Hydrocodone is a painkilling central nervous system (CNS) depressant and potent semi-synthetic opioid. Hydrocodone can be habit-forming and lead to dependence within a week of regular use. So, yes, hydrocodone is considered to have the potential to be highly addictive.
Typically, hydrocodone addiction begins with a modest prescription that many patients build a tolerance to within a short period. To overcome the body’s tolerance and experience the effects of hydrocodone, individuals may take increasing amounts of tablets or crush and snort them to enhance their impact. Despite knowing the potential adverse consequences of their actions, people with a hydrocodone addiction feel a compulsion to obtain and use hydrocodone.
The American Psychiatric Association (APA) devises the criteria for substance use disorders (SUDs). A SUD can be characterized as mild, moderate, or severe. In the most recent diagnostic manual on mental disorders, the DSM-V, signs of an addiction to prescription opioids, such as hydrocodone, and their illicit counterparts, such as heroin, include the following:
- Using more hydrocodone per does or for longer than initially intended
- Wanting to reduce or discontinue the use of hydrocodone but failing to do so
- Spending a significant amount of time obtaining, using, or recovering from hydrocodone
- Experiencing intense cravings and urges to use hydrocodone
- Neglecting obligations at work, home, or school due to hydrocodone use
- Continuing to abuse hydrocodone even when it causes relationship conflicts
- Giving up important social, occupational, academic, or recreational activities due to hydrocodone use
- Continuing hydrocodone use, even when it puts the user and those around them in danger
- Using hydrocodone, even when one knows they have a physical or psychoemotional issue that could have been brought on or exacerbated by hydrocodone
- Requiring more hydrocodone to get the desired effect (developing a tolerance)
- Development of withdrawal symptoms which can be mitigated or prevented by taking more hydrocodone (dependence)
- Using hydrocodone in any method other than as prescribed, such as by crushing and snorting
Symptoms of Hydrocodone Abuse
As noted above, hydrocodone (e.g., brand names Vicodin®, Norco®, Lortab®, and others) is a potent addictive painkiller with a high potential for abuse and addiction. Using hydrocodone for even five days can result in physical/chemical dependence. Below are the signs symptoms of opioid use to identify when an individual is abusing hydrocodone:
- Diarrhea or upset stomach
- Dry mouth
- Nodding in and out of consciousness
- Pinpoint pupils
- Rash or itchy skin
- Slowed, labored, or shallow breathing
- Flushed, warm skin
- Slurred speech
- Withdrawal from social activities
- Adverse changes in mood
- Sexual dysfunction in males
Side Effects of Long-term Abuse
The depressant effects of hydrocodone are comparable to morphine and heroin. All three are opioid drugs that interact with the same brain regions responsible for pain relief and feelings of well-being. Moreover, hydrocodone interacts with the brain’s reward system, reinforcing repeated use by allowing the body to adapt to the drug’s presence and develop a dependency on it.
Chronic addiction to hydrocodone can result in severe health consequences. Often, long-term health problems develop because users cannot feel pain signals as warning signs that they are experiencing illness or injury. Many times, the person will not become aware of health problems until they undergo detox.
Some particularly concerning health issues include the following:
Chronic constipation due to the long-term abuse of hydrocodone inflicts damage to the bowels. This condition may result in hemorrhoids, skin tears in and around the anus, fecal impaction, rectal prolapse, and a heightened risk of ulcers. Also, gastrointestinal bleeding has been associated with the abuse of hydrocodone products containing acetaminophen (e.g., Tylenol).
Using excessive amounts of hydrocodone long-term lowers an individual’s respiration rate, lessening how much oxygen their body takes in. This effect can cause damage to various organs, including the brain. It can also significantly increase the risk of sudden death for persons who suffer from sleep apnea or lung disease. Users who regularly crush and smoke hydrocodone can also cause damage to their lungs by inhaling harsh chemicals.
Hyperalgesia (Increased Pain Responses)
Persons with hydrocodone use disorders are at high risk of altering the brain’s opioid receptors and affecting how the brain processes pain responses. Many studies have revealed that individuals who have a long-term history of opioid use are more likely to experience intense pain.
After years of opioid misuse, many people are left with heightened pain sensitivity, technically referred to as hyperalgesia. This condition can result in significant pain in the future if one is unable to use opioids, and those who do may require a higher dose and for a more prolonged period.
Frequent abuse of hydrocodone can change how chemicals are released and absorbed in the brain, especially mood-stabilizing neurochemicals, such as dopamine and serotonin. Taking high doses of hydrocodone for an extended period can cause large amounts of these feel-good chemicals to flood the brain. Over time, this will alter structures associated with emotional control, rational thinking, learning, and memory.
Long-term oxygen deprivation will likely also lead to harm to brain structures. Some damage may be reversible but may take years to adjust. Some symptoms, however, may end up being permanent. There is also the risk of irreversible brain damage (e.g., stroke) related to lack of blood flow after a hydrocodone overdose due to respiratory failure.
Hydrocodone products such as Vicodin that contain acetaminophen also pose a high risk of liver damage or failure. Research has shown that taking more than 4,000 mg of acetaminophen in one day can cause acute or chronic liver injury. This may include cirrhosis and possibly acute liver failure. For this reason, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has reduced the acceptable level of acetaminophen in hydrocodone-based drugs to 325 mg.
Hydrocodone Withdrawal Symptoms and Treatment
Repeated use of hydrocodone may result in physical dependence and addiction. Opioid dependency and addiction produce painful withdrawal symptoms when a person tries to stop taking the drug or reduce their use. Addiction is a chronic, neurobiological disease hallmarked by behaviors such as inability to control drug use, continuing use despite adverse consequences, and persistent cravings.
Hydrocodone withdrawal symptoms usually induce the opposite effects of the drug’s purpose of relieving pain and providing relaxation and reward. For instance, while hydrocodone causes euphoria, withdrawal can include anxiety or depression. Likewise, abusing any opioid can cause excessive fatigue, while withdrawal often leads to insomnia.
Some users report that opioid withdrawal is similar to having the flu. Although rarely life-threatening, some withdrawal symptoms can become severe if not medically monitored by a trained health provider. As such, undergoing detox and rehab at a qualified addiction treatment center is essential for relapse prevention and the promotion of long-term sobriety.
Rehab programs can help individuals focus on recovery and establish new ways to cope with and manage pain and stress without abusing hydrocodone or other opioids. Other benefits include the following:
- The teaching of relapse prevention skills, healthy boundaries, and communication
- Providing enjoyable recreational activities as alternatives to drug use and traditional talk therapies
- Help in rebuilding relationships
- Providing psychoeducation on the chronic disease of addiction
- Helping to build and develop healthy coping skills
- Providing individuals with a strong foundation in early recovery to assist them as they transition from rehab to living in the real world, drug-free
Getting Help for Opioid Addiction
Just Believe Recovery Center offers a holistic, comprehensive approach to addiction treatment. Programs we offer include various clinically proven therapies and activities, including the following:
- 12-step group support
- Relapse prevention
- Health and wellness education
- Art and music therapy
- Aftercare planning