Hydrocodone is an opioid painkiller that is often abused by people who want to experience intense euphoria. This type of abuse can easily lead to addiction as well as other severe and sometimes deadly side effects. If you or someone you love has become a hydrocodone addict, it is time to seek help.
Understanding Hydrocodone Abuse
As stated by the National Library of Medicine, “Hydrocodone is used to relieve severe pain.” It can also be found in combination products with other, weaker medications like acetaminophen and ibuprofen, which are also used to treat pain. In some cases, the drug can be found in combination with other medications to treat cough, as it also acts as an antitussive.
Unfortunately, in all its forms, hydrocodone is one of the most highly abused drugs on the market. Many people are able to get ahold of it because it is prescribed under so many different brand names and available almost everywhere. As a result of its high availability, abuse of hydrocodone is rampant amongst all populations. Those who begin taking the drug are advised to be very careful with their medication and to never
- Take it in larger doses than prescribed
- Use it more often than prescribed
- Use it in a different way than prescribed (ex. Crushing and snorting it)
- Give it or sell it to someone else
Signs and Symptoms of Hydrocodone Abuse
According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, when opioid drugs are taken, they attach to the opioid receptors in the brain and body. This allows them to minimize the user’s perception of pain. They also cause drowsiness and relaxation. These effects are common with hydrocodone, but people who abuse the drug in large doses will also experience
- Respiratory depression
- Ischuria (or the inability to completely empty the bladder)
Most individuals who take the drug will experience some level of sedation, and as such, it is dangerous for anyone (even someone who takes hydrocodone as prescribed) to drive or participate in another activity requiring immense concentration while on the drug. Abusers, though, will usually become very sedated and relaxed, often experiencing intense euphoric feelings they will quickly start to crave.
Dangers of Hydrocodone Abuse
Many side effects can occur when a person abuses a drug like hydrocodone, and dangerous outcomes are common. Some of the most likely consequences to occur include
Respiratory depression and death
“Even a single large dose can cause severe respiratory depression and death,” according to the NIDA. Abusing any opioid drug carries this risk, and individuals who abuse hydrocodone consistently put themselves in real danger of experiencing this effect.
If a person is able to receive treatment in time, their overdose may not be deadly, but they may sustain brain damage due to lack of oxygen reaching the brain. This can lead to difficulty regulating behavior, making decisions, and coping with stressful situations.
Dependence and withdrawal
It is common for long-term opioid users to become dependent, even without abusing the drug, but those who misuse it will often become dependent quickly and experience more intense withdrawal symptoms. Withdrawal from hydrocodone feels similar to the flu and can be extremely painful, which is why some people keep abusing these drugs even when they no longer wish to.
A rare population of individuals sometimes experiences hallucinations and severe agitation after taking large doses of hydrocodone or during withdrawal. It is impossible to predict who will experience this syndrome though.
Long-term gastrointestinal issues
Hydrocodone abuse slows down the body as well as the brain, causing a person to experience constipation among other issues. As many abusers of the drug ignore this to continue getting their fix, long-term gastrointestinal issues can build up.
It is very common for hydrocodone to be combined with acetaminophen, and individuals often abuse these combination drugs to get their fix. However, with long-term abuse of acetaminophen in large doses, liver damage often occurs (Connecticut Department of Consumer Protection).
Hydrocodone is believed to be safer to abuse than heroin or other illicit drugs because it is prescribed by a doctor. However, the drug causes a number of extremely dangerous side effects when taken in ways other than prescribed, and those who abuse it put themselves at risk of serious effects, including, of course, addiction.
Who Abuses Hydrocodone?
According to the Drug Enforcement Administration, “Hydrocodone is the most frequently prescribed opioid in the United States and is associated with more drug abuse and diversion than any other licit or illicit opioid.” The drug’s abuse is widespread, with individuals from all age groups, ethnicities, and genders taking part in this dangerous misuse. Hydrocodone is highly available, and those looking to use it for its euphoric effects––or for other reasons––can often find it anywhere.
- “An estimated 82,480 emergency department visits were associated with nonmedical use of hydrocodone in 2011” (DEA).
- Hydrocodone was bumped up to a Schedule II substance under the Controlled Substances Act in 2014 as a response to its rampant misuse.
- Hydrocodone abuse was once considered a white-collar addiction, but currently, it is understood that individuals of all ethnic and economic groups abuse this particular drug.
Hydrocodone addiction can set in quickly when a person is misusing the drug. The consistent abuse of opioids changes the way the brain works so it can no longer derive pleasure from anything but the drug, and it craves the effects of opioid abuse. Over time, an individual will abuse more and more in an effect to combat tolerance and stave off withdrawal symptoms.
But the problems don’t stop here. In fact, many individuals have reported turning to heroin abuse in order to combat the tolerance they experienced after long-term prescription painkiller abuse. According to the NIDA, “Some individuals reported” doing so because “it is cheaper and easier to obtain than prescription opioids.” This move will only make a person’s experiences with opioid abuse more dangerous, which is why treatment is necessary.
Am I a Hydrocodone Addict?
If you have been misusing your or someone else’s hydrocodone medication, it is time to ask yourself if you may already be addicted to the drug.
- Do I feel like I need to use hydrocodone every day?
- Do I think about using the drug even when I’m not?
- Are my loved ones concerned about my level of opioid abuse?
- Have I started to consider moving to another drug in order to circumvent the tolerance I have built up to hydrocodone?
- Do I constantly try to hide the level of my substance abuse from others?
- Am I using whatever drug I can get my hands on in order to get my fix?
- Have I done dangerous things in order to obtain or use hydrocodone?
- Has my substance abuse caused issues in my professional or personal life?
- Have I experienced severe withdrawal symptoms when I was unable to use?
- Despite the issues caused by my substance abuse, do I feel I won’t be able to stop using on my own?
If you answered yes to the questions above, it is time to consider seeking treatment. Your hydrocodone abuse has likely gone beyond your control, and without professional help, it will be difficult as well as dangerous to attempt recovery on your own.
Hydrocodone Addiction Treatment
Prescription opioid addiction can be treated safely and effectively in professional rehab. The commonly used treatment options are derived from heroin addiction treatment and include
- Methadone: a synthetic opioid that minimizes withdrawal symptoms, reduces cravings, and helps stabilize patients by blocking the opioid receptors in the brain without producing euphoria
- Buprenorphine: a partial opioid agonist that works similarly to methadone but is usually more suitable for those with less severe dependencies
- It is also safer from abuse than methadone, which is why one can obtain it from a doctor’s office.
- Naltrexone: an opioid antagonist that is most effective for the treatment of individuals with a strong desire to stop abusing opioids
- Cognitive-behavioral therapy: a program where patients learn new life skills and how to cope with issues like stress, triggers, and cravings
- Contingency management: a program where patients are given rewards every time they pass a drug test
- Group therapy: a program where patients are able to relate to other individuals dealing with the same issues they are
With a treatment program that is specifically catered to the needs of the individual, hydrocodone abuse can end and a new life in recovery can begin.