What Is Hydrocodone?
Hydrocodone is a semi-synthetic opioid. Most often this habit-forming pain reliever is prescribed as a painkiller. Although physical dependence and liver damage are associated with this drug, it is still prescribed to address pain. Hydrocodone also known by the brand Vicodin® is often used for short-term pain. Substance abuse and physical dependence will occur if used regularly. This habit-forming drug creates dependency. To stop taking them once addicted can cause life threatening withdrawal symptoms.
Substance Abuse & Addiction
Hydrocodone can become habit forming and lead to addiction. Hydrocodone works by binding to pain receptors in the brain and relieving or blocking pain. This relief from pain leads to positive reinforcement in the brain and may increase one’s desire to continue taking the drug.
Continuous use of hydrocodone can also lead to mental clouding and difficulty regulating one’s moods.
Signs of Drug Abuse or Addiction
It may be difficult to recognize drug abuse or addiction. Some signs a person may be abusing or addicted to hydrocodone include taking pills more frequently than what’s listed on the prescription label or the attached drug information pamphlet, continuing to take medication longer than prescribed, and taking various dosage forms in ways other than how it is prescribed.
Increased or prolonged use of hydrocodone can also cause one to become opioid tolerant. Becoming opioid tolerant will require stronger doses to achieve the same effects. This can become very dangerous.
Effects of Hydrocodone Abuse
Hydrocodone abuse can cause respiratory depression, blurry vision, confusion, constipation or diarrhea, fatigue, flushed skin, nausea and vomiting, itchy skin or dry mouth, confusion, slurred speech, and seizures.
Long-term effects of abuse include lasting changes on brain function, mood and thoughts, difficulty sleeping, anxiety, depression, and liver or kidney damage.
Abruptly stopping hydrocodone can lead to withdrawal. These symptoms may include:
- Sweating, chills, or goosebumps
- Muscle aches
- Vomiting or diarrhea
- Moods swings, anxiety, or depression
- Runny nose
- Migraine headaches
- Strong cravings
Symptoms usually last 5-7 days but may last longer depending on each individual. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) supports the use of opioid dependency medications for those who cannot not endure complete abstinence.
Hydrocodone and Severe Pain
Hydrocodone is an opioid prescription medication used to treat severe pain. It is often prescribed after medical or dental surgery to help with pain relief and may sometimes be used as a cough suppressant. Hydrocodone may also be prescribed for injury-related pain.
Hydrocodone is considered an opioid analgesic because it works on the central nervous system to relieve chronic pain and prevent coughs. It often comes in a combination form with acetaminophen.
It is suggested that older adults be aware of the drug information of each drug they taking to ensure the combination of other drugs compliments their recovery.
Types of Hydrocodone
The brand names of hydrocodone are Vicodin, Norco, and Lortab.
Hydrocodone can be prescribed as a liquid, extended-release tablets or extended release capsules.
Hydrocodone with 300-325 mg Acetaminophen
Hydrocodone usually comes in a combination form with 300-325 mg of acetaminophen. This combination helps treat chronic pain.
Vicodin comes in the form of a white oral tablet in either a 5 mg, 7.5 mg, or 10 mg dose. It is usually taken every 4 to 6 hours to help relieve pain.
Norco comes in the form of white, yellow, or light orange tablets. It comes in either a 7.5 mg or 10 mg dose. Although not as commonly prescribed as Vicodin, Norco is still commonly used.
Lortab tablets can come in a white color with pink, green or blue dots or in a solid pink color. It comes in 5 mg, 7.5 mg, or 10 mg strengths.
Hydrocodone without Acetaminophen
Hydrocodone medication also can come in a form without acetaminophen. The brand name for is Zohydro.
Zohydro capsules are white, light green, dark blue, or dark brown.
It is the first hydrocodone medication approved by the Federal Drug Administration that does not contain acetaminophen. This puts this version of hydrocodone at a higher risk for drug abuse and life-threatening withdrawal symptoms and is therefore less prescribed than the other prescription drugs.
Side Effects from Hydrocodone
The side effects of hydrocodone can range from mild to severe. Always consult with your medical provider before starting or stopping hydrocodone or any prescription medications or other medicines.
Before taking this medicine, notify your doctor if you have any of the following medical conditions:
- Severe asthma, serious breathing problems, or sleep apnea
- Head injury, brain tumor, or seizures
- Liver or kidney disease
- Difficulty urinating
- Long QT syndrome (LQTS)
- Thyroid, gallbladder, or pancreas problems
- Alcohol or drug addiction
- Mental illness
- Blockage in stomach or intestines
Common Side Effects
The most common side effects of hydrocodone include:
- Dizziness, drowsiness, or fatigue
- Stuffy nose, sore throat, or sneezing
- Nausea or vomiting
Serious Side Effects
If you have any of the following serious side effects, contact your doctor immediately:
- Slow heart rate
- Respiratory depression
- Breathing problems – such as shallow breathing, noisy breathing, or breathing that stops while sleeping
- Burning or pain during urination
- Lightheadedness or extreme dizziness
- Confusion, tremors, or extreme fatigue
- Increased serotonin levels or serotonin syndrome
- Low cortisol levels with symptoms of nausea, vomiting, difficulty eating/loss of appetite, dizziness, weakness, or worsening fatigue
Symptoms of serotonin syndrome include agitation, hallucinations, shivering, twitching, fever or sweating, increased heart rate, muscle stiffness, loss of coordination, vomiting, nausea, or diarrhea. Seek immediate medical help if you experience any of these symptoms.
How Long Does it take for Hydrocodone to Kick in?
On average it will take about 20 minutes before hydrocodone works properly. Like most opioid pain drugs, they can cause nausea, vomiting or constipation.
The nausea usually comes after the initial dosage or when changing the dose. If you experience any other unexpected symptoms, contact the doctor.
If you experience signs of an allergic reaction from hydrocodone such as hives, breathing problems, or swelling of the face, lips, tongue, or throat, seek immediate emergency medical help.
Precautions and Respiratory Depression
Hydrocodone can slow or stop breathing. It is important to use this medication as directed by the medication guide or a medical professional.
Taking this medication in higher doses or for longer than prescribed can cause adverse reactions.
If taking the extended-release capsules, make sure to swallow them whole. Crushing, breaking, or otherwise opening the extended-release hydrocodone pills can lead to an overdose.
Hydrocodone and other opioids can have adverse reactions when taken with other drugs. Tell your doctor if you use any of the following brand names or generic medications:
- Cold or allergy medication
- Motion sickness medication
- Medicine for overactive bladder or irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)
- Other opiates
- Valium, lorazepam, Xanax, diazepam, alprazolam, or klonopin
- Sleeping medications or muscle relaxants
- Anxiety or depression medicine
Other medications may also interact with hydrocodone, so always be sure to talk to your doctor before starting or stopping any medications.
Do not drink alcohol while taking hydrocodone. Alcohol consumption in combination with hydrocodone can lead to serious side effects such as liver damage, heart failure, seizures, overdose, coma, or death.
It is not very common to miss a dose of hydrocodone since it is used to treat pain. However, if you do miss a dose, wait until your next dose. Do not take more than one dose at a time.
Overdose may occur if too much hydrocodone is taken either on accident or purpose. Opioid overdose symptoms may include:
- Cold or clammy skin
- Difficult breathing
- Confusion, dizziness, lightheadedness, drowsiness or fatigue, or loss of consciousness
- Nausea or vomiting
- Pinpoint pupils
- Seizures or stomach spasms
- Weakness, weak pulse, or coma
- Bluish lips or fingernails
- Jaundice and liver failure
If overdose is suspected call 911 immediately for emergency medical help.
Getting Help at Turning Point of Tampa
Turning Point of Tampa is a drug addiction treatment center located in Tampa, Florida that has been helping people for over 35 years. We understand that letting go of self-defeating behaviors and creating new life skills can be difficult and takes time and effort. Our mission at Turning Point of Tampa is to assist you in finding your new life, every step of the way. To do this, we utilize a 12-step program in addition to therapy, psychiatric evaluation and care, and other disciplines of treatment. If you or someone you know needs help, please contact our admissions department at
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