Hydrocodone Addiction

Hydrocodone is a common opioid painkiller drug. It is marketed in drugs such as Lortab, Norco and Vicodin. The purpose of the drug to manage chronic, acute or severe pain. Hydrocodone also promotes happy, euphoric feelings which often lead to addiction to the drug.

What is Hydrocodone Addiction?

Hydrocodone is a drug used for pain and cough suppression. It is a semi-synthetic opioid derived from codeine. It is normally taken in pill form, but can be used in liquid form as a cough suppressant.

Hydrocodone has about half the potency of oxycodone. However, it has a similar effect as oxycodone for acute pain relief. The drug takes effect within 10 to 20 minutes. Its overall effect lasts about 4 to 6 hours.

Many medications contain hydrocodone. Hydrocodone is mixed with acetaminophen in Lortab, Vicodin and Norco. It is combined with ibuprofen in Vicoprofen and Ibudone. However, hydrocodone is not available in injectable form.

Other drug formulations containing hydrocodone include select:

  • Aspirin products
  • Controlled-release products
  • Cough suppressants

Hydrocodone Prevalence

Products containing hydrocodone are some of the most commonly prescribed drugs in the U.S. Unfortunately, hydrocodone has a high risk of abuse and addiction. Because of this, the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) deemed hydrocodone a schedule II drug in 2014.

Schedule II drugs have high potentials for dependence and addiction and are considered dangerous. Even with this classification, hydrocodone remains a highly prescribed drug.

Hydrocodone is used almost exclusively in the U.S. Americans consume more than 99% of the world’s supply of this opioid. More than 200 million prescriptions for the drug are written each year.

Many celebrities have died or had complications from opioid abuse. Actor Heath Ledger died from an overdose of several prescription opioids, including hydrocodone. Elvis Presley had codeine in his system at the time of death.

Hydrocodone Addiction Signs & Symptoms

Hydrocodone acts on the opioid receptors in the brain. It depresses your central nervous system. This decreases your drive to breathe, your heart rate and your blood pressure. Hydrocodone also affects your brain’s dopamine (reward) centers.

If you take hydrocodone for a long period of time, you will likely become tolerant to the drug. In turn, you will require a stronger dose to feel the same level of relief. As you take more of the drug at a time, you increase your risk of developing a hydrocodone dependency or addiction.

There are multiple signs and symptoms that may reflect a hydrocodone addiction.

Signs and symptoms of hydrocodone addiction include:

  • Needing higher amounts of the drug to achieve the same effect
  • Being unable to stop taking the drug
  • Spending a lot of time getting the drug
  • Having cravings for the drug
  • Having social problems because of opioid use
  • Using the drug in spite of subsequent risky or dangerous behaviors

Hydrocodone Withdrawal

The longer you use hydrocodone, the more likely you are to develop a dependence to it. People who inject or smoke hydrocodone become dependent faster than people who use the drug orally. Dependence can turn into addiction.

Withdrawal symptoms appear when not actively using the drug. They typically occur 6 to 12 hours after taking the last dose. Symptoms can appear sooner if you used hydrocodone for a long period of time.

Withdrawal symptoms reach their peak at about 72 hours, or three days, after the last dose of the drug. They can last from a week to a month. Cravings for the drug often last longer than that.

Typical hydrocodone withdrawal symptoms include:

  • Sudden spikes in blood pressure
  • Elevated heart rate
  • Higher body temperature
  • Increased respiratory rate
  • Excessive tears and runny nose
  • Muscle pains and cramps
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Chills
  • Sweating
  • Anxiety
  • Fatigue
  • Night sweats and insomnia
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Irregular heartbeat

Due to these symptoms, a “cold turkey” withdrawal from hydrocodone is difficult and dangerous. Many people also feel depressed and suicidal when withdrawing from this drug.

Author:Kent Hoffman
Kent Hoffman

Dr. Kent Hoffman has been practicing medicine for nearly 30 years. He is board-certified to practice addiction medicine and family medicine. Dr. Hoffman gets to know his patients on a first-name basis to provide compassionate and professional health care.

Last modified: 01/14/2019