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Vicodin: What Are Common Side Effects of Vicodin Use?

side effects of vicodin

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Vicodin’s purpose is to relieve pain and to suppress the cough reflex. It is a powerful painkiller containing the opium-based compound hydrocodone and non-steroidal acetaminophen. In controlled doses, the two substances relieve mild and moderate pain. However, in two large amounts, both substances can cause serious damage. The severity of the side effects depends on the dose, ranging from immediate feelings of euphoria and nausea to kidney failure and death. Let’s find out about the various side effects that one can expect from taking Vicodin.

Table of Contents

Common Side-Effects of Vicodin Use and Abuse

Patients that take Vicodin as medication and strictly observe the doctor’s consumption guidelines should not experience side effects. Vicodin is a medicine that should be taken only for a short amount of time. The reason for this is that hydrocodone is potentially addictive, which can make it difficult to stop taking Vicodin. A prolonged use of that medicine can have many more harmful effects.
The first signs of side effects should be a warning that it is time to change the medication.

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Adverse Short-Term Side Effects of Vicodin Use

Typical side effect of prescription Vicodin use is frequent lightheadedness, especially when standing up. That is the most common side effect of patients using Vicodin. If it gets bad, laxatives are an option, although they shouldn’t become a daily remedy due to the body’s capability of becoming reliant on them. Additionally, include fibers in the diet, drink at least two liters of water a day, and exercise moderately at least three times a week.
In the case of Vicodin abuse, the side effects can manifest themselves immediately as:

  • Nausea
  • Decrease of breathing rate
  • Confusion and impaired judgment
  • Profound drowsiness
  • Loss of consciousness

If one is a regular patient taking the drug as a painkiller and recognizes these side effects, talk to a doctor. It may be that the dose is too high or that the medication should be changed.

How to Reduce Vicodin Side Effects

There are a few way how to reduce the side effects of Vicodin:

  • Constipation: Drink enough water (2-3L a day), eat foods rich in fiber and exercise. Also, one can ask a pharmacist for a laxative.
  • Dizziness: When getting up from a lying or sitting position, do it slowly and allow time for adjustment.

Vicodin Overdose

How much is too much Vicodin?

As a prescribed painkiller, Vicodin has its merits. However, it should be used in moderation.
Vicodin may be a painkiller but it’s also a drug, like any other. This means that a patient can overdose, build up a tolerance and become dependent on it, along with many other side effects. In the case of Vicodin, one can sustain serious damage to the liver and overdose on very small amounts of the drug.
The simple answer to the question “how much is too much,” is that too much is more than one is prescribed. Generally, it is suggested that a patient takes up to two tablets every six hours or one tablet every four hours. Any more than that will likely cause overdose. It is thought that around eighteen tablets are enough to kill. This means that theoretically in a day patients can take up to eight tablets without overdosing. However, that is not recommended, as one may build up a tolerance to the drug and it will begin to have negative effects.

It is important always to stick to the dose prescribed and never adjust it without doctor’s consultation.

Beyond overdosing, Vicodin’s side effects consist of:

  • Dizziness
  • Anxiety
  • Vomiting
  • Mood Swings
  • Headaches
  • Stomach issues and difficulty excreting
  • Dry Mouth

If taking Vicodin ever starts to produce these side effects then one should stop taking it immediately and seek medical help. These side effects could often lead up to experiencing an overdose or worse.
In the hope of preventing a Vicodin overdose, the drug was moved from a Class C to Class B substance in 2014. This helps to place limits on the amount of Vicodin sold and where it can be sold. By doing this, governments can monitor the amount of Vicodin taken by individuals and prevent people from suffering the effects and side effects of taking too much.
Overdose due to Vicodin ingestion leads to a combination of adverse consequences of hydrocodone and acetaminophen use.

What are symptoms of a hydrocodone overdose?

Hydrocodone overdose symptoms include:

  • Respiratory depression
  • A cold, clammy skin
  • A state of somnolence that can turn into stupor or coma
  • Flaccidity of skeletal muscles
  • Hypotension and bradycardia may not occur but are signs of a dangerously high level of hydrocodone in the body.

If one experiences or witnesses these symptoms in someone else, there is a need to stay vigilant. In cases of severe overdosage, the person is at an additional risk of:

  • Respiratory troubles that can lead to a complete suspension of breathing, or apnea.
  • A sudden decrease in blood pressure resulting in a circulatory collapse and cardiac arrest that can lead to death.

What are Symptoms of Acetaminophen Overdose?

Acetaminophen overdose symptoms include:

  • Hypoglycemic coma- an extremely low blood sugar level can induce the loss of consciousness and even a coma
  • Kidney failure or renal tubular necrosis
  • Coagulation and blood clots
  • Hepatic failure, leading to hepatic necrosis, a severe injury to the liver

Even a single overdose of Vicodin can be potentially lethal.

Long-Term Side Effects of Vicodin Use and Abuse

There are specific reasons, why doctors don’t prescribe Vicodin for long-term use.

Decreased efficiency

After some time, the patient’s body increases its tolerance to hydrocodone. What that means, is that the body adapts its receptors to be less sensitive to the drug molecules. As a result, the current amounts of hydrocodone in the Vicodin doses are not sufficient anymore to relieve pain. The patient then has to increase the dose.
That is the first step to becoming physically dependent on Vicodin. It can also have two other severe consequences:

Risk of addiction

Like in the case of other opioids, physical dependence usually also leads to psychological addiction. Hydrocodone has a high potential for addiction. More than only trying to relieve pain, people start craving Vicodin and obsessing over it. Even if they are aware of the dangers, they disregard them prioritizing the immediate sensations that Vicodin provides.

Physical damage

Whether they are seeking pain relief or a high, people who develop a tolerance to Vicodin are in more immediate physical danger. When they increase the dose of Vicodin to have higher amounts of hydrocodone, they also increase the amount of acetaminophen. As seen above, the latter ingredient is potentially toxic to the liver and the kidneys.
That is not only the problem for Vicodin addicts seeking pleasure.
Ironically, patients that augment their doses to decrease the pain in one area of their body gradually are damaging other parts of their body.

Is it possible to become addicted from only taking a prescribed dosage?

Due to only needing small doses of Vicodin for the drug to have an effect on a person, it is very easy to become addicted to the drug without even intending to. Vicodin gives short-term feelings of euphoria and relaxation, meaning it is a medication that people may enjoy taking at times without actually recognizing the issue arising.

It’s Time To Stop Taking Vicodin

Hopefully, it is evident to our readers that Vicodin is not only an issue for addicts and abusers. In a way, it is easier to recognize addiction than subtle, long-term damage that builds up over time. Patients that benefit from Vicodin’s pain relief treatment are too often tempted to continue taking it “only for a few more days.” This usually happens when they don’t see any side effects yet, and they believe they are safe from dependence and addiction. These people often forget about physical damage. They can be surprised one day when they seemingly suddenly suffer from respiratory problems and liver damage. But these conditions do not suddenly appear; they develop over a long time period.

To avoid that, one needs to be cautious. Observe the reactions to Vicodin over time: have one experienced any of the side effects described above? If yes, talk to a doctor. If a tolerance to Vicodin is developing, it might be time to change the pain medication.

Withdrawal and Detox from Vicodin

Detox from Vicodin is similar to that from other drugs. Professional help may be necessary to aid in the withdrawal process and to deal with symptoms. This can be done in a few ways such as residential rehabilitation or outpatient care, where many patients choose to spend a few weeks in a facility, to ensure their detox process is successful.
Having a range of different approaches gives patients more control and the detox they want. Thus, they are more likely to succeed in their attempt to conquer addiction. Medical professionals also offer their opinion on which treatment they believe is best for each patient and why.

Weaning Off Vicodin

Generally, Vicodin doses are gradually reduced in an attempt to wean the patient off the drug. This way they experience the least withdrawal symptoms possible. Furthermore, drugs such as methadone may be used in small doses to help replace the Vicodin without the negative side effects. The detox process varies depending on the level of addiction the patient has, as well as their personal choices on whether they want to try a rapid or traditional detox.

Rapid Detox

Those who haven’t been addicted for as long, or as drastically can go on a rapid detox program which is completed in hours under the influence of anesthesia. However, these patients are still encouraged to keep in contact with medical professionals, keeping them updated on their progress after the treatment. This process allows patients to avoid most of the negative symptoms of withdrawal due to the anesthesia.
Results for rapid detox are very mixed, with good short-term effects but far fewer patients succeeding in their quest to stay sober long-term. Furthermore, costs and medical conditions prevent many patients from undergoing rapid detox, especially if they were a long term addict.
There are also various degrees of aftercare, which are highly recommended. Specific living environments with no exposure to the drug, counselling or meet ups with fellow former addicts, enable the recovering patients to discuss progress and prevent potential relapses.

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Nena Messina

About Author

Nena Messina, Ph.D.

Nena Messina is a specialist in drug-related domestic violence. She devoted her life to the study of the connection between crime, mental health, and substance abuse. Apart from her work as management at addiction center, Nena regularly takes part in the educational program as a lecturer.


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