Though many people take hydrocodone, a prescription opioid, to treat chronic pain, the drug is highly addictive and can result in addiction.
Addiction to opioids like hydrocodone has become an epidemic in the United States, with millions of opioid prescriptions abused every year and thousands of overdose deaths due to opioids.
Individuals can seek treatment for hydrocodone addiction to help them quit use of the medication, manage withdrawal symptoms (such as cravings), and learn coping techniques to aid in recovery.
What Is Hydrocodone And How Is It Abused?
Hydrocodone is a prescription opioid (narcotic) used to treat chronic and severe pain and is one of the few opioids used round-the-clock in patients with chronic pain.
Hydrocodone is available in extended-release capsules and tablets and marketed under the following brands:
- Zohydro ER
Because hydrocodone is designed to take effect slowly over time, abuse of it usually involves individuals attempting to force faster effects by altering the way they take it.
Hydrocodone abuse includes:
- changing method of administration: crushing and snorting the tablets or capsules or dissolving the powder into a solution for injection
- changing the frequency or size of dosage
- giving away a prescription or taking someone else’s prescription
- taking the medication with other medications or substances (such as other prescription opioids or alcohol)
Does Hydrocodone Abuse Lead To Addiction?
Hydrocodone is a powerful opioid, so abuse of it can lead to addiction. As an opioid, hydrocodone works by changing a person’s perception of pain and pleasure.
The brain’s natural process of producing happy chemicals, such as dopamine, is disrupted with hydrocodone abuse. Over time, the brain may stop producing these chemicals, relying on hydrocodone for this process and resulting in an addiction to the drug.
Chemical dependence, a severe form of addiction, can also result from hydrocodone addiction and leads to cravings, headaches, nausea, and other withdrawal symptoms when not abusing the drug.
Signs And Symptoms Of Hydrocodone Addiction
Hydrocodone works by depressing functions within the central nervous system, producing feelings of calm, relaxation, and euphoria (increased happiness).
When a person abuses hydrocodone, these effects will likely increase greatly and may be the first signs of an addiction.
Other signs and symptoms of a hydrocodone addiction can include:
- increasing dosage and frequency of hydrocodone
- changing method of administration for faster effects
- doctor shopping: seeking the prescription from multiple sources
- inability to control use
- continuing to use hydrocodone even after recognizing abuse
- experiencing withdrawal symptoms when not using hydrocodone
- forming a tolerance, or being unable to feel the effects after use
Why Do People Abuse Hydrocodone?
Individuals may abuse hydrocodone if they are seeking relief from pain and they feel the medication isn’t working.
Hydrocodone is an extended-release medication, so individuals may not feel the effects right away and take more hydrocodone, believing this will prompt faster results.
Opioids lead quickly to tolerance, or the inability to feel effects from the medication. Individuals may increase their dosage or frequency of use of hydrocodone if they form a tolerance.
Those with an opioid addiction can form a physical dependence in just a few short weeks and may abuse hydrocodone to avoid experiencing withdrawal symptoms, like bone and muscle pain and severe headaches.
Individuals may also abuse hydrocodone in combination with other drugs, such as heroin or alcohol, in order to get a greater “high”, though this is a dangerous practice.
Side Effects Of Hydrocodone Abuse
Abuse of hydrocodone comes with multiple side effects, some of which can pose risks to a person’s health.
Possible side effects of hydrocodone abuse include:
- dry mouth
- constipation or stomach pain
- nausea or vomiting
- slowed or shallow breathing
- reduced heart and blood pressure rates
- muscle tightening
- back pain
- sleep troubles
- foot, leg, or ankle swelling
- body tremors
Risks Of Long-Term Hydrocodone Abuse
One of the greatest risks associated with hydrocodone abuse is addiction. Addiction can impact every aspect of a person’s life, including health, behaviors, social life, work, school, and more.
Other risks of long-term hydrocodone abuse include:
- chest pain
- dangerously slowed or stopped breathing
- gastrointestinal issues due to chronic constipation
- damage to respiratory (breathing) system
- organ damage from lack of oxygen
- changes in hormone regulation, including testosterone and estrogen, which affect fertility
- changes in pain perception or hypersensitivity to pain
- brain damage, including changes to structures which affect hormone regulation, emotions, learning, memory, and thinking
- liver damage
Can You Overdose On Hydrocodone?
Overdose is possible with hydrocodone abuse and can lead to vast effects on a person’s health if it isn’t fatal.
Signs and symptoms of a hydrocodone overdose include:
- blue tint to skin or nails
- slow or labored breathing
- stopped breathing
- liver failure, causing jaundice (yellowing of whites of the eyes)
- extreme drowsiness
- nausea and vomiting
- muscle twitches
- extremely small pupils (“pinpoint” pupils)
- weak pulse
- coma (loss of consciousness for a period of time)
Hydrocodone And Polysubstance Abuse
Mixing hydrocodone with alcohol or other drugs is commonly referred to as polysubstance or polydrug abuse. Taking multiple drugs at a time can lead to dangerous and even life-threatening effects.
Taking hydrocodone in conjunction with any of the following types of drugs can lead to slowed breathing and heart rate, overdose, and even death:
- other opioids
Common drug combinations involving hydrocodone include:
Rehab Programs For Hydrocodone Abuse And Addiction
Multiple forms of treatment exist for hydrocodone abuse and addiction. One of the most effective forms is intensive treatment, such as residential rehab programs.
Residential Rehab Programs For Hydrocodone Abuse And Addiction
Residential (inpatient) addiction treatment provides round-the-clock care for addicted individuals. For those struggling with hydrocodone abuse, this means access to medical care, professional and peer support, and a variety of evidence-based treatment methods.
Medication-assisted treatment (MAT) is a proven inpatient treatment method for opioid addiction. Using medication to treat painful withdrawal symptoms, an individual can safely stop use of opioids and engage in counseling and therapy for a well-rounded treatment approach.
Behavioral therapy can also play a role, teaching opioid-addicted individuals coping skills and mechanisms and how to replace destructive thought patterns that lead to addiction.
To learn more about treatment for hydrocodone abuse and addiction, or to find a rehab program that meets your needs, contact us today.
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These include peer-reviewed journals, government entities and academic institutions, and leaders in addiction healthcare and advocacy. Learn more about how we safeguard our content by viewing our editorial policy.
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention — Opioid Overdose: Prescription Overdose
- U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration — Hydrocodone
- U.S. National Library of Medicine: MedlinePlus — Hydrocodone