Table of Contents
Written by Amethyst Recovery
Amethyst Recovery is a foremost authority on addiction and a trusted online source of substance abuse information. Their expert team of addiction professionals provide well researched content for people in the grip of addiction. All posts are fact checked and sourced.
What Is Hydrocodone?
Hydrocodone is a prescription opioid. Opioids are also called narcotics, and this class of drugs includes prescription pain medications as well as heroin. Hydrocodone is intended to be prescribed to relieve severe pain. Due to the risks associated with hydrocodone, it should only be prescribed in particular situations, such as when someone isn’t responding to other treatments, or can’t use other treatments for some reason.
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Hydrocodone is a long-acting drug, so it provides continuous pain relief to users. Extended-release hydrocodone should provide pain relief for 12 hours, so it’s taken less frequently throughout the day than immediate-release opioids.
As with other opioids, hydrocodone is only supposed to be prescribed for short-term use. The longer someone uses the drug, the more likely they are to become dependent and addicted to it.
Hydrocodone is often combined with other pain relievers such as acetaminophen. One of the most well-known hydrocodone combination drugs is Vicodin. Other brand-name hydrocodone combinations include Lortab, Lorcet, Norco, and Hycet.
When someone is abusing hydrocodone, addicted to it or dependent on it, they will likely require professional substance abuse treatment. Opioids are powerful and highly addictive substances that lead to tens of thousands of overdose deaths each year in the United States.
Some of the types of hydrocodone treatment include:
- Hydrocodone Rehabilitation – The chances of success with a hydrocodone abuse problem that is spotted early are much higher the sooner the issue is addressed.
- Hydrocodone Medical Detox – To deal with the symptoms of hydrocodone dependence, people will often begin their treatment journey with a medical detox. A hydrocodone detox can occur on an outpatient basis, in a standalone detox center, or it can be part of a rehab program.
- Inpatient Rehab – Once someone has fully detoxed from hydrocodone and any other substances being used, they can start rehab. One option is inpatient rehab, also called residential treatment. Patients stay overnight in the treatment facility for a period of time and receive intensive therapy.
- Hydrocodone PHP (Partial Hospitalization Program) – A partial hospitalization program for hydrocodone is one where the patient attends intensive all-day addiction treatment but leaves the facility in the evening. A partial hospitalization program often follows a stay at an inpatient treatment facility.
- Hydrocodone Outpatient Rehab – Outpatient hydrocodone rehab is the least formal and structured of the available addiction treatment options. Outpatient rehab may work well for someone with a mild or short-term hydrocodone addiction, or someone who has already gone through more intensive rehab. Hydrocodone is one of the most commonly prescribed opioid pain medications in the U.S. Unfortunately, it’s also one of the most addictive. If you or a loved one are struggling with hydrocodone, contact Amethyst Recovery today.
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Hydrocodone Prescribing Information
The following are some things to know if hydrocodone is prescribed:
- Hydrocodone is a schedule II controlled substance according to the DEA in the U.S. This means doctors should warn patients of the high likelihood of addiction and dependence that come with the use of this drug.
- Hydrocodone should not be combined with any other central nervous system depressants including alcohol, benzodiazepines, or any other medicine that has a sedative-like effect. If someone combines hydrocodone with another CNS depressant, it can cause a fatal overdose.
- If someone has a history of substance abuse or addiction, personally or in their family, they should tell their doctor before taking hydrocodone.
If someone has a history of mental illness, such as depression, they should speak with their doctor about this before being prescribed hydrocodone.
Potential hydrocodone side effects can include:
- Drowsiness or sedation
- Nausea and vomiting
- Impaired thinking
- Slow reflexes
- Slowed breathing and heart rate
When hydrocodone is combined with acetaminophen, it can also cause liver damage or acute liver failure if more than the prescribed dose is used.
How Does Hydrocodone Work?
Hydrocodone works in a way that’s similar to other opioids. When someone takes hydrocodone, it activates what are called opioid receptors. These receptor sites are found throughout the body and in particular the brain, spinal cord, and central nervous system.
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When opioid receptors are activated, it changes how pain signals are sent to the brain. Opioids like hydrocodone also alter the emotional response a person has to pain.
Another consequence of using hydrocodone or any other opioid is that it slows down the functionality of the central nervous system. This can mean that persons heart rate, blood pressure and breathing all slow down as a result. This is how opioid overdoses occur—breathing slows to a dangerous or deadly level.
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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.
Hydrocodone abuse can occur when someone is using it other than the way it’s prescribed. If someone abuses hydrocodone, they’re not automatically addicted, but abuse can increase the risk of addiction.
Signs of Hydrocodone Abuse
There is often a fine line between opioid abuse and addiction. Recognizing the signs of abuse early on can be an important way to get help before a severe addiction develops.
Signs of hydrocodone abuse can include:
- Using hydrocodone for longer than instructed by a healthcare provider.
- Using hydrocodone without a prescription (for example, taking it from a family member)
- Taking hydrocodone-only for certain effects such as euphoria or relaxation.
- Using hydrocodone other than how it’s intended to be used (for example, crushing the pills to snort them)
- Using higher doses than what’s prescribed
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
Opioid dependence is a separate issue from abuse and addiction. When someone is dependent on hydrocodone, they may or may not be addicted. Dependence means the brain and body are depending on the presence of hydrocodone because of repeated exposure.
Opioid dependence can occur quickly, and for some people, it may happen within a few days of using a drug like hydrocodone.
If someone is dependent on hydrocodone, they have to gradually taper down their dosage to avoid symptoms of withdrawal.
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