Hydrocodone is a strong painkiller that is frequently prescribed as Vicodin, which also contains acetaminophen. While acetaminophen is only a mild pain reliever by itself, it increases the potency of hydrocodone, making it a more powerful painkiller. However, as hydrocodone is a narcotic, this makes Vicodin and other preparations that contain this opiate highly addictive. Addiction to hydrocodone can develop as a consequence of receiving a long-term prescription for the drug, but equally recreational use of opiates also explains why a growing number of people are now dependent on this habit-forming drug. Once hooked on hydrocodone this is not only bad news for your health, but it can also have a devastating impact on your life in other ways. While avoiding abuse of hydrocodone is preferable, if you develop a habit for this opiate, there are opiate addiction programs available that can help you successfully withdraw from hydrocodone and stay abstinent.
Like other opiates, hydrocodone exerts its effects by acting through the opiate receptors in your central nervous system. Binding to these receptors offers pain relief, but this is not the only consequence of this action. According to Massachusetts Institute of Technology, other positive effects of opiate binding that you may feel include feelings of euphoria and relaxation, which helps to explain why abuse of hydrocodone takes place. Beyond these pleasant changes in your body, opiate use brings with it a range of adverse effects. As the University of Michigan discusses, some of the adverse effects of hydrocodone include:
- Increased blood pressure and pulse
- Confusion or hallucinations
- Muscle tremors or rigidity
- Feeling anxious
- Dizziness, drowsiness and weakness
- Nausea, vomiting or constipation
- Vision changes
There is also a risk of drug interactions, if hydrocodone is taken with alcohol or certain prescription medications, which makes taking the drug without a prescription particularly dangerous, as you will not have received advice from a doctor or pharmacist on the suitability of the drug for you. Taking hydrocodone during pregnancy is additionally risky, as opiates cross the placenta to the fetus. Whether hydrocodone causes birth defects is unclear, but it will lead to physical dependence in an unborn baby and withdrawal symptoms when born.
When taking Vicodin, its acetaminophen content also means that there is a risk of internal bleeding, which may lead to anemia, as well as hepatitis and kidney failure. This makes Vicodin a potentially lethal drug.
Although drug misuse is more commonly linked to the illicit opiate heroin and other street drugs like cocaine and crystal meth, more people abuse prescription medications than illegal drugs. Prescription painkillers are a popular choice for drug abuse, and while Oxycodone is favored for its high, research reported by Washington University in St Louis showed that hydrocodone is the second favorite. Women and older people in particular seem to favor hydrocodone and are more likely to access the drug legally from their doctor or through acquaintances rather than obtaining it from a dealer. However, abusing prescription opiates is common among high school students too, with Vicodin the fourth most popular drug among twelfth graders, and the most popular opiate, as discussed by the National Institute on Drug Abuse.
Even though Vicodin is a strong painkiller with potentially deadly effects, there is still a misconception that because it is a prescribed medication it must be safer than heroin. This is simply not the case though, as it is just as addictive and just as dangerous. However, this myth is helping to fuel drug abuse across the age groups and social spectrum. There are various ways in which Vicodin users may abuse the drug, and again, none is safer than another. For example, some people use hydrocodone tablets prescribed for someone else, with patients often oblivious to the dangers of sharing their leftover medication, particularly with teens and young adults, even if they have a genuine reason to take the pills. Taking Vicodin for another purpose is also common, with those abusing this opiate drug typically doing so to achieve a high. Using hydrocodone preparations in higher doses or more frequently than prescribed to you is no better though, as you are at greater risk of dependency and hydrocodone withdrawal, not to mention addiction. Crushing tablets to snort or inject is also an issue, as this gives you a hit far quicker, increasing the likelihood of an overdose and rapid addiction.
As hydrocodone is an opiate, it is easy for addiction to develop. Opiate use creates pleasurable feelings via your brain’s internal reward system, which promotes continued drug taking. As an article in Science and Practice Perspectives explains, repeated exposure to opiates then leads to lasting changes in your brain that promote your habit further, which include changes to the nerves that release dopamine and changes to the area of your brain that controls judgment and planning. If you suffer from stress, this may also help to reinforce your drug habit, as opiates promote stress relief by releasing dopamine, which has a calming effect.
It is easy for an addiction to creep up on you without you even realizing your habit has got out of control, even though it might be very obvious to those around you. Brushing aside their concerns is also common when you are in the grip of an addictive substance, but there are some signals that clearly show you have a problem with hydrocodone misuse, which you should not ignore. These signs include:
- Using more tablets each day than prescribed, or if you are using the drug off-prescription, taking increasing doses to when you first started abusing them. This occurs due to the development of tolerance, so you need to take ever-increasing amounts to achieve the same effects.
- Trying to cut back on your use of hydrocodone without success, no matter how hard you try and how much you want to stop.
- Making great sacrifices to get your opiate fix. This may include spending money on drugs that should be used to cover household bills, stealing or taking part in dangerous activities to finance your habit, letting your relationships and interests slide so that you can devote more time to securing and taking pills, and allowing your performance at college or work to slip owing to the effects that taking hydrocodone has on you.
- Experiencing withdrawal symptoms if you can’t get your hydrocodone fix or you try to stop using it.
- Developing physical signs associated with high doses of opiates such as sedation, confusion and slow breathing.
Identifying with any of these signs of an addiction to hydrocodone should encourage you to seek help with your habit. The sooner you access professional support, the sooner you can beat your opiate addiction. By getting timely help, you also reduce the risk of a hydrocodone overdose, which is a real possibility when you are reliant on the drug and have become tolerant of lower doses. More and more users of prescription opiates are becoming the victim of an overdose, with a CDC report highlighting there were 15,000 deaths related to opiate overdoses in 2008. Symptoms of an overdose of hydrocodone are similar to those of heavy use, but are more severe, which the University of Maryland Medical Center describes as extreme drowsiness, breathing difficulties and tiny pupils. Depending on the dose you may lose consciousness and your breathing may also stop. Emergency treatment with Narcan, which is the antidote, will reverse these symptoms, but if not administered in time, excess hydrocodone can be fatal.
Hydrocodone Withdrawal Symptoms
Whether you have developed drug dependency due to recreational use or a long-term prescription of hydrocodone, when you try to wean yourself off this opiate, your body will soon tell you that it is unhappy. This occurs because over time the nerves in your brain change the way in which they function and become dependent on hydrocodone, so once unavailable, your nerve cells respond by producing a range of physical symptoms. According to a fact sheet by the Drug Enforcement Administration, withdrawal symptoms of hydrocodone include feeling restless, having difficulty sleeping, and developing bone and muscle pain, as well as nausea and vomiting. However, symptoms from hydrocodone withdrawal are not limited to those that affect you physically. While physical symptoms of opiate withdrawal may last for as long as 10 days, chronic abuse can lead to a protracted period of withdrawal, which includes symptoms that affect your mental well-being as well. As the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration points out, the most common symptoms during extended withdrawal include fatigue, anxiety, difficulties with memory and poor concentration, irritability, low mood and an inability to derive any pleasure from the things you would usually enjoy. Following opiate withdrawal these symptoms can sometimes last for months, which may hinder progress in an addiction treatment program, though there are steps which can enhance the success of clients withdrawing from hydrocodone.
Increased awareness of the symptoms of hydrocodone withdrawal associated with chronic withdrawal can help to develop realistic expectations of recovery and knowing that these symptoms are not permanent and can be managed is also useful. However, an assessment of co-existing mental health problems should also take place, as management of these can lead to an easier detox. Following a healthy diet and active lifestyle may additionally help to manage conditions that affect your mental well-being, while focusing on each positive achievement can also offer a mental boost when progress is initially slow.
Withdrawal from Hydrocodone
When you enter to detox from hydrocodone, you will have the opportunity to discuss your treatment options. Medication assisted treatment is an effective option for treating an addiction to prescription opiates, as this combines an approved pharmacological therapy with counseling. These medications not only help to prevent withdrawal symptoms from hydrocodone, but they may also reduce your risk of relapse. They work by binding to the same receptors as opiates and currently methadone, buprenophine and naltrexone are approved by the FDA for use in recovery from opiate abuse.
As a Government resource explains, methadone is a synthetic opioid, which reduces the effects of opiate withdrawal and at higher doses can block the action of opiates, so you don’t feel a high if you then take hydrocodone. This medication has been successfully used over the last four decades to treat opiate dependence when taken in combination with a supervised program of drug rehab. As a result, methadone is only available through registered opiate treatment programs. While the daily doses are initially administered at outpatient facilities, once you are deemed ready, it is possible to receive methadone therapy at home.
Meanwhile, buprenophine is also able to bind to opiate receptors in your brain, so that you experience fewer side-effects when withdrawing from hydrocodone. Even though this medication can induce euphoria and affect your breathing, these are generally milder than with other opiates and less of a problem when the correct dose is given. It is possible to either receive buprenophine on its own or in combination with naloxone, which is a useful pair of treatments for opiate addiction. The naloxone counters the effects of opiates, though this only happens when injected, which can help to deter crushing painkillers for injection. As with methadone, buprenophine is available through opiate treatment centers, though some doctors are also authorized to prescribe this treatment from their office.
Unlike the other two treatments, naltrexone is not an opiate, but instead an antagonist. This means that it blocks the opiate receptors so that hydrocodone and other opiate-based painkillers cannot bind, so even if you give into drug cravings this will not produce the desired effects. High opiate doses may, however, over-ride the action of naltrexone and there is a risk of an opiate overdose while receiving this treatment, requiring close monitoring of your compliance. The medication is therefore only suitable if you have been through a hydrocodone detox and have been opiate free for at least 10 days, but when this is the case, a once monthly injection of naltrexone is an effective way to reduce your risk of relapse.
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