ease pain and tension, and for many people, that momentary respite from reality is worth repeating. Unfortunately, many people do not consider the consequences of addiction when they are seeking an escape from their worries.
Withdrawal From Hydrocodone
Hydrocodone withdrawal presents painful and difficult symptoms, although they are not typically life-threatening. Many of the symptoms of withdrawal can range from mild to severe, and that depends on the individual and the severity of hydrocodone abuse.
Hydrocodone withdrawal symptoms typically include the following:
- muscle aches
- abdominal pain
- high fever
- high blood pressure
- cold sweats
- runny nose
- back or joint pain
- fast breathing
- dilated or widened pupils
In most cases of hydrocodone withdrawal, the most severe symptoms peak between three and five days, but begin to wain after that.
Many of these symptoms largely resemble those of severe flu, and they are often painful enough for addicts to abandon their attempts to quit.
This is why is a medically monitored detox from hydrocodone is highly recommended.
During medical detox, the staff is available around-the-clock to monitor symptoms and administer certain medications to lessen the severity of withdrawal symptoms. Symptoms like insomnia, anxiety, diarrhea, high blood pressure, and agitation can all be managed during medical detox.
Even after detox is over, some symptoms may continue to linger for several weeks or months, especially symptoms like cravings and anhedonia (inability to feel pleasure).
Hydrocodone Addiction Treatment at Vogue Recovery
At Vogue Recovery, we provide an inclusive and luxurious environment in which you can safely detox from hydrocodone, and receive the evidence-based and proven therapies and treatments that will be most effective for your needs.
Beginning with your first days at Vogue, a customized treatment and recovery plan will be designed with you, factoring your unique needs and challenges. Using addiction treatment psychotherapies and specialized care like chef-prepared gourmet meals and state of the art exercise facilities, our team of professionals will help you build upon your strengths, identify your vulnerabilities, and help you to overcome your addiction.
Changing your life is not easy, and that is why we are here for you through every step of the process, including your aftercare planning, so you have continued support in your recovery.
It all starts with a free and confidential phone call to one of our addiction counselors, available to speak with you 24 hours a day. Call us anytime for an assessment, referral, or information on how we can get your customized treatment started today.