What Is Hydrocodone?
Hydrocodone is a semi-synthetic opioid, and one of the most commonly-abused prescription drugs in the United States. It’s the active ingredient in medications used to treat severe pain, coughs, and sinus congestion. Hydrocodone is available in immediate release, extended release, and controlled release tablets.
Because hydrocodone is so potent, it’s common for people to become addicted to it. Especially when it’s misused or abused, or taken in large doses for long periods of time.
Hydrocodone is also “the most frequently prescribed opiate in the United States with more than 136 million prescriptions for hydrocodone-containing products dispensed in 2013 and with nearly 65.5 million dispensed in the first six months of 2014,” according to the Drug Enforcement Administration(DEA).
Hydrocodone is commonly mixed with less potent pain relievers like acetaminophen, ibuprofen, and paracetamol to increase its effects. These combinations are found under brand or generic names—most notably Vicodin, Norco, and Lortab.
The following are prescription drugs containing hydrocodone:
- Hysingla ER
- Zohydro ER
- Vantrela ER
- Hycomine Compound
- Lortab Lorcet
- Lortab ASA
- Alor 5/500
- Panasal 5/500
- VasoTuss HC
- BPM PE HC
- Canges-HC NR
- FluTuss HC
- Anaplex HD
- Bromplex HD
- Donatussin MAX
- Max HC
- Tri-Vent HC
- Histex HC
- Mintex HC
- Hydrocodone CP
- Hydrocodone HD
Both teens and adults have trouble with hydrocodone abuse. In fact, there are a lot more people abusing opioids than most of us realize. Hydrocodone is the second most encountered opioid pharmaceutical in drug evidence submitted to federal, state, and local forensics laboratories.
The National Institute on Drug Abuse reports that “people who abuse opioids may seek to intensify their experience by taking the drug in ways other than those prescribed. For example, extended-release oxycodone is designed to release slowly and steadily into the bloodstream after being taken orally in a pill; this minimizes the euphoric effects.”
Some of the most common ways a person will abuse hydrocodone is to crush the pills and snort the powder, or mix into a solution and inject it. This greatly increases the euphoria but also increases the risk of slowed breathing, coma, and death.
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However, not everybody intends to abuse their prescription. What frequently happens is someone begins taking Vicodin as a medication. Over time, the effectiveness of the drug begins to decrease, then they need to take more to get the same effect. Increasing dose sizes without a doctor’s recommendation is considered abuse, and quickly results in tolerance, dependence, and withdrawal symptoms upon cessation of the drug.
Others might take hydrocodone with alcohol to wind down at the end of the day—this is highly dangerous. Mixing central nervous system depressants like alcohol and hydrocodone magnifies the effects of each substance, sometimes to a fatal level.
Some people still need prescription painkillers for their legitimate medical purpose—to treat severe pain. Hydrocodone addiction can occur when the drug gets diverted, shared, sold on the street, or abused.
Signs And Symptoms Of Hydrocodone Abuse
Hydrocodone abuse and addiction are different levels of a substance use disorder involving opioids. Abuse is defined as using a prescription any way other than its intended purpose.
Addiction is a chronic brain disease defined by a person’s inability to stop using drugs despite harmful consequences, as well as the compulsion to use a drug. With opioids, a person can become both physically and mentally addicted.
Drug abuse can be difficult to identify—it may just seem like a person abusing drugs is constantly tired, irritable, or absent. Yet a person struggling with drug abuse can show emotional, behavioral, physical, and social signs of addiction.
Here are some of the signs of hydrocodone abuse:
- trouble concentrating
- lashing out
- constant fatigue
- spending a lot of time alone
- constricted pupils
- difficulty breathing
- slow heartbeat
- dry mouth
- blurred vision
When someone takes an opioid, it binds to the opioid receptors in their brain, gastrointestinal tract, spinal cord, and other organs. These receptors are responsible for pain, but also pleasure, and are a part of the reward pathway in the central nervous system. While hydrocodone helps deal with pain, the person taking it often experiences pleasure as well.
Before long, the brain and body become used to the way the brain reacts on hydrocodone, known as addiction (a mental reliance). When a person becomes physically dependent, they will experience withdrawal symptoms when not taking the drug.
Dangers Of Hydrocodone Abuse
Some people might start taking a drug containing hydrocodone as a teen, and continue taking it well into their adult years. The person may appear to be fine, but opioid abuse and addiction can have vast effects to a person’s organs and mental health.
Some of the long-term side effects of hydrocodone are:
- liver damage
- mood swings
- physical dependence
Addiction to opioids greatly increases the risk of overdose as well, which can be fatal. According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), “overdoses with opioid pharmaceuticals led to almost 17,000 deaths in 2011. Since 1999, opiate overdose deaths have increased 265% among men and 400% among women.”
Hydrocodone dependence occurs when the body becomes reliant on the effect of opioids, meaning you can experience physical symptoms when not taking the drug.
Hydrocodone withdrawal symptoms may include:
- drug cravings
- runny nose
Withdrawal symptoms can begin as early as a couple hours after the last use of hydrocodone, and may last five to seven days. This process can be difficult to face alone, and is often the reason people continue using opioids like hydrocodone.
Medically-supervised Hydrocodone Detoxification
Detoxification is often the first step to overcoming an addiction to opioids. This process allows you to rid your body of the excess chemicals gained from abuse.
During a medically-supervised detox, patients are treated for withdrawal symptoms, minimizing the likelihood of relapse. Physicians, nurse practitioners, and other professionals are on site during detoxification to help ensure safety of vital levels, such as heart and breathing rates.
Some people will require a medication-assisted treatment with buprenorphine (Subutex, Suboxone, Zubsolv) or naloxone to help them during the withdrawal phase. Such medications can ease discomfort and help patients taper off use of hydrocodone.
Detoxification is meant to treat the physical addiction, but is not considered a full treatment—patients are still left with the mental addiction.
Treatment For Hydrocodone Addiction
Formal treatment can be found at an inpatient drug rehab, and is the next step of recovery. Here, patients will be given a chance to receive behavioral therapy, on-site support, sober communities, relapse prevention, and other comprehensive and multidisciplinary treatments.
Many people develop an anxiety disorder along with their opioid use disorder, which is known as a dual-diagnosis (co-occurring disorder). In these cases, both the mental disorder and substance use disorder must be treated for recovery success.
Once in treatment, recovery methods teach patients coping skills, healthy behaviors, relapse prevention, how to avoid social situations where hydrocodone may be present, and how to live a life free from addiction.
Some of the most effective treatment modalities are:
- Medication-Assisted Therapy
- Cognitive Behavioral Therapy
- Dialectical Behavior Therapy
- Motivational Interviewing
- Mindfulness Therapy
- 12-Step Treatment
- Relapse Prevention
- Family Support
- Wilderness Rehab
- Religious or Nonreligious Rehab