Norco Effects, Risks & Addiction

Norco is an opioid pain reliever and cough suppressant that treats moderate to moderately severe pain. The drug is similar to codeine and is highly addictive. Learn more about the risks of Norco misuse and treatment options for addiction.
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Norco is the brand name for a drug containing a combination of two main active ingredients:

  • Hydrocodone – an opioid pain reliever used to treat severe pain around the clock
  • Acetaminophen – an over-the-counter drug used to treat mild aches, pains, and fever; most often recognized as the brand name drug Tylenol

It is an opioid pain reliever and antitussive (cough suppressant) that treats moderate to moderately severe pain. The drug is similar to codeine, a highly addictive pain medication found in prescription cough syrups.

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Norco is available in three different dosage forms. Each pill contains 325 milligrams of acetaminophen and is combined with either 2.5, 7.5, or 10 mg of hydrocodone. Depending on the level of pain, your doctor will prescribe one of these formulations.

Other brand names of acetaminophen and hydrocodone include:

  • Hycet
  • Lorcet
  • Lortab
  • Verdrocet
  • Vicodin
  • Xodol

A study from 2018 found that almost 10 million people (12 and older) have misused prescription pain relievers in the past year. This is nearly 4 percent of the U.S. population.

National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH)

Norco Side Effects

The most common side effects of Norco include:

  • Pain relief
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Dizziness
  • Loss of appetite
  • Sedation or sleepiness
  • Lightheadedness
  • Constipation

Additionally, more serious adverse effects can include:

  • Hearing impairment or permanent loss
  • Skin rashes
  • Impairment of mental and physical performance
  • Anxiety or fear
  • Mood changes

Acetaminophen and hydrocodone passes into breast milk and can have serious effects on a nursing child. If you are pregnant or breastfeeding, or plan to be in the future, speak with your healthcare provider before going on Norco.

Icon with triangle signifying risk.

Risks of Norco

Norco is classified as a Schedule II drug by the Drug Enforcement Administration. These are drugs that are defined as, “drugs with a high potential for abuse, with use potentially leading to severe psychological or physical dependence.”

Norco contains acetaminophen, which can cause liver damage in high doses. In some cases, acute liver failure occurs, resulting in a liver transplant or death. For this reason, it is important to limit your consumption of Norco to 3,000 to 4,000 milligrams (mg) per day. Additionally, alcohol and Norco should not be mixed because both are processed by the liver, and may become result in serious side effects such as liver disease or other liver problems.

In addition, Norco can cause serious skin reactions, which can be fatal. If you develop a skin rash or dark urine while taking the drug, stop use and contact your doctor.

Other conditions that can occur include:

  • Stevens-Johnson Syndrome/toxic epidermal necrolysis — patients with this condition develop flu-like symptoms and then a red/purple rash that blisters and peels
  • Acute generalized exanthematous pustulosis — patients with this condition develop small pustules that look like pimples or blisters on the skin. The blisters can last for a few weeks

Allergic Reaction to Norco

If you are allergic to hydrocodone or acetaminophen, do not take Norco, as it may cause a severe allergic reaction. Signs of this include:

  • Rash and hives
  • Vomiting
  • Swelling of the face, lips, or throat
  • Difficulty swallowing
  • Trouble breathing

If any of these occur, stop using Norco and contact emergency medical services immediately.

If you have a head injury, do not take Norco, as it can elevate the pressure of cerebrospinal fluid. This elevation may become exaggerated with a head injury and can become dangerous.

Graphic human body showing symptoms.

Addiction Symptoms

Norco can be addictive, as indicated by its listing as a Schedule II drug by the United States government. Hydrocodone is an opioid agonist, which binds to the opioid receptors in the brain, blocking the sensation of pain. Opioids induce feelings of calm and euphoria, which can very quickly become addictive.

Addiction is defined as a set of behaviors surrounding drug use. Someone who is addicted to Norco might be unable to stop using it, may have cravings when not taking it, and may continue to do so despite knowing it is harmful.

Signs of opioid addiction and abuse include:

  • Lack of hygiene
  • Changes in exercise habits
  • Frequent flu-like symptoms
  • Changes in sleep patterns
  • Money problems
  • Drowsiness
  • Decreased libido (sex drive)
  • Weight loss
  • Isolation from family or friends
  • Associating with people who encourage addiction
  • Stealing from family, friends, or businesses

Overdose and Withdrawal

Overdoses from opioids can happen for many reasons, including:

  • Taking an opioid that was not prescribed to you
  • Mixing opioids with other CNS depressant medication, alcohol, or illicit drugs
  • Using more of an opioid than is prescribed (intentionally or accidentally)
  • Taking an opioid in order to get high

Taking too much Norco in one dose can cause respiratory depression (slow and ineffective breathing), which is extremely dangerous and can be life-threatening. High doses of hydrocodone act on the brainstem and can cause breathing problems.

Most often, this effect is seen when too much of the drug is taken at once, resulting in an overdose. Other signs of a Norco overdose to look out for include:

  • Vomiting
  • Limp body
  • Extreme tiredness
  • Trouble speaking
  • Purple/blue lips and fingernails
  • Pale and clammy skin
  • Shallow breathing

If any of these symptoms are observed, call 911 and seek emergency medical attention immediately and administer naloxone, if available.

If someone uses Norco for an extended period of time, they become physically and psychologically dependent on it. In short, this means they need to take the drug in order to function normally day to day.

When drug use is stopped suddenly during dependence, withdrawal syndrome can occur. Symptoms of withdrawal of opioids, like Norco, include:

  • Increased pain
  • Diarrhea
  • Irritability or agitation
  • Anxiety or restlessness
  • Muscle cramps/aches
  • Yawning
  • Rapid heart rate
  • Watery eyes, runny nose
  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Chills, sweating or goosebumps
  • Changes in blood pressure
  • Stomach cramps
  • Suicidal thoughts
  • Nausea/vomiting

Do not attempt to withdraw from opioids, such as Norco, on your own, as this can be extremely dangerous. The sudden change in drug use can cause seizures, and in some severe cases, death. Talk with your doctor about quitting opioid use, and develop a plan on how to do so.

One supervised method of stopping Norco use is tapering off the drug. This process reduces the dosing slowly over a period of time to prevent shock to the body’s systems. In doing so, withdrawal symptoms will be much less severe and can be managed with other medication. Tapering should only be done under the direction of your doctor.

Icon of medications for withdrawal treatment.

Addiction Treatment Options

There are a wide variety of treatment options available to help you or a loved one overcome addiction to Norco.

The safest and most effective way to stop Norco use is under the care of a medical professional. One method is medication-assisted treatment (MAT). This approach combines drugs such as buprenorphine, methadone, and naltrexone with therapy to provide a “whole patient” approach.

Different programs and counseling options help facilitate changes to thought patterns and lifestyle choices around drug use. Options include:

  • Individual counseling— one-on-one sessions focused on goal setting and discussions on recovery and progress. It can include specific types of therapy, including:
  • Family counseling— includes spouses, partners, and other family members that help repair and improve family relationships.
  • Group counseling— classes that encourage conversation and allow you to learn from one another. Often times, group members share the same experiences, which can help you feel that you are not alone.

Overcoming addiction to Norco is difficult to do alone. Find treatment today.

Norco FAQs

What happens if you take a Norco?

Norco contains hydrocodone, an opioid pain reliever, and acetaminophen, a non-opioid pain reliever. Hydrocodone helps manage pain by depressing the central nervous system, which also has a calming effect. Acetaminophen relieves pain and fevers.

How long do the effects of Norcos last?

Depending on the dose, the effects of Norco can take 30 to 60 minutes to begin. They usually last between four and eight hours.

What are the long term side effects of taking hydrocodone?

Possible side effects include constipation, stomach pain, nausea, jaundice, liver damage, and kidney disease. If mixed with other medication, drug interactions could occur and cause severe adverse effects such as serotonin syndrome can occur.

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Resources

Drug Enforcement Administration. “Drug Scheduling.” DEA, https://www.dea.gov/drug-scheduling

Feldmeyer, L., Heidemeter, K., Yawalkar, N. “Acute Generalized Exanthematous Pustulosis: Pathogenesis, Genetic Background, Clinical Variants and Therapy.” International Journal of Molecular Sciences, Jul. 2016, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5000612/

Food and Drug Administration. “Norco (Hydrocodone Bitartrate 2.5 mg and Acetaminophen 325 mg Tablets.” FDA, Aug. 2014, https://www.accessdata.fda.gov/drugsatfda_docs/label/2014/040148s053lbl.pdf

Genetics Home Reference. “Stevens-John syndrome/toxic epidermal necrolysis.” Feb. 2020, https://ghr.nlm.nih.gov/condition/stevens-johnson-syndrome-toxic-epidermal-necrolysis

Johns Hopkins Medicine. “Signs of Opioid Abuse.” Johns Hopkins Medicine, https://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/opioids/signs-of-opioid-abuse.html

Mayo Clinic. “Tapering off opioids: When and How.” Mayo Clinic, Feb. 2020, https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/prescription-drug-abuse/in-depth/tapering-off-opioids-when-and-how/art-20386036

MedlinePlus. “Acetaminophen.” MedlinePlus, Apr. 2017, https://medlineplus.gov/druginfo/meds/a681004.html

MedlinePlus. “Hydrocodone.” MedlinePlus, Oct. 2019, https://medlineplus.gov/druginfo/meds/a614045.html

MedlinePlus. “Opioid Misuse and Addiction Treatment.” MedlinePlus, Aug. 2018, https://medlineplus.gov/opioidmisuseandaddictiontreatment.html

MedlinePlus. “Opioid Overdose.” MedlinePlus, Dec. 2019, https://medlineplus.gov/opioidoverdose.html

National Institute on Drug Abuse. “Effective Treatments for Opioid Addiction.” NIDA, Nov. 2016, https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/effective-treatments-opioid-addiction/effective-treatments-opioid-addiction

National Institute on Drug Abuse. “Prescription Opioids.” NIDA, Jun. 2019, https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/drugfacts/prescription-opioids

Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. “2018 National Survey on Drug Use and Health Annual National Report.” SAMHSA, Aug. 2019, https://www.samhsa.gov/data/sites/default/files/cbhsq-reports/NSDUHNationalFindingsReport2018/NSDUHNationalFindingsReport2018.pdf

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Updated on: November 3, 2020
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Addiction Group Staff
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