What is Hydrocodone?
Hydrocodone is a semi-synthetic drug used today mainly as a popular pain killer. It is synthesized from codeine, which is a derivative of the poppy plant. That makes hydrocodone a distant cousin of opium, and like its cousin, highly addictive.
Originally intended for natural pain relief, humans are blessed with opioid receptors throughout the body. These receptors respond to pain relieving metabolic chemicals like endorphins, in turn helping us to manage pain and well-being. With this knowledge, scientists learned that the body also responds to external substances that are like human pain killers, such as the chemicals found in the poppy plant. This led to the popular pharmaceuticals widely used today for pain relief, depression, anxiety and a host of other medical conditions. However, these substances come with a dark price.
Hydrocodone drugs are very potent and when in pain, the drug may feel like a life-saver for some. They can create a euphoric high along with a relaxed physical state, causing many users to take more than prescribed, or feel they need it even after pain has subsided.
Hydrocodone in the Body
One phenomenon of the human body is that when given pain medication, it may become more sensitive to pain. This happens because opioids, like those found in hydrocodone, block pain. In response, the body creates more receptors to compensate so, natural pain killers like endorphins decrease. The result is the ability to feel more pain, which increases need for the drug thus, greatly raising the risk for hydrocodone abuse and addiction.
Hydrocodone addiction is a high risk for anyone using this medication. As mentioned, physical pain can lead to a physical and chemical addiction. But the euphoric state it creates can cause a mental addiction—and it is widely available. It's no wonder that opioid addiction has become the biggest drug crisis of our time.
Because there are over 100 million prescriptions written every year, the market is flooded with hydrocodone, leaving no need to illicitly manufacture it. Often sold by online pharmacies that do not require prescriptions, it is easy for users to obtain. To make matters worse, there is no oversight of these pharmacies or suppliers, so one can never tell if they are buying the “real thing” or a counterfeit drug, which may contain deadly substances such as fentanyl.
Hydrocodone is mainly sold as a capsule, tablet or even liquid form. Popular pain killing drugs that contain hydrocodone in varying amounts include: Vicodin, Norco, Lortab and, more recently, pure hydrocodone, Zohydro or Zohydro RN. For recreational purposes, users may consume the pill whole, crush it and snort it, or add it to their drink.
Hydrocodone addiction may be accidental because of the way the body responds to opioid painkillers, as described above. But the drug may be taken by some purely for recreational use, as it can create a sense of well-being, euphoria or numbness both physically and emotionally. It may cause drowsiness or lethargy, so is often used by some as a sleeping aid or simply to relax.
Tolerance of hydrocodone is easily raised for many individuals. Taking hydrocodone for a length of time, or a higher dosage than needed creates a higher tolerance. With time, the body requires more of the drug to achieve the euphoric and pain killing effects that were obtained with a smaller dosage in the beginning. As tolerance increases, so does use.
Higher doses of hydrocodone come with higher risks, the most serious being hydrocodone overdose. Addiction can easily lead to dependence, making it more difficult to stop taking the drug. Knowing signs of hydrocodone use may help you or a loved one before it's too late.
Signs of Hydrocodone Use
Signs of hydrocodone use or abuse might be indicated when a pain killer prescription is filled repeatedly even after the pain should have subsided. If the user is developing a higher tolerance, they may attempt to have a prescription filled through various doctors or facilities as they attempt to circumvent the restrictions put on pain killer use by the medical industry. This may be referred to as “doctor shopping”, meaning a person is filling more than one prescription for various painkillers that contain hydrocodone from various physicians. This is an attempt to hide the addiction and allow access to more of the drug as their tolerance increases.
A user with a prescription may be showing signs of addiction if they finish their prescription before the refill date. They may experience cravings for more of the drug before the next dosage is due. Some may find a quicker route to obtain the euphoric feeling such as crushing their pill and adding it to a beverage, or snorting it through their nose. A telltale sign of abuse is the inability to stop the drug for a day without getting withdrawal side effects like a headache or flu like symptoms.
Some physical signs may appear in an individual who is abusing hydrocodone, which include:
- Constricted pupils
- Skin rash
- Dry throat
- Slowed heart rate
- Difficulty breathing
- Feeling fearful
Long-term use can lead to social withdrawal, financial issues as it becomes difficult to pay for the high amount of prescriptions and possibly stealing the medication from others. Irritability may arise as tolerance increases but the addict cannot get enough to fulfill their daily fix. They may begin combining drugs to compensate. Long term mood disorders may develop that include depression, anxiety and even panic attacks.
Long-term physical signs, or effects, of hydrocodone use are numerous and possibly permanent. They include:
- Progressive hearing loss
- Gastrointestinal problems
- Malnutrition from reduced appetite
- Oxygen deprivation
- Sleep apnea
Hydrocodone overdose is a risk and can manifest as clamminess and then confusion. If the overdose is acute the user may experience convulsions and even loss of consciousness. As with many opioids, respiratory depression is also a serious risk and can lead to death if left untreated.
Street Names for Hydrocodone
Hydrocodone does have street names that are popular among chronic users. Sometimes called code words, they are often a covert way to conceal the sale or purchase of hydrocodone on the dark web or from a local dealer. Some of these names include:
While it is important to know street names, it is also helpful to know other trade names for hydrocodone. This helps ensure one doesn't accidentally relapse into addiction or can help you identify addiction. Some of these names are: Norco, Vicodin, Lortab, Lorcet, Anexsia, Hycodan, Hycomine, Dicodid and Tussionex
Hydrocodone Withdrawal Symptoms
Hydrocodone withdrawal symptoms can be severe as it has altered the body's chemistry and mental state. The intensity of the symptoms of withdrawal will depend on how much was used and for how long. The user's physical health should be considered as well when they decide to take control of their addiction.
Some of the first symptoms to expect from withdrawal may include: headache, fever and sweating, cold flashes, diarrhea, nausea, vomiting, joint and muscle pain and panic or anxiety. These show up usually between 6 to 48 hours after the last does and can continue for a few days or weeks, depending on how intense the addiction was.
After the first 48 hours, withdrawal symptoms may peak. The body attempts to detoxify itself through various means such as vomiting, diarrhea, and sweating. Shaking is common at this point as the body becomes exhausted and may be working overtime. Watch for signs of dehydration at this point.
Most of these harsh physical symptoms should lessen after about a week to 10 days. At this point, depression, anxiety and panic may take over as the addict is not used to being in a drug free state. Feelings of remorse may set in. Due to the psychological issues that arise, relapse is a risk during this phase.
Some more severe psychological issues may have developed and can last for months after use has ceased. Anxiety and depression may take time to completely go away as the body needs time to adjust living without the drug. Underlying mental health issues that were present before addiction may be more pronounced and require intensive therapy or counseling.
Treatment for Hydrocodone Addiction
Treatment for hydrocodone addiction can be intense and uncomfortable, depending upon the dosage taken and for how long. Because of all the chemical changes in the body, complications may arise during the initial detoxification phase of treatment. Large amounts of body fluids, electrolytes and nutrients may be lost. Self-harm may be a risk as the person tries to get used to the feeling of not taking the drug.
The first step of hydrocodone addiction treatment is often medical intervention to ease detoxification symptoms. Medications can be used to help the body transition into going without hydrocodone when one is physically dependent. This may be done in a detox center or possibly a hospital if the patient experienced a hydrocodone overdose.
The medications Clonodine and Buprenorphine are the most common used during this phase. While they don't reduce physical cravings, they can lessen harsh physical symptoms like vomiting, muscle pains, sweating and even anxiety that comes with the early stage of detoxification. Naltrexone may be used after the initial onset of withdrawal symptoms or at the end of the detoxification stage, as it can help block the effects of opioids and help reduce cravings.
Medical detox may take up to a week while non-medical detox is unpredictable and may take a few days to over a week. Complete detoxification of the drug from the body may take several months or more for a full recovery as the body works to reset its internal chemistry to the state it was in before the hydrocodone addiction took hold.
Inpatient and Outpatient Treatment
After physical detoxification, addiction specialists recommend inpatient or outpatient rehabilitation to avoid relapse. This stage is often used to help the addict rebuild life skills, learn coping mechanisms for daily stresses and is an important step to avoid relapse. Maintenance medications may be required after this phase to help the transition into being drug-free. After initial detoxification, there are different methods that can be used on the path to recovery.
Residential treatment centers are live-in facilities that a patient may stay at for as little as a month to a full 12 months. Here the patient gets help with medical intervention as well as counseling, therapy and life skills training. They may incorporate job training and other skills to help the addict ease back into society. These centers are more expensive and are found to be effective with addicts that may have co-occurring addictions, repeat addiction issues or psychiatric issues.
Inpatient facilities utilize intense treatment methods with a high rate of success as the patient is isolated from situations that can lead to relapse. Used for more severe addiction profiles, these facilities have therapists and counseling on-site to help work through issues that either led to addiction or that have arisen due to hydrocodone use and withdrawal. A person may stay at this type of facility during physical detox to provide safe medical oversight and some counseling. Some patients may stay longer if the facility has the staff to continue behavioral therapy and counseling to help the patient avoid relapse.
Outpatient rehabilitation may be used for those with milder addictions. It may be a necessity for some or an option for those who prefer the comfort of their home. While inpatient treatment may last a couple of weeks to a year, outpatient may require a few months to more than a year, and may be the sole method or continued treatment after time at an inpatient facility. Group therapy is encouraged as well as individual counseling for those working in an outpatient method.
Because maintenance medications may be used, the latter phase of treatment is essential. All resources should be encouraged and utilized to avoid relapse and to address underlying causes of addiction.
Group therapy, individual therapy, and 12-Step programs are all valid resources for full addiction recovery. In fact, people who participate in 12-Step groups claim they acquire more positive family relations, healthier social connections and even improvement in stable housing and employment.
Contingency management is often implemented in any of these settings for hydrocodone addition treatment. This type of therapy is based in behavioral principles and uses positive reinforcement instead of punishment to help an addict change their behavior. It is highly effective and recommended by many experts in addiction research. A board-certified behavioral analyst in either inpatient or outpatient setting is used for this type of therapy.
If you or someone you love is addicted to hydrocodone and need treatment, don't hesitate to get help. Recovery is possible and your life can become yours, again.