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 Vicodin?
Vicodin is a combination drug that contains an opioid component which is hydrocodone, and acetaminophen. The hydrocodone in Vicodin alters the way pain signals are sent to the brain.
Hydrocodone and other opioids also change the emotional response a person has to pain, and they slow the function of the central nervous system.
Acetaminophen is included with many opioid combination drugs because it combats pain differently, making the medication more effective.
Due to the hydrocodone, Vicodin is a schedule II controlled substance in the United States. The Drug Enforcement Administration classifies drugs based on their medical uses and their potential for abuse and addiction. As a schedule II drug, the DEA characterizes Vicodin as having a significant potential for recreational abuse, addiction, and dependence.
If someone uses Vicodin, even as prescribed, certain side effects can occur. These side effects might include:
- Upset stomach
- Changes in mood
- Dry mouth
If someone experiences certain symptoms, they are considered severe and do require medical attention. Severe potential Vicodin side effects can include shallow breathing, confusion, unusual thoughts or behaviors, slow heartbeat, seizures, pain in the upper stomach, dark urine or clay-colored stools. Some of these symptoms are the result of the acetaminophen in Vicodin, which can be harmful to the liver if large amounts are used.
While Vicodin can be prescribed for moderate to severe pain, because of the potential for recreational abuse and addiction, it’s important for medical providers to go over a person’s full history before giving them this drug. This has become even more pertinent in the face of the opioid epidemic in the United States, which kills tens of thousands of people each year.
If someone has a history of substance abuse, or of certain mental health disorders, they might not be a good candidate to use opioid pain medication.
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Why Do People Recreationally Abuse Vicodin?
When someone uses Vicodin, particularly at large doses, they may experience euphoria. This happens because the hydrocodone in Vicodin activates opioid receptor sites. There are opioid receptor sites found throughout the body, and in particular in the brain and central nervous system. When these sites are activated, it can trigger the release of certain feel-good brain chemicals such as dopamine.
This is why some people feel high when they use opioid prescription drugs, and the high is similar to what happens when heroin is used. Heroin is also classified as an opioid.
Over time, as the brain is exposed to hydrocodone repeatedly, addiction can form. This is because the brain’s reward cycle is activated by the Vicodin. Addiction is a chronic condition characterized by out-of-control use of a substance, which in this case is Vicodin.
If someone uses Vicodin exactly as prescribed, they are less likely to become addicted, although it’s still possible.
Anytime a prescription drug like Vicodin is used outside of prescribing guidelines, or without a prescription, it is considered abuse. Some of the signs of Vicodin recreational use and abuse that might occur can include:
- Seeming euphoric followed by drowsiness
- Problems focusing and concentrating
- Extreme mood swings
- Nausea or vomiting
If someone wants to use Vicodin recreationally, they might try different means to get it. For example, some people may buy it illegally, or they may take it from friends and family members.
There is also something called doctor shopping. When a person doctor shops they may visit different doctors and create symptoms in an attempt to obtain an opioid prescription or multiple prescriptions for opioids.
If someone is abusing Vicodin only for the effects it creates, they may crush tablets and then snort them for a faster, more powerful high. Some people also abuse Vicodin by crushing it, dissolving it and injecting it.
While abusing any opioid is dangerous, since Vicodin contains acetaminophen it has an additional risk factor. Acetaminophen is a commonly used over-the-counter medication in Tylenol and other brand-name products, but in large doses it can be fatal. Acetaminophen can cause liver damage and liver failure. If someone regularly abuses Vicodin or uses a lot in an attempt to get high, they may die from liver failure.
Signs and Symptoms of Vicodin Addiction
Abuse, addiction, and dependence are all separate terms, yet they tend to occur along with one another.
Vicodin abuse is any situation where someone is using this prescription drug without a prescription or outside of their medical provider’s instructions. This doesn’t mean the person is addicted to Vicodin, but addiction is more likely to occur when there’s abuse.
Addiction is a diagnosable condition characterized by out-of-control use of Vicodin. Signs and symptoms of Vicodin addiction can include:
- Regularly using more of the drug than intended
- Trying to cut down or stop using Vicodin but being unsuccessful
- Making obtaining or using Vicodin a top priority
- Ignoring other responsibilities to instead use or obtain Vicodin
- Continuing to use Vicodin even when it results in negative side effects or consequences
There is another issue that occurs with Vicodin use, which is dependence. When someone is dependent on Vicodin, their brain and body have altered how they function based on the presence of the drug. For example, a person’s brain and body may have a reduced pain threshold with ongoing Vicodin use.
If someone is dependent on Vicodin and they stop using it suddenly or lower their dosage, they may experience opioid withdrawal symptoms.
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Vicodin Use and Abuse Statistics
The opioid epidemic is something that is frequently discussed in the United States. It began primarily in the 1990s as prescription drug companies worked to market opioids as a safe and non-addictive way to fight pain. Increasing of opioids went up significantly. However, it was later discovered that the use of opioids is incredibly addictive and can lead to serious unintended consequences including the use of other drugs like heroin and overdoses.
Hydrocodone, which is the active opioid in Vicodin, is one of the most frequently prescribed and also most often abused opioids.
The following are some statistics related to hydrocodone and Vicodin:
- According to the DEA, since 2009 hydrocodone is the second-most encountered opioid prescription drug submitted as evidence in cases at the federal, state and local levels
- Hydrocodone is the most frequently prescribed opioid in the United States
- In 2016, there were 93.7 million prescriptions for a hydrocodone-containing drug written in the United States
- There are hundreds of brand-name and generic hydrocodone products, and most are combination drugs
- The most frequently prescribed combination is hydrocodone-acetaminophen which is in brand-name Vicodin, as well as Lortab which is also a brand-name drug
- It’s estimated that more than 115 people die every day in the U.S. because of opioid overdoses including from prescription pain medications like Vicodin, as well as synthetic opioids like fentanyl and illegal heroin
- Around 80 percent of people who use heroin report first abusing prescription opioids like Vicodin
If you or someone you love is abusing Vicodin or could be addicted, we encourage you to seek help. Contact Amethyst Recovery Center for more information on Vicodin addiction and available treatment options.
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