What is Hydrocodone Addiction?
Hydrocodone is a semi-synthetic opioid drug that is used as a short-term prescription painkiller. Although effective when used after surgery or injury, its use can become problematic if used long-term as it carries a high risk of dependence and addiction.
Hydrocodone abuse can cause all of the same severe side effects as other opioids, including dependence, tolerance, withdrawal symptoms, mood disorders, and addiction. People who take large doses put themselves at risk of respiratory depression, which can lead to a coma, brain damage, and death. Those who misuse their own or someone else’s prescription are putting themselves in severe danger, whether they are seeking a euphoric high or pure pain relief.
Risks of Hydrocodone Addiction
In 2016, hydrocodone was prescribed more often than any other opioid drug in the United States, with 6.2 billion tablets being distributed, accounting for 99.7% of all prescriptions worldwide.
Over 11.5 million people age 12 and older abuse prescription painkillers, and many of these users will eventually switch to heroin because it is cheaper and easier to get than prescription opioids. This progression of abuse has contributed to the 533% rise in heroin overdose fatalities between 2002 and 2016.
Side Effects of Hydrocodone Addiction
Hydrocodone is generally abused orally, often in combination with alcohol. This type of abuse is more likely to lead to serious health complications, including overdose and addiction. Many people who start out taking the drug the way they are supposed to begin misusing it to counteract tolerance or to experience its pleasurable effects, which can lead very quickly to addiction.
The signs and symptoms of hydrocodone abuse are similar to those associated with any other opioid. Drowsiness, dizziness, and confusion all occur, as well as euphoria when the drug is taken in nonprescription doses. Other effects include:
- Stomach pain
- Dry mouth
- A headache
- Back pain
- Muscle strain or tightening
- Difficulty urinating
- Ringing in ears
- Mood changed
- Pupil dilation
Most individuals also experience anxiety and depression when abusing opioid drugs. These issues can worsen previous disorders or even trigger a new mental disorder in the individual. Withdrawal from hydrocodone is very uncomfortable, causing flu-like symptoms, and while withdrawal symptoms can occur with prescribed use, those who experience these symptoms frequently are more than likely abusing the drug.
Signs of Hydrocodone Addiction
Hydrocodone is so highly available that many people can get it from a friend or a family member, online, or by buying it on the streets. For this reason, hydrocodone addiction can be quite common, and often leads to further drug use.
Signs that someone is misusing hydrocodone include:
- Using more than the prescribed dose
- Taking the drug more frequently than prescribed
- Running out of medication too early
- Using the drug for effects other than pain relief
- Hiding how often or how much hydrocodone is being used
- Going to multiple doctors and pharmacies for prescriptions
- Continuing to use the drug despite the negative effects on work, school, health, or personal life
What to do if Someone You Love is Abusing Hydrocodone?
As your loved one develops a tolerance to hydrocodone, they will need to take higher doses more often, which will lead to difficulties getting a large enough supply through legal, doctor-prescribed means. While most hydrocodone users would not consider switching to an illegal street drug, some people do “step up” to a stronger opiate drug like heroin at this point in their addiction.
If someone you love is misusing hydrocodone, you may want to purchase one or more naloxone kits to have on hand in case of overdose. Naloxone is available without prescription in most states and can reverse the fatal effects of an opioid overdose if treatment is given in time. Naloxone will often need to be repeatedly given to counteract an overdose, however, so don’t rely on an at-home kit alone. If someone you love is suffering an overdose, call 911 for emergency medical assistance. Signs of hydrocodone overdose include:
- Lightheadedness, dizziness
- Pinpoint pupils
- Pale skin
- Purple or blue-tinged lips or fingernails
- Nausea, vomiting
- Muscle weakness
- Clammy skin
- Nodding off
- Extremely deep sleep/ unresponsiveness
- Blurred vision
- Fear and depression
- Slowed or stopped heart beat
- Slowed or stopped breathing
Treatment Options Available for Hydrocodone Addiction
Those who do become addicted to hydrocodone are unlikely to stop without the proper treatment. Treatment for hydrocodone addiction is similar to heroin addiction treatment in that it utilizes many of the same evidence-based methods. Methadone, buprenorphine, and naltrexone are all medications that can be used to stabilize the patient and minimize their chance of relapse.
Behavioral therapies can be helpful for chances at a successful long-term recovery, as they help to identify underlying causes of drug use, locate triggers, and assist with building coping strategies. Addiction recovery is an ongoing process that requires attention to maintain, although it will become more natural over time.
Any co-occurring disorders associated with drug abuse (e.g., mental illness) should be assessed and treated in addition to addiction. Depression and anxiety are common among people addicted to hydrocodone. Antidepressants can often be used as well as therapy models like cognitive-behavioral therapy, which can effectively treat both addiction and mood disorders at the same time. Depending on the severity of the individual’s condition, inpatient care might be necessary, but many people receive effective treatment in an outpatient program, as long as they have a safe and stable living environment at home.
Hydrocodone abuse is a severe threat to the health and well-being of our nation, and the best way to combat this threat is through addiction treatment.