How Long Does Hydrocodone Last? High & Effects

Medically Reviewed by Johnelle Smith, M.D. on March 22, 2023

Hydrocodone is a moderately strong opioid with a high potential for abuse. The duration of this prescription drug’s effects and the detection window for the metabolites left behind by hydrocodone may vary depending on several factors.

How Long Does Hydrocodone Last?

A single dose of hydrocodone reaches its peak after one hour and lasts an average of four to six hours when it is administered orally in its immediate release form.

How long hydrocodone lasts can vary greatly depending on the method of administration and the medical history of the individual.

Someone who routinely abuses hydrocodone or other illicit substances is more likely to experience a much shorter window of effect with a longer detection period.

Keep reading to learn more about hydrocodone’s length of drug high and effects.

The Duration Of A Hydrocodone High

Hydrocodone abuse causes a brief sense of euphoria as the drug reaches peak concentrations. For the remainder of the drug’s active period, four to six hours, the primary effect is sedation.

Any use of hydrocodone outside of a specific prescription is considered abuse. Abusing hydrocodone has similar effects to other opioids and may lead to drug addiction.

What Does Hydrocodone Do?

Hydrocodone, often known by its brand name Vicodin, is a partially synthetic opioid analgesic. It is primarily used as a painkiller when non-opioid drugs, like acetaminophen, are ineffective.

The medication works by binding with opioid receptors in your central nervous system to block pain and release higher-than-normal concentrations of dopamine.

While hydrocodone is, by no means, the strongest opioid, it is still a powerful drug that is capable of creating a physical dependence if it is not administered carefully.

Prescribed Uses

Hydrocodone is a Schedule II controlled substance that is typically prescribed to help manage severe pain that does not respond to non-opioid pain relief drugs.

It is also an antitussive that can be used to treat non-productive cough in adults, but the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) curtailed the use of hydrocodone for this purpose in 2018.

How Long Does Hydrocodone Last In The Body?

You may only feel the effects of hydrocodone for four to six hours, but the drug is present in your system for a more extended period.

The half-life of hydrocodone is about 3.8 hours, which means that half of the remaining drug is metabolized after that amount of time has passed. This repeats until the drug is completely gone.

For an average person taking a normal dose, hydrocodone stays in the blood for 24 hours after the last dose. However, some factors alter how long hydrocodone stays in your body.

Factors That Affect How Long Hydrocodone Lasts

The effects of pain medications like hydrocodone will affect most people in a similar way, but the duration of these effects can vary substantially depending on the situation.

These are the most important factors that influence how long hydrocodone lasts.


Children and older adults can be more sensitive to opioid analgesics due to variations in size, body composition, and metabolism.

As a result, the effects of hydrocodone may be more pronounced for people in these two categories, and the effects may last marginally longer.

Body Composition

People with a higher body fat percentage may take longer to metabolize hydrocodone. People who are obese may retain the drug even longer due to changes in liver function.

Liver Conditions

Drugs like hydrocodone are processed out of the blood via the liver. People with health conditions that impair liver function may take significantly longer to metabolize the drug.

The indications for hydrocodone use in patients with liver conditions suggest that medical professionals should halve the starting dose of hydrocodone to avoid complications.


The amount of medication administered is a crucial factor in how long hydrocodone remains in your body.

Your body metabolizes half of the amount administered every three to four hours, so a larger dose will take longer to reach undetectable levels.

History Of Drug Use

Someone who has engaged in substance abuse in the past or an individual who has been prescribed opioids repeatedly may experience a shortened window of efficacy due to tolerance.

Side Effects Of Hydrocodone

Hydrocodone may not be as strong as morphine or fentanyl, but it is still a powerful drug. Its short and long-term effects should be carefully considered before using hydrocodone.

Short-Term Effects Of Hydrocodone

Opioids are central nervous system depressants. As a result, many of your autonomic functions slow down for the four to six hours that hydrocodone is effective.

These changes often result in lowered blood pressure, reduced heart rate, and slowed breathing.

A general feeling of intense drowsiness accompanies these side effects, contributing to the sensation sometimes referred to as “nodding out.”

Hydrocodone is generally safe to use under the supervision of a doctor, but the short-term side effects can be dangerous with larger doses or when additional drugs or alcohol are involved.

Long-Term Effects Of Hydrocodone

Hydrocodone and other opioids are not designed for chronic pain or long-term use. Continuing to use hydrocodone for longer than prescribed amplifies the possibility of long-term side effects.

Possible side effects of long-term use include:

  • dependence
  • addiction
  • liver damage
  • bowel obstruction
  • sleep apnea
  • heart attack
  • heart failure
  • sensitivity to pain
  • clinical depression

Hydrocodone And Other Opioids

The initial effects of hydrocodone have a similar duration to other opioids as well as a similar detection window.

Hydrocodone is a partially synthetic opioid, meaning that some of its parts are derived from the natural opiates found in the poppy plant, while others are manufactured.

Hydrocodone falls towards the middle regarding potency. It is stronger than tramadol (Ultram) but significantly weaker than the opiate morphine and the opioid fentanyl.

Consequences Of Long-Term Opioid Abuse

Opioids play an important role in mitigating pain. Unfortunately, their addictive potential makes long-term opioid abuse a dangerous potential side effect of their use.

A person who abuses opioids over a long period is likely to experience many physiological and psychological consequences.


Long-term opioid abuse is often associated with significant damage to the brain, heart, liver, and digestive tract.

Memory loss, cardiac arrest, liver failure, and severe constipation with bleeding are just a few of the potential results.

In addition to these chronic conditions, abusing hydrocodone for an extended period greatly increases the risk of fatal overdose, especially if a person increases their dose due to tolerance.


Using hydrocodone for longer than recommended can contribute to chronic depression and anxiety.

These conditions are often related to the brain’s attempt to reestablish homeostasis in response to the effects of hydrocodone.

The result is lower-than-normal dopamine levels when hydrocodone is not present in peak concentrations, causing feelings of sadness, nervousness, and loss of self-worth.

Treating Hydrocodone Addiction

All addictions are complex, but opioid addictions can be particularly challenging due to their intensity and the likelihood of co-occurring disorders.

Fortunately, several treatment options can help you or your loved one take the first steps toward lasting recovery.


Detoxification is an essential first step in the treatment of opioid addiction, and you must receive proper support.

Quitting hydrocodone suddenly can be potentially dangerous and may require medical attention. As a result, a medical detox program is often the most suitable choice to start recovery.

Detoxing from hydrocodone can take several months in total, but acute withdrawal symptoms usually only last three to five days. It may take longer in cases of long-term abuse.

Dual Diagnosis Treatment

Someone who is experiencing the psychological side effects of hydrocodone addiction should choose an addiction recovery center that offers dual diagnosis treatment.

These treatment centers provide suitable behavioral health programs and medications to treat co-occurring mental illnesses alongside addiction.

Medication-Assisted Treatment (MAT)

Medication-assisted treatment (MAT) is a viable option for most opioid addictions.

Depending on the medication used, MAT can be used to help you slowly detox over time or to maintain your use within safer parameters.

Outpatient Treatment

Outpatient treatment is ideal for people who want to continue going to work and sleeping in their own beds each night while they receive treatment.

This approach to addiction therapy works best for people who live with supportive family or friends.

Outpatient treatment includes a variety of programs with different intensities.

Inpatient Treatment

Inpatient treatment can be an ideal option for those who have serious addictions that have continued despite previous attempts to recover.

These programs can be short-term, lasting less than 30 days. They can also be long-term, lasting an average of three months with some options extending over a year.

FAQs For Hydrocodone

The onset of the opioid epidemic in the United States has rightfully led many people to approach the use of opioids with caution.

To help you feel more comfortable with your understanding of hydrocodone, our team has put together some of the most common questions.

Hydrocodone abuse is treated through a short period of detoxification followed by a personalized treatment program.

Opioid addiction treatment programs often use a combination of cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), group therapy, and holistic treatments to address the psychological aspects of addiction.

Generally speaking, a lethal dose of hydrocodone is anything larger than 90 milligrams in a day.

That threshold may be significantly decreased if you consume alcohol, use additional drugs, or have any health condition that increases the risk of fatal overdose.

The window of detection for hydrocodone varies depending on the type of drug screening and may vary depending on dosage and frequency of use. 

On average, it can be detected by a saliva test or blood test for 24 hours, a urine test for four days, and a hair test for up to three months.

Hydrocodone artificially increases the concentration of the neurotransmitter dopamine, causing the brain to reduce its normal output over time in an attempt to rebalance your brain chemistry.

The most common co-occurring disorders to accompany hydrocodone addiction are anxiety and depression. However, it may also exacerbate the symptoms of other mental health conditions.

No, it is not safe to go through detoxification at home, as opioid withdrawal can cause dangerous variations in breathing and cardiac activity.

If you wish to avoid an inpatient detox program, you may consider MAT. A drug like buprenorphine can be administered in a controlled location to help you slowly detox at home.

MAT can use several medications to treat hydrocodone abuse. The method will depend on the drug that is administered.

While some MAT drugs help you to slowly transition off of opioids, others can be used to block the euphoric effects of opioid use to help with relapse prevention.

Find Hydrocodone Addiction Treatment Today

If you or a loved one wants help with their opioid addiction, then contact our team today.

We can help you find the best treatment options in your area that will provide the care you need to begin your addiction recovery.

This page does not provide medical advice. See more

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Medically Reviewed by
Johnelle Smith, M.D. on March 22, 2023
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