Hydromorphone is a legal opiate (narcotic) analgesic prescribed by doctors to relieve pain. It functions by altering how the central nervous system responds to pain signals.
Hydromorphone should only be prescribed to people who are experiencing severe pain, are expected to need pain-relief medication 24 hours a day for a long time, and who cannot be treated by other, milder analgesic medications.
Hydromorphone can be habit-forming and must be taken exactly as directed by your doctor. Taking a larger dose, or taking hydromorphone more frequently or for a longer period of time than prescribed, will lead to physical dependence and addiction.
Understanding Hydromorphone Abuse
According to the Drug Enforcement Agency, hydromorphone “belongs to a class of drugs called ‘opioids,’ which includes morphine. It has an analgesic potency of two to eight times that of morphine, but has a shorter duration of action and greater sedative properties.” Hydromorphone can also act as a cough suppressant.
Hydromorphone is available in tablets, oral solutions, rectal suppositories, and injectable formulations. Individuals using hydromorphone recreationally may abuse the drug by taking it in these forms, or by crushing and dissolving the tablets in an injectable solution that can be used as a substitute for heroin.
When taken without a doctor’s prescription, hydromorphone is abused by people seeking relaxation, sedation, feelings of euphoria, and reduced stress and anxiety. Addiction develops from both physical and psychological dependence.
Hydromorphone attaches to opioid receptors in the brain, blocking pain signals. Because opioid receptors are located in the brain’s reward center, this causes the brain to release more dopamine, commonly known as the “feel-good” chemical.
Seeking to repeat this rush of dopamine will lead to addiction, which the National Institute on Drug Abuse describes as “a chronic relapsing brain disease characterized by inability to stop using a drug despite damaging consequences to a person’s life and health.”
Signs and Symptoms of Hydromorphone Abuse
Some signs and symptoms of hydromorphone abuse may include:
- needing to refill a prescription earlier than scheduled
- changes in appearance or hygiene
- changes in eating habits
- mental clouding
- isolation from family and friends
- secretive behavior
- nervousness and restlessness
- changes in mood
- lack of interest in activities the user previously enjoyed
According to the U.S. National Library of Medicine, hydromorphone may cause side effects such as:
- difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep
- dry mouth
- heavy sweating
- muscle, back or joint pain
- stomach pain
Some, more serious side effects may also occur, such as:
- Rash or hives
- swelling of the eyes, face, lips, tongue, mouth, throat, arms, hands, feet, ankles, or legs
- difficulty breathing or swallowing
- hallucinations (seeing things or hearing voices that do not exist)
- fast heartbeat
- severe muscle stiffness or twitching
- loss of coordination
- nausea, vomiting, or diarrhea
- loss of appetite
- weakness, or dizziness
- inability to get or keep an erection
- irregular menstruation
- decreased sexual desire
- chest pain
- extreme drowsiness
- lightheadedness when changing positions
Dangers of Hydromorphone Abuse
Sustained use of hydromorphone will create a tolerance for the drug, forcing addicts to increase their dosage to experience the same effects. Taking large amounts of hydromorphone will increase the number and severity of side effects, causing the user to run a much greater risk of fatality.
Drinking alcohol with hydromorphone or taking it in combination with other drugs will increase the likelihood of adverse effects, including fatalities.
The Drug Enforcement Agency explains that acute overdose of hydromorphone can produce:
- severe respiratory depression
- drowsiness progressing to stupor or coma
- lack of skeletal muscle tone
- cold and clammy skin
- constricted pupils
- reduction in blood pressure and heart rate
- death due to respiratory depression
Who Abuses Hydromorphone?
A person of any age, gender, financial status, or ethnicity can become addicted to hydromorphone. According to The National Institute on Drug Abuse, “regular use—even as prescribed by a doctor—can produce dependence, and when misused or abused, opioid pain relievers can lead to fatal overdose. The current epidemic of prescription opioid abuse has led to increased use of heroin, which presents similar dangers.”
Addicts may take hydromorphone to combat feelings of anxiety, to self-medicate depression, or to enjoy feelings of euphoria, but eventually users require larger doses to simply avoid suffering withdrawal symptoms, which include:
- sleep problems
- muscle and bone pain
- cold flashes with goosebumps
- involuntary leg movements
When used legally, under a doctor’s instructions, hydromorphone can improve a patient’s quality of life during illness or recovery from surgery or injury. When pain goes untreated, patients can suffer mentally as well as physically, running the risk of developing mood disorders and suicidal thoughts.
However, prescription opioids can be highly addictive, and patients must be careful to take them only as directed. Overuse and abuse of the medication (such as taking hydromorphone to relax instead of to treat pain) will lead to serious mental and physical consequences.
Taking hydromorphone recreationally, especially in conjunction with alcohol or other drugs, is extremely dangerous and is a clear sign of a substance abuse problem.
Am I Addicted to Hydromorphone?
If you fear that you are addicted to hydromorphone, read and honestly answer the questions below:
- Do I abuse hydromorphone every day?
- Do I abuse the drug in order to combat feelings of unhappiness, loneliness, depression, etc.?
- Have friends or family members mentioned more than once that they are worried about my drug use?
- Do I become hostile or angry when they do so?
- Do I ever experience side effects or withdrawal symptoms such as those listed above?
- Do I feel like I can’t have fun, be normal, or complete everyday tasks without hydromorphone?
- Am I secretive about my drug use, and/or do I lie about when I use or how much I take?
- Do I need more and more hydromorphone each time I abuse the drug in order to feel its effects?
- Have I experienced any major problems in the last year, such as a breakup, job loss, car accident, family problems, financial problems, or getting arrested as a result of my drug use?
- Despite these problems, do I feel unable to stop using hydromorphone on my own?
If you answered yes to one or more of these questions, you may be addicted to hydromorphone and in need of professional substance abuse help.
Hydromorphone Addiction Treatment
Addiction is a chronic, relapsing disease. The NIDA explains that “repeated drug use changes the brain, including parts of the brain that enable you to exert self-control. These and other changes can be seen clearly in brain imaging studies of people with drug addictions.”
This is why addicts require professional help to break the devastating cycle of addiction. The treatment specialists at a qualified drug and alcohol rehab are trained in how to manage substance abuse issues and lead addicts safely to recovery.
There are a wide variety of affordable treatment options available, but all of them begin with abstaining from drug use.
Detoxification is the first step to any recovery plan. A person needs clarity of mind and a body free from addictive substances before they can be effectively treated. Because withdrawing from hydromorphone can be very unpleasant, detoxing in a rehab center under the care of medical professionals is ideal. A doctor will likely have you taper off of hydromorphone gradually, to minimize withdrawal symptoms.
Whether addicts choose inpatient residential treatment, and/or outpatient treatment, all substance abuse recovery plans will include talk therapy.
Individual therapy allows patients to work intensively on issues specific only to them, while group therapy allows them to both support and experience support from other addicts who are struggling with similar challenges. Family therapy is an important tool to ensure individuals encounter the best possible environment at home, to prevent relapse.
Other treatment options include:
- Treatment for co-occurring conditions: most addicts suffer from undiagnosed mental health issues that underlie and fuel their substance abuse. These co-occurring disorders must be addressed as a part of recovery.
- 12-step meetings: Meetings based on the 12-step program that originated with Alcoholics Anonymous are an invaluable resource to support long term sobriety.
- Cognitive-behavioral therapy: CBT teaches patients to retrain their brains with new methods of coping with stress and cravings, and avoiding trigger situations.
- Nutrition, fitness and recreational therapy: a strong body is just as important as a strong mind when it comes to long-term recovery. The better a person feels, the more prepared they will be to handle life as it comes.