Hydrocodone, prescribed as Vicodin or Lortab, is an extremely powerful narcotic used to treat injuries and post-operation pain. As an opiate, the drug has a similar chemical makeup as heroin and is equally addictive. Users can experience withdrawal symptoms so painful that even those who badly desire to break their addiction are prone to relapse without medical supervision.

Who uses Hydrocodone?

Hydrocodone abuse spans across all ages, ethnicities, and socioeconomic status. No single demographic is more at risk of abusing it than another. However, some experiences may increase risk of misuse — for example, an injury or surgery requiring pain management. As of 2016, some 11.5 million people over the age of 12 used hydrocodone recreationally. Users typically obtain hydrocodone through common drug-seeking methods. They might search for new doctors, alter prescriptions, developing relationships with people who use, or even steal.  

Hydrocodone Overdose

Hydrocodone has a host of side effects. These may include shallow breathing, respiratory arrest, drowsiness, sweating, nausea, vomiting, and clammy skin. Some users may even black out. As an opioid, overdose can be fatal. Drug overdose involving opioids, including prescription medications, reached more than 47,000 in 2017. Because individuals can develop a resistance to the drug, requiring increasingly higher doses, overdose often occurs during early recovery, when the body has reset its tolerance. Because of the risks involved, users should detox in a safe environment with experienced wellness professionals who can gently guide them through every phase of the recovery process.

Signs and Symptoms of Hydrocodone Addiction

If you suspect that a loved one may have developed a problem with hydrocodone, a few signs and symptoms may indicate an addiction. For example, you might notice depression, anxiety, aggression, headaches, vomiting, diarrhea, and paranoia.

Other symptoms are behavioral. The user may frequently visit new doctors in order to discuss their ailments as if experiencing them for the first time. You may also notice changes in a user’s story about the amount used, the frequency, or how a user feels when he or she doesn’t take it. And, of course, some symptoms will be difficult to discern in others, but important to note within yourself: if you find yourself thinking of the next time you will take a drug and plan your schedule around using the medication, this is a sign of addiction.

Long-Term Damage from Abuse of Hydrocodone

Hydrocodone causes a slowing down of the digestive processes in the body, which leads to chronic constipation. This can lead to hemorrhoids, impaction and prolapse. Chronic vomiting can cause damage to the esophagus and lead to the development of ulcers.

Long-term abuse of hydrocodone will lower hormone levels. Hormones are essential for reproductive health, mental health, and body composition. Infertility, depression, and loss of bone density are all possible outcomes of long-term opioid abuse.

Depression can be impacted by hormone levels, but also by the levels of dopamine and serotonin in the brain. These levels temporarily escalate with use of opioids, which may cause a down-regulation in receptors for those neurotransmitters. This change in structure can cause mood disorders, difficulty with memory, and inability to produce rational thought.

Lastly, a notable effect of long-term abuse of hydrocodone is the increased sensitivity to pain. Possible damage to opioid receptors in the brain can cause the threshold of pain to decrease and leave the user with the likelihood of experiencing pain with significantly more intensity.

Treatment for Hydrocodone Addiction

If someone you care about has an addiction to hydrocodone, you may have wondered how to navigate treatment as an option. Setting boundaries with the user and recognizing that their behavior is heavily influenced by their addiction will be helpful. Getting into support groups or therapy to better understand how to conduct your life moving forward, without enabling or engaging in codependent behavior, is also beneficial.

If you are seeking treatment for hydrocodone addiction, it will likely involve inpatient care. Because this substance has such strong physical and psychological impacts, a full-time commitment to a rehabilitation facility for personalized treatment is the most effective path toward recovery. You would go through an initial detox that would be managed in a health care setting, and then begin treatment through various forms of support and therapy.

After inpatient rehabilitation, treatment can have a longer-lasting impact with proper aftercare.