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Hydrocodone addiction signs, symptoms, and treatments

Reading time: 12 mins
Hydrocodone addiction signs, symptoms, and treatments

Hydrocodone addiction is a compulsive need to take opioid hydrocodone despite harmful effects on health and wellbeing. Hydrocodone comes in many forms and combinations with other drugs, but the most common use is in formulation with acetaminophen. This is the well-known Vicodin drug.

Also known as Vicodin addiction, this type of opioid use disorder may involve a continuous increase of doses and more frequent intake to achieve the same effects. Addiction is also manifested through other symptoms such as unsuccessful attempts to stop using hydrocodone or engaging in illegal activities to obtain it. 

Causes of hydrocodone addiction can be biological, psychological, or environmental. Not only do family history and genetics play a role, but a person’s mental health and social circle.

Hydrocodone addiction has a major impact on a person’s health and wellbeing. Its effects can be physical and psychological as well as short- and long-term. A person with hydrocodone addiction experiences a worsening of their physical and mental health. Their relationships suffer as well as productivity at work or school. 

In most cases, doctors prescribe hydrocodone for the management of moderate to severe pain, but it’s also used in some formulations to treat cough and flu-like symptoms.

What is hydrocodone addiction?

Hydrocodone addiction is a type of opioid use disorder (OUD) indicated by misuse and dependence or addiction to the prescription medication hydrocodone, usually taken as Vicodin. Hydrocodone addiction is generally a chronic and relapsing illness associated with strong withdrawal symptoms.

 A person with Vicodin addiction keeps using the drug despite the harmful effects it has on their physical and mental health and general wellbeing. Like other opioids, hydrocodone works by binding to opioid receptors in the brain, thus blocking pain signals. However, unlike other opioids such as codeine and morphine, which are natural, hydrocodone is a semisynthetic opioid. This opioid is also habit-forming and has a strong addictive potential.

What are the causes of hydrocodone addiction?

Causes of hydrocodone addiction can be biological, psychological, social, or environmental. In most cases, it is a combination of different causes that leads to hydrocodone addiction rather than one cause specifically. The causes of hydrocodone addiction are listed below:

  • Biological causes: As an opioid, hydrocodone affects the reward center in the brain. Repeated use can lower the expression of dopamine receptors, resulting in the continuous need to take more drugs to experience the same effects. According to a 2019 review of opioid addiction genetics from Current Opinion in Psychology, multiple gene mutations can contribute to the development of opioid addiction, including addiction to hydrocodone.
  • Psychological causes: Depression or other psychiatric disorders, certain personality traits, such as sensation-seeking or impulsivity can contribute to the development of hydrocodone addiction. Addiction is also more likely among  individuals with history of traumatic experiences, such as childhood abuse or neglect
  • Social or environmental causes: Peer pressure and increased exposure to hydrocodone or other opioids could also lead to addiction. Being in a household where drug use is a problem as well as socializing with people who abuse hydrocodone are among the causes of addiction to this drug.

What are the effects of hydrocodone addiction?

The effects of hydrocodone addiction are the consequences of misusing and becoming dependent on the drug. The effects of hydrocodone addiction are listed below. 

  • Immediate effects: pain relief, the feeling of euphoric calm and relaxation, cough reflex suppression 
  • Physical effects: nausea, vomiting, dizziness, lightheadedness, drowsiness, weakness, itching, headache 
  • Psychological effects: mental confusion, anger, anxiety, depression, feeling of guilt, mood swings, more severe symptoms of existing mental health problems 
  • Long-term effects: liver damage and/or failure, urinary tract problems, impaired interpersonal relationships, joblessness, financial and legal problems, worsening of physical and mental health

What are the signs and symptoms of hydrocodone addiction?

The symptoms of hydrocodone addiction can vary in severity but often reflect a pattern of drug misuse and its impact on an individual’s life. The most common signs and symptoms of hydrocodone addiction are listed below. 

  • Strong cravings for hydrocodone
  • Withdrawal symptoms if the person isn’t taking the drug
  • The compulsive need to use hydrocodone 
  • Physiological and emotional dependence on hydrocodone
  • Inability to control the drug use
  • Needing to take higher doses of hydrocodone to achieve the same effects
  • Lack of motivation 
  • Poor decision making
  • Social isolation and withdrawal
  • Engaging in risky and illegal behaviors to obtain hydrocodone e.g. fraudulent prescriptions, stealing
  • Irresponsible behavior
  • Irritability, agitation, and mood swings
  • Shallow or slow breathing
  • Anxiety attacks and depression
  • Nausea and/or vomiting
  • Lightheadedness and dizziness
  • Headaches
  • Spending most time thinking about, planning, and using hydrocodone
  • Strained relationships due to hydrocodone use
  • Hiding hydrocodone use from friends and family
  • Impaired productivity at work due to hydrocodone use
  • Spending a lot of money to obtain hydrocodone 
  • Unsuccessful attempts to stop using hydrocodone 

A 2019 study by Bolshakova et al., published in Psychology & Health confirms people quickly develop tolerance to opioids. Other possible hydrocodone addiction symptoms are listed below.

  1. Physical symptoms
  2. Changes in behavior
  3. Psychological problems and worsening of mental health 
  4. Using the drug in potentially dangerous situations such as when driving

How to overcome hydrocodone addiction?

In order to overcome hydrocodone addiction, adequate treatment and professional help are necessary. While a person may be tempted to do it on their own, the truth is that opioid addictions are serious and require professional assistance. This is particularly important for the management of withdrawal symptoms.

In addition to professional treatment, overcoming hydrocodone addiction also requires a strong support system. A person with this type of addiction needs family and friends to support them through the recovery process. While it’s important to encourage a person to seek help or continue with the treatment, this should be done in a nonjudgmental manner.

It is also crucial to find distractions to keep the mind off drug cravings. There are no rules regarding these distractions, as long as they are not unhealthy. Good examples include talking with friends, reading, writing, going for a walk. 

One of the most significant aspects of overcoming hydrocodone addiction is avoiding replacement addictive behaviors. For example, it’s not wise to replace hydrocodone with another addictive substance or activity. That way, the process of addiction continues, but the agent is different.

Counseling sessions are also necessary, especially for persons who struggle with anxiety, depression, or other mental health problems.

Structure in life is practical because it keeps a person navigated and enables them to stick to healthier habits more effectively. This structure includes regular sleep and wake times, exercise, and even a healthy diet.

What are the risk factors for hydrocodone addiction?

Risk factors for hydrocodone addiction can vary from person to person and may contribute to the vulnerability of some individuals to substance abuse. The common risk factors for hydrocodone addiction are listed below.

  • History of substance use disorders
  • Family history of opioid misuse or addiction 
  • Untreated psychiatric disorders
  • Younger age
  • Family or social environments that encourage hydrocodone misuse
  • Unemployment and poverty
  • History of criminal or legal problems including driving under influence (DUI)
  • Stressful situations and circumstances
  • Heavy tobacco use
  • Thrill-seeking or risk-taking behaviors
  • Having a doctor with medical complaints

How do you treat hydrocodone addiction?

treat hydrocodone addiction

Hydrocodone addiction can be treated through a well-structured program that includes detox, medications, and counseling. The first stage of the treatment process is detox, when a person stops using the drug. This is the stage when withdrawal symptoms appear. 

A person should never attempt detox on their own. In treatment centers, detox is medically supervised. Since hydrocodone can induce severe withdrawal symptoms, patients may receive medications. This is known as medication-assisted treatment (MAT).

Medications in the treatment of hydrocodone addiction are not used on their own. They are prescribed for a specific period of time and are a part of a program that includes counseling. 

According to an article titled, “Medications for Substance Use Disorders” from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), MAT is clinically effective and may lead to improvements in patient outcomes, treatment retention, ability to gain and maintain employment, and also decreases illicit opiate use and other risky behaviors.

For treatment of hydrocodone addiction, a patient may receive medications such as methadone, buprenorphine, naltrexone, or naloxone. Methadone alleviates withdrawal symptoms and supports the detox process, like buprenorphine. 

These therapies are particularly effective in supporting the addiction treatment process, a 2007 study by Herbert D. Kleber, MD, from the Dialogues in Clinical Neuroscience confirms. Naltrexone is used in relapse prevention, whereas naloxone is an antidote to opioid overdose. Besides these medications, patients could also receive prescriptions to manage sleep patterns or underlying mental health problems.

The core of hydrocodone addiction treatment is counseling. Persons with hydrocodone addiction may need long-term counseling in order to support their recovery, identify triggers behind drug abuse, prevent relapse, and develop healthy coping mechanisms. 

The most common type of therapy is cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), which teaches patients to identify negative thoughts and behavior patterns and replace them with positive alternatives. A 2019 study by Barry et al., published in Drug and Alcohol Dependence confirmed CBT is an effective approach toward the treatment of opioid use disorder.

Counseling also helps heal and rebuild relationships, helps patients understand the science of addiction, learn coping skills and techniques, and develop relapse prevention plans. In hydrocodone addiction treatment, patients have individual as well as group, family, and couples therapy sessions.

Hydrocodone addiction treatment is provided in an inpatient and outpatient setting. Inpatient or residential programs are most suitable for persons with moderate to severe addiction. These programs last for 60 to 90 days or more and include medically supervised detox, therapy sessions, and living in the facility or treatment center throughout the treatment process.

Outpatient programs involve therapy and counseling sessions, but patients live at home. These programs are intended for persons with a mild addiction, but also serve as a supporting technique for individuals who have completed a residential program.

Why is using hydrocodone addictive?

Using hydrocodone is addictive because it is an opioid. Hydrocodone is a semisynthetic derivative of codeine or thebaine, natural alkaloids that derive from poppy seeds. The drug is usually combined with other compounds. 

One of the most common forms is a combination of hydrocodone and acetaminophen for the treatment of moderate to severe pain. Hydrocodone is also used, in some formulations, to treat cough and other flu-like symptoms.

The most significant advantage of hydrocodone is its efficacy in relieving pain. Disadvantages include a higher risk of side effects and its addictive potential.

Like other opioids, hydrocodone activates the reward center in the brain and changes the way your brain processes pain and pleasure. The drug can trigger the release of dopamine and endorphins, feel-good neurotransmitters. These neurotransmitters muffle pain perception and intensify feelings of pleasure. As a result, they create a temporary but powerful sensation of wellbeing.

When a dose wears off, a person is usually left wishing they could experience the same thing again. This could lead to misuse of hydrocodone and increase the risk of tolerance, dependence, and addiction, according to an article on how opioid addiction occurs from Mayo Clinic. All this happens because hydrocodone induces a feeling of euphoria that is more powerful or intense than good feelings occurring naturally.

When is hydrocodone addiction counseling necessary?

Hydrocodone addiction counseling is necessary when the drug use becomes more frequent or when a person needs higher doses to experience the same effect. The exact time period here doesn’t exist primarily because every person is different and may experience problematic use of hydrocodone differently.

Generally speaking, one doesn’t have to be addicted to seek counseling. Starting counseling sessions when signs of misuse appear could prevent more complicated scenarios. These signs could include using hydrocodone beyond the prescribed timeframe or willingness to change doctors or pharmacies to get more prescriptions.

Sometimes, the affected person is reluctant to admit they have a problem. In these situations, a strong support system is crucial, according to an article titled, “Recovery is Possible: Treatment for Opioid Addiction” from the CDC. Everyone can play a role in a person’s recovery from hydrocodone addiction by encouraging them to get counseling and supporting them through the treatment process.

To sum up, counseling is necessary when a person starts misusing hydrocodone as a preventative measure to reduce the risk of addiction. However, counseling is also an important segment of the hydrocodone addiction treatment process as it helps patients improve mental health and address triggers that promote risky behaviors such as drug abuse.

What are the symptoms of hydrocodone addiction withdrawal?

Symptoms of hydrocodone addiction withdrawal include drug cravings, mood swings, anxiety and depression, fatigue, headaches, muscle aches, and nausea and vomiting. Some withdrawal symptoms resemble those of flu or cold and may include runny nose, chills, and goosebumps. 

Hydrocodone withdrawal may also manifest itself through sweating, sleep problems, abdominal cramping, high blood pressure, rapid heartbeat, and diarrhea. In most cases, the hydrocodone withdrawal symptoms last five to seven days. 

Generally speaking, symptoms of hydrocodone withdrawal tend to start between six and 12 hours after the last dose. The symptoms peak within 72 hours. While they usually last around a week or longer in some people, emotional withdrawal symptoms may be present for longer than a month. These include cravings too. 

The precise timeline of hydrocodone addiction withdrawal symptoms depends on the length of addiction, dosage, and exact formulation taken. The longer hydrocodone is taken, the more severe withdrawal symptoms could get.

Additionally, psychological factors such as neuroticism and the degree of distress anticipated by the patient also have an impact on how severe withdrawal symptoms are, according to a 1986 study by Phillips et al., from the British Journal of Psychiatry.

How long does hydrocodone last in the body?

Hydrocodone lasts 18 to 24 hours in the body. The exact timing varies depending on personal factors and the type of test utilized . For instance, hydrocodone in the blood peaks 1.3 hours after ingestion and is detectable for up to 24 hours. 

In a urine test, traces of hydrocodone are present two to four days after taking the drug, whereas the opioid is detected for 12 to 36 hours in saliva. Traces of hydrocodone in the hair are detectable for up to 90 days. 

Personal factors that influence how long hydrocodone can stay in the body include age, genetics, dosage, and frequency of intake. Younger users tend to process hydrocodone faster than older adults. Generally speaking, the higher the dosage, the longer it remains in the body. How often a person takes hydrocodone also plays a role here.

Other factors that influence how long hydrocodone remains in the body include body fat content, liver health, body mass, and the presence of other medications or substances in the body.

What are the statistics about hydrocodone addiction?

Statistics about hydrocodone addiction aren’t as elaborate as they are for other substance use disorders, but they still show how prevalent it is. According to the misuse of prescription drugs research report from the National Institute on Drug Abuse, around 3.1% or 8.7 million people reported misusing prescription pain medications in the last 12 months. 

The same report also indicates that about 1.8% or 5.0 million people aged 12 or older had a prescription opioid use disorder in the last year. In 2021, around 16,706 people died due to overdose involving prescription opioids.

While these numbers aren’t about hydrocodone specifically, it’s important to mention that hydrocodone is one of those prescribed opioid pain relievers. For example, a 2021 study from the journal Substance Abuse that looked into opioid prescribing behavior and overdose fatalities in Texas found that hydrocodone was the most commonly prescribed opioid. In fact, around 32.9% of all opioid prescriptions accounted for hydrocodone. 

Tendency to over-prescribe opioids such as Vicodin contributes to the widespread addiction problem. For instance, hydrocodone prescriptions jumped from 116 million in 2006 to 131 million in 2011.

Addiction to opioids, including hydrocodone, is most prevalent in persons in their mid-20s to mid-30s. Unfortunately, at this point, there are no official statistics that focus on hydrocodone addiction primarily.

What are the types of hydrocodone?

hydrocodone types

The different types or formulations of hydrocodone are defined by the combination of hydrocodone with other drugs or ingredients. Different types of hydrocodone are listed below.

  • Hydrocodone and acetaminophen: for moderate to severe pain, acetaminophen is a non-opioid pain reliever. The drug is sold under brand names such as Allay, Anexia, Bancap HC, Ceta Plus, Dolacet, Hycet, Hydrocet, Lorcet, Lortab, Maxidone, Norco, Panacet, Procet, Vicodin
  • Hydrocodone and aspirin: a combination of an opioid and non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug aspirin to relieve pain. The drug is sold under brand names Alor, Azdone, Damason-P.
  • Hydrocodone and chlorpheniramine, and phenylephrine: prescribed to manage stuffy or runny nose, sneezing, watery eyes, itching, sinus congestion, and cough caused by flu, common cold, or allergies. This combination is sold under brand names such as Atuss, Baltussin HC, Donatussin MAX, Histinex HC, Vanex-HD, Zutipro
  • Hydrocodone and guaifenesin: used to alleviate cough and nasal congestion linked to the common cold. The drug is sold under the brand name Codiclear DH, EndaCof XP, Hycotuss, Kwelcof
  • Hydrocodone and dexchlorpheniramine and phenylephrine: prescribed to temporarily relieve symptoms caused by flu, common cold, allergies, and breathing illnesses. This combination of drugs is sold under the brand name EndaCof-Plus.
  • Hydrocodone and homatropine: relieves cough in adults and children older than six years. The drug is sold under brand names Hycodan and Hydromet
  • Hydrocodone and ibuprofen: prescribed to alleviate acute pain severe enough to require treatment with opioids or when other medications fail to work. The drug is sold under brand names Reprexain and Vicoprofen.
  • Hydrocodone and pseudoephedrine: relieves cough and nasal congestion caused by the common cold. It is sold under the brand name Rezira.
  • Hydrocodone and chlorpheniramine: treat cough and respiratory symptoms linked to allergy and cold. It is sold as TussiCaps, Tussionex, Vituz.

Hydrocodone is usually combined with other compounds. Other types of hydrocodone include:

  1. Hydrocodone and acetaminophen (Vicodin)
  2. Hydrocodone and aspirin (Alor)
  3. Hydrocodone and pseudoephedrine (Rezira)
  4. Hydrocodone and ibuprofen (Reprexain)

Is hydrocodone addiction treated in rehab?

Hydrocodone addiction is treated in rehabs where patients receive medical supervision and a well-structured program that enables them to start and maintain the recovery process. 

Hydrocodone rehab centers also treat other forms of opioid addiction and substance use disorders. They provide detox and inpatient programs, but many of them also have outpatient programs too.

Statista data on the overall number of substance addiction treatment centers in the United States show that in 2020, there were 16,066 such institutions in the country. A lot more of them are available across the globe. When it comes to hydrocodone rehab centers, it’s important to choose the one whose programs can address the unique needs of a patient and the severity of their addiction.

What is the relation between hydrocodone and xanax?

The relation between hydrocodone and Xanax is that both medications can slow down the activity of the central nervous system. Xanax can enhance the effects of Vicodin and make it even more dangerous. 

The fast-acting tranquilizer alprazolam, known as Xanax, belongs to a class of drugs called benzodiazepines, whereas hydrocodone is an opioid that relieves pain. Combining these two drugs can cause serious consequences and can cause dependence on both drugs which can lead to Xanax addiction or hydrocodone addiction.

The American Journal of Therapeutics published a 2012 case study on Benzodiazepine-associated atrioventricular block involving a 23-year-old man who combined Vicodin and Xanax. The man experienced bradycardia and developed a second-degree atrioventricular block. 

Bradycardia is a slower than normal heart rate whereas second-degree atrioventricular block is a disorder indicated by delay, disturbance, or interruption of the conduction of atrial impulse to ventricles. This is a major problem because it may lead to further complications such as sudden loss of consciousness and can also  cause the heart to stop beating abruptly. 

Even though Xanax and hydrocodone are two different classes of medications, they are both addictive. The addictive potential and risk of side effects are a lot higher when these drugs are taken together. Combining these medications increases overdose risk.