Hydrocodone, one of the most commonly prescribed opiates in the U.S., is a primary actor in the ongoing opioid epidemic that claims at least 115 lives a day. The breadth and depth of this crisis knows no bounds, consuming the lives of individuals from every age group and walk of life. Left in its wake are waves of addicted souls, neglected children, crowded morgues, and overtaxed health care systems.
Doctors prescribe prescription opioids like hydrocodone for people who have severe pain, the kind incurred from surgery, injury, or terminal conditions such as cancer. Because it is prescribed, usually in combination with acetaminophen, the misconception is that hydrocodone is safe. Even in small doses it can become addictive.
In fact, people who abuse opioids like hydrocodone share a common story: They were prescribed the medication to treat acute pain only to be mired in dependency and addiction later. In fact, the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) estimates that 21-to-29 percent of people who are prescribed opioids for chronic pain misuse them.
Users are drawn to the euphoric effects hydrocodone induces, especially when it is consumed in excess. What has been proven time and again is that misuse of this powerful narcotic can have devastating, life-altering consequences.
How Does Hydrocodone Work?
Hydrocodone was first synthesized by German scientists in 1920 and approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in 1943. Hydrocodone combined with acetaminophen is sold under brand names like Vicodin, Norco, and Lortab. This formulation is the most prescribed hydrocodone product in the United States, and it is used to treat moderate-to-severe pain and cough. Hydrocodone-acetaminophen comes as a tablet, elixir, and solution.
Like other opioids, hydrocodone works by binding to receptors in the brain and spinal cord areas to block pain signals. It also affects areas of the brain that govern emotion, further diminishing pain perception. As potent as morphine, hydrocodone acts on the brain’s reward center, inducing feelings of euphoria through the release of the dopamine hormone.
The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) classifies hydrocodone as a Schedule II drug under its definition of controlled substances, meaning it carries a high potential for abuse that could lead to severe psychological or physical dependence.
Because doctors prescribe hydrocodone, there is a common misconception that it is safe. However, even in small doses, it can be addictive. Users tend to develop a dependency on pain pills and experience acute withdrawal symptoms once they stop taking them
What’s more, people who develop hydrocodone tolerance will take larger doses to experience the same effect. They may also consume it with alcohol, which can worsen the consequences. Another outcome users grapple with is cost. Once they become addicted to hydrocodone, they may be forced to switch to heroin to experience similar effects because the illicit drug is more affordable.
The federal government has proposed policies to make it more difficult to obtain opioids like hydrocodone. But the cost of this addiction is certain. It could mean an endless battle with a nemesis that only has one outcome: death.
What Are the Signs of Hydrocodone Addiction?
A hydrocodone user in the throes of addiction may not exhibit outward signs, particularly in the early stages. They can also be addicted to hydrocodone without revealing any outward behaviors that indicate dependency.
Because of the insidious nature of opioid addiction, it is critical to familiarize yourself with the side effects and signs of addiction. Hydrocodone addictions should be treated with the same vigilance as a life-threatening disease where early detection is necessary. If you suspect that you or a loved one has a hydrocodone addiction, it is crucial to know the difference between the signs and side effects.
The Side Effects of a Growing Hydrocodone Addiction Include:
- Rashes and itching
- Constant drowsiness
- Chronic constipation
- Gastrointestinal problems
- Mood swings
- Difficulty urinating
- Pinpoint pupils
When someone is veering toward a hydrocodone addiction, they will begin to display compulsive behaviors around obtaining the drug. Using hydrocodone becomes their primary objective, and they will do so in the face of adverse circumstances.
A user will prioritize hydrocodone over family and friends. They will forgo work or school obligations and sacrifice their health and personal appearance for it. Once they have crossed this threshold, they will have spiraled out of control.
Consequently, it is important to know the following signs of hydrocodone addiction:
- Consuming hydrocodone without a prescription or in larger-than-prescribed doses
- Forging prescriptions to obtain the drug
- Doctor shopping for increased access to hydrocodone
- Suffering withdrawals without hydrocodone
- Taking larger doses of the drug due to increased tolerance
- Taking or missing money and/or valuables to obtain hydrocodone
- Seeking isolation rather than encountering the outside world
- Neglecting personal hygiene
- Lying about hydrocodone use
- Displaying an inability to function without hydrocodone
- Feeling unable to quit despite many attempts
If you suspect that you or a loved one is addicted to hydrocodone, then it is vital that you seek professional treatment. With professional help you or that person can escape the clutches of addiction and experience a better way of life.
What Is Involved in Hydrocodone Addiction Treatment?
Once you have taken the important step of acknowledging your hydrocodone addiction, your treatment will begin with medical detoxification. A detox will rid the body of any toxins and residue left over from the hydrocodone. The detox typically lasts between five-to-seven days, and you will be monitored around the clock.
Although hydrocodone withdrawal is not life-threatening, it can still be painful and traumatic, which is why you should never attempt to quit on your own. Our medical staff will provide you the medicine necessary to mitigate any withdrawal symptoms you may have, ensuring that your detox is safe and comfortable.
A team of clinicians will also assess your progress and recommend the best treatment options after detox ends. Post-detox treatment consists of receiving ongoing care at a treatment facility. This phase of recovery will help you get to the root of your hydrocodone addiction.
If your addiction is severe, it is recommended that you enroll in residential treatment where you will live at a facility and receive therapy and counseling for most of the day, every day. Residential treatment usually lasts between 30-to-90 days. However, NIDA recommends that you opt for a 90-day stay, from detox to completion. This time frame has been shown to produce the best results. While in the residential phase of your recovery program, you will have access to the following treatment modalities:
- Behavioral therapy
- Group and family therapy
- Life skills training
If it is determined that you can pursue treatment while engaging in your everyday life activities, then you will be placed in an outpatient treatment program for your hydrocodone addiction. With outpatient, you will have access to a treatment plan that fits into your existing schedule. Outpatient treatment is divided according to the hours you spend per week in therapy:
- Partial hospitalization programs – 20 or more hours per week
- Intensive outpatient programs – Nine or more hours per week
- Outpatient programs – fewer than nine hours per week
In outpatient treatment you will be equipped with the mental tools to fight relapse.
How Dangerous Is Hydrocodone?
Hydrocodone addiction takes root when it is misused or taken as prescribed. Users could develop a tolerance and easily succumb to dependence. What’s more, it has been proven that hydrocodone can serve as a gateway to illicit drugs like heroin.
Opioids like hydrocodone are even more dangerous when they are consumed with alcohol or other drugs. Mixing oxycodone and alcohol can increase your risk of overdose and damage your kidneys and liver. If you witness someone exhibiting signs of overdose, call 911 immediately.
Hydrocodone Overdose Signs Include:
- Clammy skin
- Shallow breathing
- Falling in and out of consciousness
- Blue skin around nails and lips
- Low blood pressure
Hydrocodone Abuse Statistics
- Of the 63,600-plus drug overdose deaths in the U.S. in 2016, 42,249 were attributed to an opioid.
- According to a National Survey on Drug Use and Health, an estimated 6.9 million people misused hydrocodone products, including include Vicodin®, Lortab®, Norco®, Zohydro® ER, and generic hydrocodone, in 2016.
- In 2013, there were 29,391 total exposures and 36 deaths associated with hydrocodone in the U.S.
Start Your Hydrocodone Addiction Recovery Today
You do not have to grapple with your hydrocodone addiction alone. At Serenity at Summit, we offer a range of treatment options and resources to help you achieve a sober, hope-filled life.