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Hydrocodone Addiction

Table of Contents

Hydrocodone is currently the most commonly prescribed opioid painkiller in the United States. It is a powerful narcotic that serves two purposes when prescribed. It is effective as a cough suppressant, and it is also a pain reliever for moderate pain. Hydrocodone is described as more beneficial than the weaker opioid codeine but as potent as morphine for pain. Those who manage chronic pain can find hydrocodone to be a highly effective means of treating it, but it can cause life-altering consequences for some.

A common misconception about hydrocodone is that it’s safe because a doctor prescribes it. This is untrue, however, and the risk of abuse even in those who take the drug as prescribed remains very high. The opioid crisis has plagued the U.S., and while this medication can be useful, the majority of people abuse it for its euphoric effects. It is easy to understand how people can become addicted. Hydrocodone has the power to take away their pain, but it also creates a sense of euphoria that gets people hooked on the drug.

While heroin is the common illicit drug linked to opioid addiction, becoming dependent on hydrocodone is just as easy in small doses. Hydrocodone can be deadly if taken in massive quantities that can lead to overdose. It also can lead to an array of health problems if not treated in time. 

How Does Hydrocodone Work?

Opioids enter the brain and bind to opioid receptors that are produced naturally. Natural opioids are neurotransmitters that are responsible for slowing down and blocking nerve signals in the central nervous system (CNS). This is how the body naturally regulates pain, but opioids do much more by activating these receptors.

Once these natural receptors are stimulated, they are pushed into creating an overproduction of these pain blockers. The central nervous system is slowed dramatically, and a rush of euphoria takes over. During this process, the pain receptors around the spinal cord and brainstem are blocked for a more effective means of pain relief. During this euphoric state of pain relief and rush the user experiences, it will also be accompanied by sedation and relaxation. The stimulation of dopamine is responsible for this state of being.

Dopamine is correlated to what we refer to as the pleasure center of the brain. Dopamine is responsible for regulating cognition, emotion, and how we process rewards. The effects hydrocodone has on this part of the brain are what can push someone who consumes the drug into addiction. The brain eventually becomes rewired and associates consumption of the drug with rewards. 

What Are the Signs of Hydrocodone Addiction?

Someone in the early stages of a hydrocodone addiction may be more difficult to stop than one would think. It is also easier to overlook an addiction to hydrocodone because when a doctor prescribes the narcotic medication, there is usually an ailment linked to it being taken. Because of this, an individual can spiral and not show outward signs of addiction when damage is taking place.

It’s necessary to familiarize yourself with the signs and symptoms associated with hydrocodone addiction. If you suspect that either or a loved one has become addicted to the drug, early detection just like any disease is the key to survival. These signs may go unnoticed if you are not looking for them, but it is crucial that if someone has a prescription for the drug that you know the signs of dependence and addiction.

There are specific side effects to look for that serve as proof for a growing hydrocodone addiction. The most common physical and mental effects of hydrocodone abuse can include:

  • Rashes and itching
  • Dizziness
  • Constant drowsiness
  • Chronic constipation
  • Gastrointestinal problems
  • Anxiety
  • Mood swings
  • Headaches
  • Difficulty urinating
  • Pinprick pupils

The phase from hydrocodone abuse to addiction can go unrecognized if you are not paying attention. In some cases, you will not notice until the addiction has grown and the individual begins to spiral completely out of control. Once an individual reaches this point, there can be dire consequences.

There is a significant factor that separates substance abuse into an uncontrollable addiction. This transition will often involve a flagrant disregard by the person in question for anything in their life other than hydrocodone. Hydrocodone consumption becomes the top priority in their life, and as a result, friendships, family, and work or school obligation will begin to suffer.

The user’s life will revolve around obtaining the drug, and that will be the driving force behind all of their actions. They will soon begin exhibiting extreme unusual behavior as a result of their addiction. These behaviors are consistent with substance abuse, generally speaking, but hydrocodone poses its own particular behaviors. These can include:

  • Consuming hydrocodone without a prescription or in doses larger than prescribed
  • Forging a prescription for access to multiple prescriptions
  • Doctor shopping
  • Experiencing withdrawals without hydrocodone
  • Increased tolerance to hydrocodone effects
  • Missing money or valuables related to hydrocodone
  • Isolation from society
  • A decline in personal hygiene 
  • Lying about hydrocodone use
  • An inability to function without hydrocodone
  • Unable to stop use despite many attempts to quit

If any of these behaviors sound familiar for either yourself or a loved one, the next step to treatment can help get you or this person out of the shadows on the way to a better life. Professional addiction services will allow you to prevent any further damage from occurring, and stop a possible overdose from happening. 

What Is Involved in Hydrocodone Addiction Treatment?

The first stage in hydrocodone addiction treatment is medical detoxification. Detox removes their body of any and all addictive, harmful substances that are present. This phase ensures the body and mind are stabilized and prepared for the next phases of treatment and recovery. This process is never recommended to take place at home on your own. While hydrocodone withdrawal is not life-threatening, it can be uncomfortable and push someone right back into using the drug. 

During detox, you will be surrounded by a staff of highly trained professionals that provide 24-hour a day supervision. This stage is the most intense part of the process, and they will provide you with medication to stabilize and alleviate the worst symptoms of withdrawal. This process will allow for a steady transition into treatment, whereas a cold turkey attempt could be extremely rocky and unsuccessful. 

Depending on the severity of the addiction, the client will either be placed into residential or outpatient treatment. These programs will offer access to therapies that allow the recovering client to learn about the root of their addiction as well as coping mechanisms that allow them to function in society. The successful completion of detox is not enough to maintain sobriety, and studies have shown that most success comes from at least 90 days in treatment. If the individual is taking their sobriety seriously, they should never avoid treatment. This could lead to relapse and, thus, start the cycle all over again.

How Dangerous Is Hydrocodone?

As mentioned earlier in the article, people often mistake hydrocodone as less dangerous because a doctor prescribed it for use. The medication is extremely dangerous when abused and can become a gateway to illicit drugs like heroin. If the drug is consumed as prescribed, it still holds a strong potential of being abused and developing a tolerance. Drugs become even more dangerous when users engage in polydrug use, which is the practice of using more than one drug at the same time. Mixing hydrocodone with alcohol increases the risk of an overdose exponentially, but it also damages the kidneys and liver. If you ever assume someone has overdosed on hydrocodone, call 911 immediately. Signs of a hydrocodone overdose include:

  • Clammy skin
  • Shallow breathing
  • Vomiting
  • Falling in and out of consciousness
  • Blue skin around nails and lips
  • Low blood pressure
  • Confusion
  • Coma

Hydrocodone Abuse Statistics

  • Since 2009, hydrocodone has been the second most frequently encountered opioid pharmaceutical in drug evidence.
  • Hydrocodone is the most frequently prescribed opiate with more than 136 million prescriptions. 
  • In 2013, there were 29,391 total exposures and 36 deaths associated with hydrocodone in the U.S.

Start Your Hydrocodone Addiction Recovery Today

If you or someone you care about is struggling with hydrocodone addiction, Ocean Breeze Recovery can help you start your recovery now. We specialize in addiction recovery services that involve partial hospitalization and intensive outpatient treatment. Call (844) 554-9279 now to speak with one of our addiction specialists about which of our treatment programs is best for you or your loved one. You can also contact us online for more information.


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Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. (2019, January 30) Behavioral Health Treatments and Services. Retrieved from

ScienceDirect. Polydrug Abuse. Retrieved from

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