Why Do People Become Addicted to Hydrocodone?
Hydrocodone has the potential to be habit-forming, physically and psychologically. This is true of other opioids as well. When someone uses opioids like hydrocodone, it can cause dopamine to be released into the brain. Dopamine is a naturally-occurring neurotransmitter, but drugs like hydrocodone cause artificially high levels of it to go into the brain. This creates euphoria or pleasurable feelings.
When someone feels pleasure as the result of a stimulus, it can trigger a reward cycle in their brain. In the case of hydrocodone, it’s the drug that served as the stimulus.
Over time, the brain will start compulsively seeking out hydrocodone, which is an addiction. The following are some key things to know about hydrocodone and opioids in general:
- Hydrocodone is also classified as a narcotic, as well as being an opioid (narcotic and opioid are interchangeable terms)
- The drug is prescribed to relieve pain ranging from moderate to severe, and it’s a semi-synthetic opioid
- As with other opioids, hydrocodone relieves pain by changing how pain signals are sent and also by altering the emotional response a person has to pain
- Some of the brand name versions of hydrocodone include Lorcet, Lortab, Norco, and Vicodin. Many of these are combination drugs.
- Hydrocodone should typically only be prescribed as a short-term pain reliever, due to the risk of addiction and dependence
The Opioid Epidemic
The opioid epidemic has reached a crisis level in the U.S. According to a report from the White House “More than 300,000 Americans have died from overdoses involving opioids since 2000.” The staggering number of opioid deaths has led to the declaration of the opioid epidemic as a national Public Health Emergency.
Beyond the public health and policy issues, the opioid epidemic is also a very personal issue for many people. Almost everyone knows someone in their life who has been directly or indirectly affected by opioids. People that may never have used a drug in their lives are prescribed opioids, and shortly after that find, they’re addicted. It’s a challenge that’s proving difficult to overcome.
However, at the personal level, there are solutions. Participating in an inpatient treatment program is often the best option for someone who is struggling with any kind of opioid addiction, whether it be a prescription pain medication or an illicit opioid like heroin.
Signs of Hydrocodone Addiction
Addiction is a serious and diagnosable condition of the brain that also affects behavior and physical health. Some of the signs that a person may be addicted to hydrocodone can include:
- Inability to cut down on hydrocodone or to stop using it despite the desire to do so
- At least one serious failed attempt to stop using hydrocodone
- Continuing to use hydrocodone despite harmful consequences
- Focusing most of one’s time and energy on using and obtaining hydrocodone
- Letting other responsibilities or interests slide because of the use of hydrocodone
- Developing a tolerance or dependence
People often wonder if addiction can be treated, and the answer is yes. However, there are some things to understand when seeking hydrocodone addiction treatment.
Addiction is a chronic disease. This means that it can’t be cured and there’s no one magic treatment option that’s going to work for everyone. Instead, rather than curing addiction to hydrocodone, the objective is to treat it successfully. This often requires long-term treatment and follow-up.
Some of the principles of effective addiction treatment for hydrocodone and other substances include an understanding that:
- Addiction is complex, but also treatable
- There’s no one treatment modality or course of action that’s right for everyone
- All of a patient’s needs to be addressed during treatment and not just drug use
- Many treatment programs include a combination of behavioral therapy and medications
- Effective treatment should address mental health disorders
Why Is Hydrocodone Addictive?
It can be helpful to have an understanding of the nature of hydrocodone addiction before deciding which course of treatment is right for you or your loved one. Hydrocodone binds to opioid receptors when it’s used. The mechanism of action allows hydrocodone to relieve pain by altering how pain signals are sent to the brain. It also changes how someone perceives, and emotionally responds to pain. When the opioid receptors are activated, it can also lead to a euphoric high or a pleasant sense of well-being because dopamine is released into the brain. When this happens, it can trigger a reward cycle in the brain, which ultimately leads to addiction.
How Is Hydrocodone Addiction Diagnosed?
An addiction can be diagnosed based on a set of criteria outlined in the DSM-5, which is published by the American Psychiatric Association. An addiction can be diagnosed as mild, moderate, or severe. This is based on how many of the criteria a person has. If someone is diagnosed with a mild hydrocodone addiction, they may only meet two or three of the criteria. In this case, an outpatient treatment program may be sufficient for them. If someone has a moderate hydrocodone addiction, they may have four or five of the criteria, and they may opt for inpatient or outpatient rehab. If someone meets more criteria, then it’s likely they are going to be diagnosed as having a severe addiction, and they may begin with inpatient rehab and then move into a partial hospitalization program when they’re ready.
Addiction and Co-Occurring Disorders
One of the benefits of a partial hospitalization program, much like inpatient rehab, is the fact that co-occurring mental health disorders can be treated if necessary. Many people with substance abuse disorders also have mental health disorders. When these are treated simultaneously, it’s called a dual diagnosis program. A partial hospitalization treatment program offers the medical and psychological care, as well as the intensity of treatment necessary when people do have a co-occurring disorder. The most commonly diagnosed mental health disorders in people with substance abuse problems are related to anxiety and mood disorders.
Signs of Hydrocodone Abuse
In many cases, the person who is abusing hydrocodone may not even realize they have a problem. It can be their loved ones or the people around them who first notice the symptoms of hydrocodone abuse, and suggest they seek treatment.
Some of the outward signs that a person may be abusing hydrocodone include:
- Seeming dizzy or lightheaded
- Changes in mood such as depression
- Blurry vision
When someone is prescribed hydrocodone, the best way to prevent addiction from forming is to use it exactly as instructed. It’s important not to use hydrocodone without a prescription, and not to take higher doses or take it for longer than prescribed.
Preventing Hydrocodone Addiction
When someone has been prescribed a drug with hydrocodone, they should follow their doctor’s instructions very carefully. It’s important not to take hydrocodone without a prescription. It’s also important not to disrupt the medication in any way. For example, sometimes people will crush hydrocodone pills to snort them or liquefy them and then inject the substance. This creates a faster and more powerful effect, but it’s also more likely to lead to addiction and an opioid overdose. When a person is prescribed hydrocodone, they should try to keep track of their pain levels and write down what they’re experiencing. This will help the person to better see if they need to continue using hydrocodone. Hydrocodone should be used for no more than a few weeks. The longer someone uses it, the greater their chances of becoming addicted.