Hydrocodone is the active ingredient in the prescription opioid painkiller Vicodin. Vicodin became popular for its combination of hydrocodone and acetaminophen, which can serve as a more effective means of treating pain for some people. It is used to treat mild-to-moderate pain as well as fevers. Vicodin falls into a class of medicines called narcotic analgesics (pain medicines), and it acts on the central nervous system (CNS) to relieve pain. When it is used for long periods, it can become habit-forming and cause physical and mental dependence.
Vicodin shares equal blame as a contributor to the opioid crisis the nation currently faces. An estimated 116 people die daily from opioid abuse in the U.S. This medication is prescribed at a rate higher than any other opioid in the country. It is available in tablet form, syrup, capsules, and as a liquid.
While the risk for abuse of this narcotic pain reliever is widely known, it is still misused on a major scale. Unfortunately, those who require it as a means of relief from their ailments can still develop dependence and later become addicted. Long-term Vicodin abuse is considered abuse of two drugs—hydrocodone and acetaminophen, and individually, both drugs carry a high risk of injury to the body.
One of the main issues concerning heavy usage of Vicodin is the pain reliever acetaminophen used in conjunction with hydrocodone. Abuse puts the user at risk of severe liver damage or organ failure from acetaminophen poisoning.
Vicodin works by imitating the natural opioids that our bodies naturally produce. The drug enters the brain and binds to the opioid receptors responsible for relieving stress and pain. They do this by inhibiting nerve impulses that stimulate these feelings in the central nervous system and block them from reaching the brain.
Vicodin also works by affecting how much dopamine is released in the brain. Dopamine is a neurotransmitter in the limbic system responsible for controlling functions such as mood, emotion, and reward. It has a sedating effect that helps relieve pain by blocking off the spinal cord and brainstem to prohibit pain signals from entering. The significant influx of dopamine in the body and feeling of numbness is what contributes to the high a user will experience. This leads to taking larger doses of Vicodin to reach this state.
The drug is solely intended to decrease pain, but the rush of dopamine is what fuels the cycle of addiction. When chronic pain is relieved in addition to feeling energized as a result from consumption, it is easy to understand why addiction is so prevalent when it comes to opioids. The problem is the brain begins to associate Vicodin use with rewards as the dopamine is distributed in high levels with each use.
As a user gains more of a tolerance to the effects, the body requires much higher doses to achieve the same effects when they began using. This will cause a less than desirable withdrawal period if drug use suddenly stops.
Opioid addiction in the early phases can be difficult to spot. The problem with this is the longer someone uses and the deeper they fall into the cycle, the more significant the problems can become. It is a common misconception that because they’re prescribed medication from a doctor, addiction is somehow not a common factor. This is untrue, and this is what makes addiction to prescription opioids so dangerous. It allows the user to be in denial even when the worst symptoms occur.Fortunately, there are warning signs to look out for if you suspect that either you or a loved one is struggling with a Vicodin addiction. Due to the combination of hydrocodone and acetaminophen, there are some specific conditions associated with use. These are some symptoms you should familiarize yourself with:
When someone has developed an intense physical and psychological dependence on Vicodin, they gradually lose control of their usage. It becomes compulsive and using the drug becomes the primary focus. Certain hobbies users may have found enjoyable will no longer interest them, and consequently, relationships will begin to deteriorate. The main focal point in their lives will be finding Vicodin. This is when the outward signs of addiction will become easier to recognize. Some symptoms to look out for include:
If you or someone you know has experienced symptoms of Vicodin abuse, it is imperative that you seek out treatment immediately. Treating one’s addiction quickly gives the user a better chance of changing their lives for the better. Like any disease, early detection is the key.
The first and most effective step in the continuum of addiction care is medical detox. This allows for the safe removal of all toxins that have been built up in your system. You will undergo a three to seven-day stay under 24-hour intense supervision. The length of stay will vary based on the severity of your addiction. Upon successful completion of this process, you will then be examined to see which next step will be the most beneficial for your needs.
In the next stage of treatment, you will be moved to a residential program or an outpatient program. This also depends on the severity of the addiction. No matter which route your medical team decides, you will be partaking in extensive therapies that focus on the root of your addiction. You will learn healthy coping strategies when it comes to managing triggers and temptations, and education workshops are designed to provide you with skills that can be used for a lifetime.
All of the therapies involved will help treat the underlying problems that led you to addiction in the first place. You also will create and follow a relapse prevention plan that illustrates point by point what can help you achieve prolonged sobriety and reach your personal goals.
Vicodin is dangerous for the same reasons you’d find with all opioids; however, the presence of acetaminophen makes the narcotic pain reliever even more toxic. Overdose from Vicodin can result in organ failure due to lack of oxygen, but when taken in excess can cause significant damage to the liver. Long-term Vicodin abuse is considered abuse of two drugs—hydrocodone and acetaminophen, and these individually carry a high risk of damage to the body.It is more common to overdose from acetaminophen than it is from a powerful opioid. This solidifies the dangers involved with consuming both in high doses. You do not need to take a high dose to suffer from acetaminophen poisoning. This can be fatal. There are other signs attributed to an opioid overdose, however. They include:
If you witness someone showing these symptoms, you must immediately call 911. If you wait too long, these symptoms can result in permanent damage that can ultimately lead to death. An overdose on Vicodin is treated the same as other opioids, and a first responder will administer Narcan to reverse the effects. This will not work for an acetaminophen overdose.
If you or someone you care about is battling with Vicodin addiction and ready to stop, Ocean Breeze Recovery is ready to help you find the right treatment setting for you. We offer intensive outpatient treatment and partial hospitalization services. We offer medical detox and residential at our sister facility, Arete Recovery.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.
Health Resources & Services Administration. (2019 June Opioid Crisis. Retrieved from https://www.hrsa.gov/opioids
healthline.com. (2018, May 24) Acetaminophen-Hydrocodone, Oral Tablet. How it works. University of Illinois-Chicago, Drug Information Group. from https://www.healthline.com/health/acetaminophen-hydrocodone-oral-tablet#about
WebMD.com. (2018, August 19) Painkillers and Opioid Use Disorder. Opioid Use Disorder. WebMD Medical Reference. Ratini, M. DO, MS from https://www.webmd.com/mental-health/addiction/painkillers-and-addiction-narcotic-abuse#1
U.S. National Library of Medicine. (2018, January 17) MedlinePlus. Hydrocodone and acetaminophen overdose. Heller, J. MD, MHA, Emergency Medicine, Emeritus, Virginia Mason Medical Center, Seattle, WA. Zieve, D. MD, MHA, Medical Director, Conaway, B. Editorial Director, A.D.A.M. Editorial team. from https://medlineplus.gov/ency/article/002670.htm
CNBC. (2016, April 27) Americans consume vast majority of the world’s opioids. Gusovsky, G. . from https://www.cnbc.com/2016/04/27/americans-consume-almost-all-of-the-global-opioid-supply.html
Wikipedia. (2019 November). Opioid epidemic in the United States. Hydrocodone from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Opioid_epidemic_in_the_United_States#Hydrocodone