What Is Hydrocodone?
Hydrocodone is a prescription opioid that is derived from the poppy plant and used to treat moderate to relatively severe pain. It works by targeting the brain’s opioid receptors and blocking pain sensations.
This pain reliever is classified by the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) as a Schedule II controlled substance due to its high potential for abuse and addiction.
Hydrocodone can be found illegally as tablets, capsules, and in liquid form. Legally, prescription hydrocodone appears as a small, usually white pill. It is not normally produced illegally but is acquired illegally. Notably, counterfeit fentanyl pills are often made to look like hydrocodone.
Prescription Hydrocodone Information
Hydrocodone is an analgesic that may be prescribed to patients experiencing moderate to severe or chronic pain. It presents a risk for patients developing hydrocodone dependence and, over time, issues with substance abuse of hydrocodone or other opiates.
The most common brand names for hydrocodone are:
Hydrocodone is also found in combination products where it is mixed with other painkillers like acetaminophen, codeine, or ibuprofen to treat less severe pain. One of these prescription drugs is called Norco, which is a combination of acetaminophen and hydrocodone.
Hydrocodone Side Effects
There are various side effects of hydrocodone use, especially when not taken as directed by a healthcare provider.
Short-term effects of hydrocodone include:
- Nausea, vomiting
- Feeling lightheaded or dizzy
- Slowed breathing (respiratory depression)=
Additionally, the following short-term side effects are considered life-threatening and require immediate medical intervention:
- Slowed or stopped breathing
- Slow heart rate
- Feeling as though you are about to pass out
- Low blood pressure
When abused, hydrocodone can cause sensations of euphoria in the user. However, repeated abuse of hydrocodone also puts the user at risk for developing a physical dependence on the drug, leading to potential substance use disorder and opioid addiction.
Hydrocodone Abuse and Addiction
Hydrocodone is abused by users seeking the euphoric high that opiates can provide. Prescription painkillers such as hydrocodone can quickly become habit-forming and lead to addiction. Fortunately, there are treatment options available throughout the US for people seeking help with hydrocodone dependence or addiction.
Hydrocodone Withdrawal Symptoms
Withdrawal from hydrocodone is similar to any kind of opiate withdrawal. The withdrawal effects can be unpleasant and can become serious for severe addiction.
Hydrocodone withdrawal can cause the following symptoms:
- Strong cravings for the drug
- Stomach cramps
- Nausea or vomiting
- Runny nose
- Body or muscle aches
More severe withdrawal symptoms may cause seizures or coma. People who want to quit using hydrocodone should only do so under medical supervision.
Someone who is experiencing a hydrocodone overdose will not immediately show extreme symptoms. Many of these signs can be observed over a few hours.
Signs of hydrocodone or opioid overdose include:
- Inability to stay awake
- Slowed breathing
- Breathing stops entirely
In many cases, an overdose can be slowed or reversed by administration of naloxone and if additional steps are taken to aid the victim
If you suspect someone is overdosing on hydrocodone, follow these steps:
- Call 911 and report that the overdose has occurred.
- Administer naloxone (such as Narcan®).
- Turn the victim on their left side to facilitate breathing.
- Stay with the victim until help arrives. In most states, no criminal action can be taken against the overdose victim or the person who reports it.
Hydrocodone Addiction Treatment
Treatment for hydrocodone addiction or dependence is possible. There are treatment centers and programs throughout the US to help people quit and remain sober. A doctor or healthcare professional can also help you determine which program or treatment is best for your individual needs.
Medical detox is usually the first step in your treatment for hydrocodone abuse or addiction. During this process, the body will eliminate any remaining hydrocodone in its system. Sometimes a doctor will prescribe medication that will help lessen withdrawal symptoms. The patient’s vitals are also monitored during the detox.
The detox process can take place at a treatment facility or another location under the guidance of a medical professional.
An inpatient rehab program is an ideal treatment choice for someone struggling with severe hydrocodone addiction. The patient will reside at a treatment center for a period of time, usually between 30 days to 6 months. During this time they will receive treatment and support beginning with detoxification, followed by mental health counseling to help them maintain their sobriety during and after their stay.
Partial-Hospitalization Program (PHP)
A partial-hospitalization program (PHP) allows the addict to visit a hospital or similar treatment facility to receive care for their hydrocodone addiction while being allowed to leave for periods of time to attend work or other duties.
During their time at the PHP facility, healthcare providers will monitor the patient’s vitals and provide medical and mental health therapies. These treatments will help the patient break their hydrocodone addiction and stay sober after the program ends.
Intensive Outpatient Program (IOP)
An intensive outpatient program (IOP) is an intensive outpatient program, usually recommended after an inpatient stay to help the hydrocodone addict maintain their sobriety. An IOP consists of weekly visits to check the patient’s health and provide counseling via a support group or other mental health program. Often, an IOP will include medication-assisted treatment to help the addict avoid returning to illicit opioid use.
Medication-Assisted Treatment (MAT)
A doctor or other healthcare professional will sometimes recommend medication-assisted treatment (MAT) to a hydrocodone addict. MAT is designed to help the addict maintain their sobriety as they progress through additional treatment programs.
The most common medications used for MAT for overcoming hydrocodone addiction are:
MAT is usually recommended in conjunction with another form of treatment.
The DEA reports that hydrocodone appears in drug evidence the second-most frequently of any other opioid. According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), overall prescription opioid abuse is now more prevalent than the use of heroin, meth, and cocaine combined.
Hydrocodone is the most frequently prescribed opioid in the United States, while the similar drug oxycodone (e.g. OxyContin) is the most abused opioid in the US per capita.
In many cases, hydrocodone users switch to cheaper opiate alternatives such as heroin or fentanyl. The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) reports that almost 80% of heroin users claim to have used prescription opioids before switching to heroin.
Hope and Support for Loved Ones
Addiction harms more than just the addict themselves. Friends and loved ones of addicts also suffer from worry, stress, and heartbreak while watching someone they care about struggle with addiction.
If you know someone that is struggling with addiction to hydrocodone, know there is hope for them. Sometimes the best option for the loved ones of addicts is to provide helpful information such as this fact page.
There are also local support groups available for people who have faced the negative consequences of a loved one’s addiction, such as AlAnon. The internet also has a variety of forums and support groups as well to help you process what you’ve experienced.
Frequently Asked Questions about Hydrocodone
How is hydrocodone addiction treated?
Hydrocodone addiction can be treated through a medical detox followed by a treatment program that fits the level of addiction. All programs focus on both physically recovering from hydrocodone addiction as well as addressing the addict’s mental health to help them remain sober in the future.
What is the difference between hydrocodone addiction and dependency?
A hydrocodone dependency happens when a person’s body begins to develop a tolerance for hydrocodone and needs more for the drug to be effective. An addiction to hydrocodone occurs when the person’s need for hydrocodone interferes with their daily life (such as work, family obligations, etc.). Dependence often accompanies addiction.
What are some symptoms of hydrocodone addiction?
Hydrocodone addiction can cause nausea, vomiting, slow breathing, dizziness, low blood pressure, and excessive drowsiness. Someone who is addicted to hydrocodone may use more than prescribed or could be taking hydrocodone without a prescription at all.