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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 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.
Types of Hydrocodone
As well as Vicodin, other brand name versions of hydrocodone are Norco® and Lortab®. Each product contains hydrocodone and a non-opioid pain reliever, acetaminophen. Hydrocodone without acetaminophen sells under the brand name Zohydro®.
Some people with a hydrocodone addiction prefer a specific brand of the drug. However, all opioids have similar effects when consumed in large quantities, including morphine, codeine, and heroin.
Causes of Hydrocodone Addiction
Hydrocodone is an opioid in a type of drugs known as narcotic analgesics. These drugs link to proteins in the brain and spinal cord called opioid receptors. Opioids interfere with pain signals reaching the brain to adjust your perception of pain and your emotional reaction to it.
When used properly and for a short period, hydrocodone is typically safe and effective. Some people who begin taking hydrocodone for pain take it to achieve a euphoric and ecstatic feeling instead. As a result, they use it for longer than suggested or use larger quantities than their doctor prescribed.
Taking hydrocodone for long periods can build a tolerance to the drug. This means your body requires more of the drug to reach the same 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
Less common side effects include:
- Upper respiratory tract infections
- Muscle spasms
- Urinary tract infections
- Back pain
- Hot flashes
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
- Dry skin
- 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.
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.
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
- Muscle weakness
- Ringing in the ears
- Slowed heartbeat
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:
- Feeling of “skin crawling”
- Flu feeling
- Muscle, bone, and joint aches
- Pounding heart
- Runny nose
- Stomach cramping
- 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.
Hydrocodone Overdose Symptoms
There are many symptoms and signs that emerge when someone overdoses on hydrocodone.
Some of the more common hydrocodone overdose symptoms include:
- Pupils so small they appear as pinpoints
- Stomach or intestinal tract spasms
- Weak pulse
- Low blood pressure
- Issues breathing
- Stopping breathing
- Slow, difficult, and/or shallow breathing
- Fingernails and lips turning blue
Someone who experiences symptoms of hydrocodone overdose should seek emergency medical assistance. The overdose-reversal drug Narcan, or Naloxone, may be given.
Preventing Hydrocodone Addiction
The easiest way to prevent hydrocodone addiction is to take the medicine as your doctor prescribes. It would also help if you also recorded your pain in a diary while you take hydrocodone. Review your pain diary now and then to understand how you are progressing.
If you notice your pain is decreasing, let your doctor know. Do this even if your prescription has not run out. Your doctor may decide to reduce your dosage gradually and stop you from taking it sooner than planned.
If you start to crave the drug even when you feel little or no pain, speak with your doctor immediately. They can work with you to prevent you from developing a hydrocodone addiction.
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
- 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.