Hydrocodone is a semi-synthetic opioid made by processing codeine or thebaine – natural opiates extracted from opium poppy seeds.
As a powerful opioid (or narcotic), doctors usually prescribe it as a moderate to severe pain reliever. Hydrocodone is sometimes prescribed alone, but it is also available in a variety of combined medications.
All hydrocodone medications are typically only prescribed for short-term treatment. This drug is a highly addictive opioid, and it is possible to develop tolerance and dependence on it even when following your doctor’s advice.
This characteristic has placed it on the United States schedule II narcotics list – meaning it is relatively difficult to get on prescription. It is only prescribed for pain that non-narcotics cannot adequately treat.
Taken in higher doses, hydrocodone is likely to produce euphoria along with heavy sedation. These effects mean people often abuse the drug for non-medical reasons. Addiction can become apparent during or after treatment. Not everyone who uses hydrocodone holds a prescription, and once addiction is established, some users go to great lengths to keep a supply accessible.
Hydrocodone usually comes as extended-release capsules or tablets.
Extended-release means they are long-acting, and effects can last for up to twelve hours. However, addicted users sometimes crumble these tablets to inject or snort for a fast, intense high. This amplifies the euphoria and increases the dangerous side effects, putting users at a higher risk of overdose.
Hydrocodone is also available in many combined medications. These common combinations include, but are not limited to:
Each time a user takes hydrocodone, it interacts with neural chemistry to produce a rush of dopamine, followed by general sedative and pain-killing effects. It also has numerous side effects that can occur even when taken exactly as prescribed. When an individual abuses hydrocodone, these symptoms are even more likely to occur:
Even in the very short term, hydrocodone abuse can have potentially life-threatening side effects. Overdose signs include severely depressed breathing or heartbeat and can be fatal.
The long-term effects of consistent use can be as damaging as overdose. Side effects of prolonged use include:
Hydrocodone addiction alone can be extremely damaging to the body’s physical and mental functions. However, the additional danger of hydrocodone addiction is simply tolerance and dependence.
Eventually, a person addicted to hydrocodone may start to seek out and take more potent opioids. Heroin and fentanyl are powerful opioids that draw in users looking for a faster-onset, more intense high. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, around 80% of heroin users previously used prescription opioids, and illegal narcotics are easy to access once a prescription runs out.
Many of the behaviors associated with long-term use of hydrocodone can have devastating effects on work, family life, and finances.
Addiction to this drug can develop rapidly.
Psychological dependence can develop within the very first doses of hydrocodone, while physical symptoms of addiction can occur within a week.
Some signs include:
Dependence on hydrocodone will often occur with increased side effects and withdrawal symptoms when not intoxicated. For example, sedation, low blood pressure, and euphoria will often accompany anxiety, insomnia, and restlessness when the drug leaves the system. These swings back and forth are likely to bring on a noticeably erratic emotional state.
Early in addiction, a user may take hydrocodone primarily for its euphoric effects. However, eventually addicted users may rely on the drug to avoid negative feelings and other withdrawal symptoms.
You also might recognize some changes in behavior as hydrocodone addiction progresses. The most common of these is taking the drug in ways that contradict the prescription. This could mean taking more in each dose or taking it more frequently than recommended. It could also mean taking it in a different way than recommended (e.g. crumbling and snorting).
Other behaviors you may notice in yourself or a family member include:
Preoccupation: Addicted users will generally experience obsessive thoughts about taking hydrocodone, even when not in pain.
Seeking: Finding new ways to access the drug or similar drugs to get the same high. This could include lying about symptoms to a doctor or going to more than one doctor for a prescription.
Withdrawing from loved ones: Pulling away from one’s community is a behavior frequently associated with opioid addiction. On the one hand, you may feel a need to keep your use secret from the people close to you. On the other hand, when addiction takes hold of the mind, it takes precedence over everything and distracts from socializing with family members.
Risk-taking: Users suffering from dependency may find that they are more willing to engage with dangerous behaviors. This can include taking or sourcing the drug in more risky ways. Hydrocodone addiction can also cloud thinking and even lead to risky activities like intoxicated driving, unprotected sex, or violence.
Work or school problems: As dependency develops, it stands in the way of work or school. During both the euphoric high and uncomfortable withdrawal, it is difficult to focus on or prioritize tasks unrelated to the drug. Mood swings at work or school are also extremely difficult to manage.
Appearance changes: When struggling with substance abuse, personal hygiene and everyday self-care practices may fall behind. A person addicted to hydrocodone may look tired, more unkempt, or more poorly put together than they did before.
Changes in sleep or appetite: Hydrocodone suppresses appetite and causes drowsiness when the user is under its influence. When in withdrawal, dependent users may experience opposite effects, including insomnia, restlessness, diarrhea, or nausea. Long-term users may keep unusual hours or eat erratically.
Realizing that opioid addiction may have infiltrated your life, especially through medical treatment, is a frightening epiphany, and it is important not to blame yourself for this.
Stigma and shame will not help you or your loved one recover. As previously mentioned, addiction to hydrocodone is a known side effect, even when taking the drug exactly as your doctor prescribed.
Inpatient treatment at Cirque Lodge focuses on relieving both physical and psychological dependence. Our rehabilitation center offers the best effective, evidence-based treatments for hydrocodone addiction. We can provide a medically assisted detox, followed by a schedule of individualized therapies.