Hydrocodone Addiction and Treatment

Addiction Resource > Addictive Substances: The Anatomy of Drug Addiction > Hydrocodone Addiction and Treatment

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Hydrocodone is an opiate medication prescribed for severe pain, generally when other pain medications have not been successful in alleviating symptoms. It is in the same family as Oxycodone and Morphine, and like them, can be easily addictive when a tolerance develops.

Hydrocodone and its Effects


Hydrocodone, like other opiates, is a depressant. This property allows it to depress, or slow, the central nervous system. By doing so, pain is alleviated, and patients are often able to sleep better than without the medication. Due to its highly addictive nature, Hydrocodone is usually not prescribed unless pain cannot be managed with another, safer, pain medication.

Can hydrocodone cause addiction?

Yes, hydrocodone can cause addiction if abused and taken excessively. Hydrocodone works by depressing the central nervous system to alleviates pain and induce sleep. Tolerance to this drug can develop quickly, and the chances of addiction increase exponentially.

There are many brand name medications which use Hydrocodone, namely Lortab and Vicodin.

Even when taken as directed, Hydrocodone may cause:

  • Euphoria
  • Dizziness
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Relaxation
  • Drowsiness
  • Confusion
  • Constipation

It is the most commonly prescribed opiate medication, with millions of prescriptions being given each year. Because tolerance can develop quickly, many patients become addicted without even realizing it until it’s too late. Abusing Hydrocodone increases the chances for addiction exponentially.

What is Hydrocodone Addiction?


Abuse of hydrocodone, or any prescription medication, means that you take the drug in a way aside from how it was recommended by your doctor. This may mean taking more than prescribed, or taking the drug for a longer period than recommended.

When does hydrocodone addiction occur?

Addiction to hydrocodone occurs when tolerance to the drug develops. Patients become tolerant to the drug when higher doses are taken to achieve the same effect. It is hard to tell if a patient is already addicted if the drug first began to be taken with a prescription.

Addiction occurs when a tolerance to the drug develops. Patients are tolerant when more of a drug is needed in order for them to feel the same effects. As the body becomes more tolerant to the medication, higher and higher levels are required to achieve the same physical results. Addicts may discover that they:

  • Cannot stop taking the drug even when they try
  • Spend an inordinate amount of time using, obtaining, or recovering from using the drug
  • Continues using, despite negative effects the drug has on his or her life
  • Uses the drug every day

Sometimes, especially when the drug is originally given by prescription, it can be hard to determine when addiction has set in. Many patients increase their dosage slowly as the original dose no longer works in an attempt to continue feeling the pain-lessening effects. Many people don’t want to abuse the drug in a recreational sense, but they increase the dosage in order to manage uncomfortable symptoms.

The slow increase in dosage makes overdose an all-too common occurrence. Symptoms of a Hydrocodone overdose may include:

  • Slowed breathing
  • Muscle weakness
  • Sleepiness
  • Slowed heart-rate
  • Clammy or cold skin
  • Coma or Death

If you or someone you know experiences any of these symptoms while taking Hydrocodone, immediate medical attention is required to prevent coma or death.

Who Uses Hydrocodone?


Because it is often prescribed first, it might be assumed that Hydrocodone addiction is most common among those who take it for pain management. It’s true that many addictions begin this way, putting pain sufferers or those with chronic health problems among the top abusers of Hydrocodone, but many would be surprised to learn that teens and young adults are highly likely to use the drug as well. It has been reported that 4 million people in the US over the age of 12 have used Hydrocodone for non-medical purposes. Additionally, 29,000 exposures and 36 deaths were also reported to poison control centers in the US during 2012. There were also 82,000 ER visits associated with Hydrocodone use reported in 2011.

Teens have been found to be especially common in terms of Hydrocodone abuse, primary Vicodin. 850,000 teens between the ages of 12 and 17 admitted to using the drug for non-medicinal purposes.

There are numerous reasons teens may be more likely to use Hydrocodone than Oxycodone or street drugs. It is often assumed that prescription medications are safer than illicit drugs because doctors give them to patients for the management of disease. This is a false assumption, since many prescription medications are stronger and more dangerous than illicit drugs when abused.

In addition, young professionals, college students, and veterans – especially combat veterans – are susceptible to Hydrocodone abuse and addiction.

  • Professionals are statistically more inclined to use prescription drugs than illicit street drugs, because they are legal, and have a “more acceptable” appearance.
  • College students may succumb to the pressures of college life, and turn to substance abuse to help cope with stress.
  • Veterans, especially combat veterans are prone to a condition known as post-traumatic stress disorder. This condition has led many to drug addiction through substance dependence.

Widespread warnings about the dangers of Oxycodone may have also contributed to the popularity of Hydrocodone containing drugs. This has led many to falsely believe that Hydrocodone is a safer alternative. Aside from the drug itself, many Hydrocodone containing medications contain Acetaminophen, the main ingredient in Tylenol, which can cause severe liver damage when abused.

Vicodin also costs less than half the price per pill than OxyContin, making it more accessible to teens, who often have little money. It is also less expensive than many street drugs, and it can be easier to find, especially for those with family members or friends who have a prescription to a Hydrocodone containing medication.

Hydrocodone Abuse Signs and Symptoms

The signs of Hydrocodone abuse can be hard to recognize among those who have a chronic health condition, or among those who were already taking the drug for medical reasons. They are more pronounced, however, in those who are not taking Hydrocodone for a medical purpose. Signs may include:

  • Sluggish, drowsy, and/or clumsy behavior
  • Slurred speech
  • Mood swings
  • Being secretive
  • Acting very withdrawn or sullen

If you suspect that someone you know may be abusing Hydrocodone, approach them carefully and non-confrontationally. You don’t want them to be on the defensive. If abuse is confirmed, either through admission or a drug test, then immediate treatment is recommended.

Hydrocodone Statistics

Opioids such as Hydrocodone are estimated to be the leading cause of emergency room visits for non-medical use.
Over a million emergency room visits were reported in 2009, and were the result of non-medical use of prescription drugs such as Hydrocodone.
Over 100k emergency room visits were directly the result of combining Hydrocodone with another drug.

Treatment for Hydrocodone Abuse

Yes, hydrocodone abuse can be treated, and treatment is best carried out in an inpatient facility rehab. Detoxification from hydrocodone should be monitored closely to manage its life-threatening side effects and withdrawal symptoms. Counseling sessions are also given after completing the treatment so they can learn how to cope with their cravings.

Because of its highly addictive and dangerous nature, detoxification from Hydrocodone should be monitored closely. When patients are coming off the drug, they may experience debilitating or even life-threatening side effects and withdrawal symptoms. The best place for this to occur is in an inpatient drug rehabilitation facility with trained addiction specialists overseeing the process.

Once the detox is complete, patients usually remain in the rehabilitation facility to undergo counseling. This will help them learn to cope with drug cravings, as well as allow them to face whatever underlying issues led to the drug abuse.

The last phase of treatment and recovery is ongoing counseling, peer support groups, and other therapies to ensure they stay on the right track.

Hydrocodone Addiction and Treatment

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