Hydrocodone: Side Effects, Risks & Addiction

Hydrocodone is a highly addictive prescription opioid that relieves severe pain. Hydrocodone addiction symptoms tend to vary from person to person. Some are also normal side effects of the medication. Learn more about the risks here.
Evidence Based
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What is Hydrocodone?

Hydrocodone is a prescription medication that relieves severe pain. It is an opiate (narcotic) analgesic medication that works by interfering with the way the brain and nervous system sense pain.

Hydrocodone Addiction & Abuse

Hydrocodone is only used on an ongoing basis, for an extended time, after lower-level pain management options are unsuccessful. If used long-term, the drug can be habit-forming and cause mental or physical dependence.

Graphic of person being sick or having side effects.

Hydrocodone Side Effects

Hydrocodone comes with a black box warning, which is the most severe warning issued by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). It alerts the medical community and consumers about a drug’s dangerous side effects and risks.

The most concerning side effect of hydrocodone is that it has a high risk of misuse and abuse. Hydrocodone is also addictive and can lead to overdose and possibly death.

Other side effects include:

  • Respiratory depression
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Lightheadedness
  • Dizziness
  • Constipation
  • Sedation

Less common side effects include:

  • Swelling
  • Upper respiratory tract infections
  • Muscle spasms
  • Urinary tract infections
  • Back pain
  • Tremor
  • Tachycardia
  • Chills
  • Hot flashes
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Hydrocodone vs Oxycodone

Oxycodone is similar to hydrocodone. Both are opioid narcotic pain medications. It is safe to combine hydrocodone with acetaminophen, guaifenesin, and pseudoephedrine, which is not the case with Oxycodone.

Some of the side effects of Oxycodone are more serious than those of Hydrocodone and include:

  • Loss of energy or strength
  • Gastritis
  • Twitching
  • Anxiety
  • Confusion
  • Hiccups
  • Insomnia
  • Flatulence
  • Depression
  • Impotence
  • Dry skin
  • Dermatitis
  • Agitation
  • Seizures
  • Tinnitus
  • Urinary retention

Both medications impair judgment, alter thought processes, and decrease the ability to drive or operate machinery. Both have a risk for respiratory depression, especially for elder users or users with serious lung disease.

Oxycodone and hydrocodone, like all opioid medications, have a high risk of physical and psychological addiction. They are also highly regulated and illegal to misuse.

Two pills mixing equals dangerous

Drug Interactions

Hydrocodone has potentially life-threatening drug interactions. Mixing this medication with alcohol or benzodiazepines might cause excessive sedation, coma, and death. Hydrocodone is usually prescribed as a combination of hydrocodone and acetaminophen. Using hydrocodone with drugs metabolized in the liver might cause breathing problems. Liver failure can also occur.

Pill bottle and skull

Addiction Symptoms

Hydrocodone addiction symptoms tend to vary from person to person. Some are also normal side effects of the medication. The most common symptoms of hydrocodone addiction include:

  • Blurred vision
  • Cold or clammy skin
  • Confusion
  • Depression
  • Dizziness
  • Fatigue
  • Fear
  • Headaches
  • Muscle weakness
  • Nausea
  • Ringing in the ears
  • Seizures
  • Slowed heartbeat
  • Vomiting
Graphic of woman going through withdrawal.

Hydrocodone Withdrawal

Stopping the use of hydrocodone can trigger several unpleasant symptoms. Medically supervised detoxification eases intense withdrawal symptoms early in the recovery process. This reduces the risk of relapse.

Common hydrocodone addiction withdrawal symptoms include:

  • Agitation
  • Anxiety
  • Chills
  • Diarrhea
  • Feeling of “skin crawling”
  • Flu feeling
  • Headache
  • Insomnia
  • Irritability
  • Muscle, bone, and joint aches
  • Nausea
  • Pounding heart
  • Restlessness
  • Runny nose
  • Stomach cramping
  • Sweating
  • Tremors
  • Vomiting
  • Watery eyes

Even low dose, long-term use of hydrocodone can trigger withdrawal symptoms. It also doesn’t matter if hydrocodone use was abusive or under the direction of a doctor, though abusing the drug does increase the risk of more serious withdrawal symptoms.

Withdrawal from hydrocodone and opioids, in general, is intense and fast. Hydrocone withdrawal symptoms can start after 8 hours, but take longer for extended-release doses. Symptoms tend to subside in about a week. 

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Hydrocodone Addiction Treatment

Hydrocodone addiction treatment begins with dealing with withdrawal symptoms and continues with counseling and relapse prevention.

Tapering the use of the drug gives the body time to adjust and learn to function without it. Doctors recommend tapering schedules based on the dosage and length of time a person has used hydrocodone. Creating a tapering schedule is also part of rehabilitation after hydrocodone abuse. Those with a hydrocodone addiction might find that tapering is not enough to ease their withdrawal symptoms. In these cases, medication-assisted withdrawal and treatment is an effective solution.

Methadone and Buprenorphine (Subutex) are effective in preventing withdrawal symptoms and reducing relapse. Both drugs are opioids but have a lower risk of abuse.

Clonidine and Lucemyra are also used during withdrawal and treat symptoms such as sweating, chills, rapid heart rate, and anxiety. These are not opioid medications, but they reduce craving and withdrawal symptoms associated with hydrocodone detox.

Additionally, several over-the-counter medications are effective for easing withdrawal symptoms, including:

  • Pain relievers
  • Anti-diarrheal medications
  • Antihistamines
  • Anti-nausea medications
  • Nutritional supplements

Opioid withdrawal is not as dangerous as alcohol or benzodiazepine withdrawal. Some people try to break their addiction without medical intervention. Although this isn’t inherently dangerous, it increases the risk of relapse. This is because a person’s tolerance level for hydrocodone drops rapidly after detox. If a person takes the dosage he or she was using before detox, it can be deadly.

Once detoxification is complete, it’s crucial to participate in a long-term rehabilitation program. This provides access to counseling and support that help a person maintain sobriety. Sobriety maintenance might include medication, psychotherapy, behavioral therapy, family therapy, 12-step programs, and other resources available to prevent relapse of hydrocodone addiction.

Resources

“Hydrocodone Addiction: Symptoms, Treatment, and Prevention.” Healthline, www.healthline.com/health/understanding-hydrocodone-addiction#symptoms. Accessed 27 Apr. 2020.

“Hydrocodone Addiction: Symptoms, Treatment, and Prevention.” Healthline, www.healthline.com/health/understanding-hydrocodone-addiction. Accessed 27 Apr. 2020.

Corinne O’Keefe Osborn. “What to Know About Hydrocodone Withdrawal.” Verywell Mind, 2019, www.verywellmind.com/hydrocodone-withdrawal-4582579. Accessed 22 Nov. 2019.

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Updated on: July 1, 2020
Author
Alyssa Hill
About
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Medically Reviewed
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Annamarie Coy,
BA, CADACII/ICADC, ICPR, MATS
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