Hydrocodone is a semi-synthetic opioid used as an analgesic for moderate to severe pain. It is as or more effective than codeine for cough suppression and nearly as effective as morphine for pain relief. But, it is also highly addictive and may lead to fatal overdoses if abused.
There are many brand names for hydrocodone, including Vicodin, Lortab, Lorcet-HD, Hycodan, and Vicoprofen. Hydrocodone is a Schedule II drug under the Controlled Substances Act. Schedule II is the most strict category for legal controlled substances with medical use. Only illegal substances like heroin are more controlled than hydrocodone and other Schedule II substances.
This article will explore 5 of the most common ways hydrocodone is abused.
1. Using It For Longer Or In Higher Doses Than Prescribed
Hydrocodone is not a long-term drug. It is not supposed to be used for long periods due to its high potential for abuse, and it’s not meant to be used in higher doses than prescribed.
Doctors may prescribe hydrocodone for pain associated with dental surgeries or injuries. Even then, hydrocodone should be a short-term analgesic used for a few days only.
Addiction may start developing in as little as 5 days of prescribed use.
To take hydrocodone safely:
- Don’t take more than prescribed. Doses higher than 50 mg increase the risk of an overdose. Doses above 90 mg are extremely unsafe and beyond what any doctor would recommend.
- Don’t take it more frequently than prescribed.
- Don’t grind or modify the medication in any way before consuming.
- Inform your doctor about any past drug abuse you or any family member may have suffered.
- Discuss with your doctor your goals and potential length of the treatment.
Most people addicted to hydrocodone start by misusing its prescription. Being aware of the risks and taking measures, you’ll increase your chances of using it safely.
2. Sharing It With Others
Never allow anyone else to use your prescribed hydrocodone or share it with someone else for medical or recreational purposes. It is unsafe to take hydrocodone without medical supervision, and it may lead to an overdose, especially in children.
Prescriptions are personal, and anyone who possesses someone else’s prescription medication is illegally possessing them.
In Florida, for example, it is illegal to possess or to share someone else’s prescription medication. Additionally, if the drug is a controlled substance, like hydrocodone, it is a third-degree felony punishable by up to 5 years in prison.
Giving prescribed drugs to someone else, even if you aren’t paid in return, is a punishable offense that may land you criminal charges.
3. Mixing Hydrocodone With Alcohol
Alcohol and highly addictive medications, especially nervous system depressants like hydrocodone, do not go well together. If you receive a hydrocodone prescription, suspend alcohol use for the duration of the treatment.
Some of the common side effects of mixing alcohol and hydrocodone include:
- Nausea, vomiting, dizziness, loss of coordination, and dehydration
- Irregular heartbeat and changes in blood pressure
- Dizziness or loss of coordination
- Disinhibition and abnormal behavior
- Respiratory arrest
Just like hydrocodone and other opioids, alcohol is a central nervous system depressant. These sorts of substances can be useful for anxiety, panic, acute stress reactions, and sleep disorders. However, when mixed with no regard for safe dosages, they can compound each other’s effects, and the results are unpredictable.
4. Mixing Hydrocodone With Benzodiazepines
Benzodiazepines or “benzos” are a group of psychoactive drugs that reduce brain function. Just like alcohol and hydrocodone, benzodiazepines are depressants. They are used to treat anxiety, insomnia, and seizures.
Individually, they both slow down your entire body. Benzos may cause confusion, dizziness, and weakness, while the leading cause of death for opioid abuse is slowed breathing. Combined, they enhance each other’s effects and increase the risk of abuse and overdose.
Even though the CDC recommends not prescribing them together, they are still commonly prescribed.
If you are taking them both and want to stop, however, it is important not to stop taking them cold turkey. Talk to your doctor about ways to gradually reduce intake.
Combining benzodiazepines and hydrocodone does not immediately mean you abuse them, but the chances of becoming addicted increase significantly.
5. Mixing Hydrocodone With Other Opioid Painkillers
Mixing multiple opioid painkillers is also inherently risky. The exact effects may vary depending on the individual and how the opioids interact.
Some potential effects include:
- Hyperalgesia: increased sensitivity to pain.
- Sedation or respiratory suppression: as a result of the combination of two central nervous system depressants.
- Increased chance of mental health issues: long-term prescription opioid users often suffer from psychiatric comorbidities like anxiety and depression. The effects are exacerbated if multiple prescription opioids are taken.
Hydrocodone Has a High Potential For Abuse
Hydrocodone is an inherently highly-addictive substance that must be taken very carefully to prevent dependence. In addition, relatively small doses may lead to overdose symptoms, which may be exacerbated by combining it with other drugs like benzodiazepines and alcohol (ie: hydrocodone abuse).
If you are ever prescribed hydrocodone, make sure to discuss its potential effects with your doctor and establish a timeline for safe use.