Medically reviewed by:
Dr. Kimberly Langdon, M.D.
SA Content Team
Understanding Vicodin Abuse
Vicodin is a brand name medication that contains acetaminophen and hydrocodone. The presence of the second ingredient in this medication makes it vulnerable to misuse, as hydrocodone can cause a euphoric high when taken in large doses. Unfortunately, Vicodin abuse can lead to addiction, among other consequences.
Hydrocodone and acetaminophen together are used to treat moderate to severe pain. They may be prescribed to someone for an acute pain problem or for a long-term issue. However, it is always extremely important that Vicodin users take their medication exactly as prescribed and do not deviate from their doctor’s orders.
Signs and Symptoms of Vicodin Abuse
Vicodin causes relaxation and a relief of tension, which can be enjoyable. Unfortunately, many people take larger doses of the drug in order to experience these effects more intensely. In addition, the drug also causes confusion and drowsiness, which is why it is unsafe to drive while on it. Those who abuse Vicodin are likely to experience these effects as well as others, including:
- Dry throat
- Problems urinating
- Fuzzy thinking
- Mood swings
- Biliary tract spasm-gallbladder connections
- Circulatory collapse
- Histamine release-allergic reaction
- Physical and psychological dependence with prolonged use
- Urinary tract spasm
- Bradycardia-low pulse rate
- Cardiac arrest
- Decreased urination
- Dyspnea-shortness of breath
- Hypotension-low blood pressure
- Dysphoria-sad or unhappy mood
- Mood changes
- Mental clouding
- Peptic ulcer
- Hemolytic anemia
- Hepatic necrosis
- Respiratory depression
Larger doses of Vicodin make these effects more likely to occur and more likely to linger. Many people who abuse Vicodin, however, will attempt to ignore the side effects listed above rather than to see a doctor or stop using the drug. These are important signs to look for if you are trying to determine if your loved one is a Vicodin abuser.
Dangers of Vicodin Abuse
Like other opioid-based drugs, Vicodin can cause serious side effects when abused, a number of which can create irreversible issues. In addition, the drug also contains acetaminophen, which can cause its own intense side effects. Some of the common dangers associated with Vicodin abuse include
Even one large dose of Vicodin can lead to severe respiratory depression where one’s breathing becomes extremely shallow or even stops altogether. This can cause coma, brain damage, and death if the individual is not treated immediately. Call 911 if you believe anyone has overdosed on an opioid drug.
Too much acetaminophen taken either at once or over a long period of time can cause problems for the liver, and when Vicodin is taken consistently and in large doses, its presence in the body can add up, potentially causing liver failure and death.
Opioid drugs like hydrocodone can cause a person to become dependent after they have taken them for a long period of time, and as a result, withdrawal symptoms can occur if the individual suddenly doesn’t have access to the drug. According to the NLM, opioid withdrawal symptoms include
- Goose bumps
- Runny nose
- Muscle, bone, and joint pain
Depression can occur as a result of long-term opioid abuse, or existing depression can worsen. This can lead to suicidal thoughts and other life-threatening symptoms, so it is important for the person to receive help right away.
A number of individuals have experienced hearing loss as a result of using hydrocodone-based drugs. While there is no way to be certain who might potentially experience this issue, abusing one of these medications can put one at risk for some of the rarer issues associated with their use because of the frequent use of unregulated, high doses. Those most prone to hearing loss are female, 60+ old , have been taking the drug for < 1 month, also taking a medication called Zometa, and have depression.
Vicodin is an effective medication for the treatment of pain when taken as prescribed, and it usually doesn’t cause severe side effects. However, when one chooses to abuse the drug, they are putting themselves at serious risk of experiencing the effects listed above, much more so than those who take their medication as recommended by their doctors.
Signs of a Vicodin Overdose
Abusing Vicodin either acutely or chronically can cause an overdose. Over time, liver dysfunction or failure can mean that the usual amount of Vicodin is not excreted leading to a buildup of the drug.
Symptoms and Signs of Vicodin Overdose
- Low blood pressure
- Muscle weakness
- Difficulty walking or completing motor tasks
- Altered consciousness
- Respiratory arrest
- Liver failure
Signs of Acetaminophen Overdose
- Abdominal pain
- Poor appetite
- Yellow skin
- Liver failure
Vicodin is addictive, and one who misuses it consistently and in large doses will often eventually experience severe psychiatric or medical illness. However, this is not the end of the issue. Many people overdose and return to their substance abuse afterward while others keep abusing the drug just to stave off its severe withdrawal symptoms. Others turn to heroin because it is cheaper and easier to obtain, making it easier to sustain their habit.
Those who become addicted to opioid drugs can no longer control their substance abuse and will not be able to stop on their own. This is why treatment is necessary for a safe, effective recovery.
Vicodin Addiction Treatment
An addiction to prescription opioids is usually handled with a number of different treatment methods utilized together in a personalized rehab program that fits the needs of the individual patient. These options can include
- Methadone: a synthetic opioid that can either help patients slowly detox from Vicodin or maintain them as they go through their recoveries, minimizing withdrawal symptoms, cravings, and their chances of relapse
- Buprenorphine: a partial opioid agonist that works similarly to methadone but is better suited for individuals with less severe dependencies and more extensive social supports (Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration)
- Naltrexone: an opioid antagonist that is best for treating highly motivated recovering addicts who are no longer dependent on opioids
- Cognitive-behavioral therapy: a program that helps patients relearn positive attitudes and behaviors to avoid relapse (NIDA)
- Group therapy: a program that helps recovering addicts support one another
- Contingency management: a program that provides patients with rewards for every passed drug test