Hydrocodone Addiction, Withdrawal & Treatment

What is Hydrocodone Addiction?

When you hear that someone is addicted to drugs, you may think of illegal ones—heroin, meth, cocaine, etc. You don’t usually think of the drugs that doctors prescribe you. Why would someone you’re supposed to trust prescribe a medication that you could get addicted to?

The truth is, prescription drugs are usually safe if used as prescribed. They become addictive when they’re abused. Addiction is possible if a person takes too much of a medicine at one time, takes the dose more frequently than prescribed or continues to use when he or she was supposed to stop.

Let’s look at the drug hydrocodone, the active compound in drugs like Vicodin, Lortab and Lorcet.

What Is Hydrocodone and How Is It Prescribed?

When doctors or dentists prescribe an opioid, or pain reliever, it is usually hydrocodone. This drug has the strength of morphine and can work as well as codeine. Of all the licit and illicit opioids, hydrocodone is the most common drug of abuse.

Hydrocodone is always combined with other drug ingredients. It can be in the form of a capsule, tablet, syrup or liquid. The capsule and liquid forms can have extended-release characteristics.

Doctors prescribe medications that contain hydrocodone for moderate to severe pain relief. They change the brain and nervous system’s response to pain. Doctors also prescribe hydrocodone for cough relief, such as Hycodan syrup. Hydrocodone slows down activity in the part of the brain that controls coughing.

There are many medications that contain hydrocodone. The combination that doctors prescribe most often is hydrocodone and acetaminophen. These drugs include Vicodin, Lortab and Lorcet. Hydrocodone in any combination is classified as a schedule III narcotic. Schedule III drugs have fewer prescribing restrictions than schedule II. They are considered less likely to be abused than drugs that are classified as schedule II (oxycodone, morphine). The state of New York has reclassified hydrocodone to schedule II and there have been efforts to reclassify it on a federal level.

What Are the Effects of Hydrocodone?

Hydrocodone’s effects are similar to but not as intense as that of morphine, oxycodone, fentanyl and heroin. The user won’t be able to detect pain as easily and may feel euphoric and sedated. Hydrocodone is not as strong as oxycodone (the active ingredient in Percocet). Drugs containing hydrocodone are usually taken at 4-6 hour intervals. Extended-release forms are taken every 12 hours.

Most common side effects of hydrocodone include:

  • Dizziness
  • Drowsiness
  • Nausea
  • Inability to urinate
  • Constipation

A high dose of hydrocodone can lower your respiratory rate. An adult’s respiratory rate of fewer than 12 breaths per minute can be dangerous.

Acute Liver Toxicity from Overdosing on Vicodin, Lortab or Lorcet

hydrocodone refill bottle
Hydrocodone

Vicodin, Lorcet and Lortab are the most commonly prescribed forms of hydrocodone and acetaminophen. Although much interest is focused on the addictive aspects of hydrocodone, the doses of acetaminophen can be toxic to the liver, especially when the drug is abused. For example, Vicodin ES has up to 650 mg of acetaminophen in a single dose. People addicted to hydrocodone will exceed the maximum dosage of 6 pills in a 24-hour period. The maximum recommended daily dose of acetaminophen is 4 grams. That is the equivalent of 6 Lortab 10/650 pills. Acetaminophen begins to get toxic to the liver in levels greater than 4 grams per 24-hour period. Many hydrocodone users take 10 to 30 pills a day. At that dosage, the liver cannot metabolize the high concentration of acetaminophen and the toxicity begins to affect the functioning of the liver and kidneys.

How Do You Know if You’re Overdosing on Hydrocodone?

You may be overdosing if you have cold and clammy skin, constricted pupils and a seriously low respiratory rate.

Other overdose symptoms include:

  • Slowed heart rate
  • Lethargy
  • Seizures
  • Unconsciousness
  • Death

Remember that you don’t have to overdose on hydrocodone to finally make the decision to get help. It doesn’t have to get to this point. It is difficult to stop using these prescription drugs on your own. Lakeview Health can help with hydrocodone addiction and detox. Call 800-884-1727 for safe medical detox.

What Is Hydrocodone Withdrawal Like?

Hydrocodone withdrawal symptoms may occur when long-term use is reduced or stopped completely. Along with cravings, you may feel restless and anxious within the first few hours after you stop using the drug. Because the half-life of hydrocodone is shorter than most opiates, withdrawal symptoms will occur within a few hours after the last dose. More serious withdrawal symptoms may become common in 24 hours. You may feel chills and have severe flu-like symptoms. Seizures are rare, but can happen.

Some other early withdrawal symptoms of hydrocodone:

  • Agitation
  • Muscle discomfort
  • Tearing up
  • Yawning
  • Sweating
  • Difficulty falling or staying asleep.

Later withdrawal symptoms of hydrocodone include:

  • Abdominal cramps
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Pupil dilation
  • Severe flu-like symptoms

Hydrocodone withdrawal is normally not life-threatening, but serious complications can occur. Vomiting may lead to aspirating vomit into your lungs, where a lung infection can develop. Vomiting and diarrhea can lead to dehydration, which may throw off the body’s chemical and electrolyte balance.

Vicodin, Lortab and Lorcet withdrawal symptoms specifically include sweating, irritability and a rapid heart rate. These drugs are all formulations of hydrocodone and acetaminophen so have similar withdrawal symptoms.

A person may continue to use to avoid the hydrocodone withdrawal symptoms. But though he or she may prevent these symptoms, the danger keeps increasing. He or she has to use more and more of the drug to feel the same effect.

The length of opioid withdrawal is different for everyone. It depends on how healthy the person is, which opioid was used and for how long. For many people hydrocodone withdrawal lasts between four and seven days.

Though you may be ready to get rid of your hydrocodone addiction, remember that this isn’t something you should stop “cold turkey.” If you stop the drug abruptly, hydrocodone withdrawal symptoms can be painful.

What Is Treatment for Hydrocodone Addiction?

hydrocodone addiction treatment
Hydrocodone

Detoxification is the gradual withdrawal from a drug. The process is controlled and supervised by a medical professional, and there are various ways it can be done. Keep in mind that hydrocodone detox does not solve the problem of addiction. If you don’t continue with drug rehab, you will probably return to taking the drug.

Treatment for opioid dependence includes psychological and medical methods, and depends on the severity of the withdrawal symptoms.

The treatment for opioid dependence focuses on:

  • Detoxing from the drug
  • Improving overall health affected by the drug use
  • Therapy for coping and psychological issues
  • Re-integrating back to social and work life

Medications for Hydrocodone Detox that Prevent Withdrawal Symptoms

Different medications can lessen the intensity of hydrocodone withdrawal symptoms. The most common medication used today and what we use to treat opioid withdrawal symptoms is buprenorphine. Buprenorphine is the active medication in Suboxone and Subutex. Our drug detox center utilzes both these medications. Both these medications are administered sublingually, or by dissolving a tablet under the tongue. Buprenorphine works extremely well for withdrawal symptoms because it binds to the body’s opioid receptors and prevents the body from going into withdrawal. The half-life of buprenorphine is much longer than the typical opioid so allows the body more time to adjust. Although Suboxone and Subutex work well for hydrocodone detox, they can also be abused.

Other medications are used to treat withdrawal symptoms like vomiting or diarrhea. Aches, pains and general discomfort can be treated with Tylenol or non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs. Drugs like Trazodone can help with relaxation and better sleeping patterns because most patients report sleeping problems up to a month after hydrocodone detox. Vitamins, exercise and a healthy diet can also improve the detox experience.

After hydrocodone detox, you will still play a part in your recovery. There are housing opportunities specifically for people who are trying to stay clean, like sober houses or halfway houses. Or you may prefer to be home with supportive friends and family.

Maintaining your sobriety is a never-ending task. Individual or group therapy can help with keeping you sober. Many people attend self-help groups, like Alcoholics Anonymous, Narcotics Anonymous or SMART Recovery.