Hydrocodone is a type of drug, painkiller that can be classified in the opioid family. It is used to treat severe pain and inflammation. It is classified as an opiate and works by changing the brain and the central nervous system, responding to pain.
“Hydrocodone is only used to treat people who are expected to need medication to relieve severe pain around-the-clock for a long time and who cannot be treated with other medications or treatments. Hydrocodone extended-release (long-acting) capsules or extended-release tablets should not be used to treat pain that can be controlled by medication that is taken as needed.” (Medline Plus, 2019)
When people use hydrocodone for a long period of time and then stop, withdrawal symptoms may occur. Missing one dose can cause withdrawals to happen and they are often uncomfortable. Hydrocodone can be addictive, given the intense feelings it causes and the withdrawals that occur upon discontinuing use. The risk for misuse is higher if the person suffers from a substance use disorder or addiction to other drugs or alcohol.
Despite the struggles that people may face with hydrocodone use, there is addiction treatment help available for everyone. Reaching out to a detox treatment center or residential treatment center near you can help someone get clean from using drugs or alcohol.
Symptoms of Hydrocodone Use
- Stomach pain
- Uncontrollable shaking of a part of the body
- Foot, leg, or ankle swelling
- Difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep
- Ringing in the ears
- Dry mouth
- Difficult, frequent, or painful urination
- Muscle tightening
- Back pain
Health Effects of Hydrocodone
Because hydrocodone reacts similarly in the brain and body as heroin and morphine, it can be extremely dangerous and cause harmful effects to the body. Hydrocodone also interacts with the reward systems within the body, making it more likely for someone to become addicted and need to use it more frequently. Continued and frequent use of hydrocodone can cause short and long-term damage to a person’s body as well as their mental health.
Endocrine System Damage
Using hydrocodone heavily can decrease the number of hormones in the body, including testosterone and estrogen, potentially making it harder for a person to conceive and lead to fertility damage. The lowering of someone’s hormones can also cause other effects such as anxiety, chronic fatigue, depression, increased risk for fractures in the bones and osteoporosis due to loss of muscle mass.
Taking large quantities of hydrocodone causes a person’s breathing rate to decrease, and reduces the amount of oxygen that their body takes in. This can cause damage to different areas in the body, including the brain and can increase the chance for sudden death for people who are diagnosed with lung diseases or sleep apnea.
Addiction and heavy use of hydrocodone can cause someone to suffer from chronic constipation, which can be damaging to a person’s bowels. This can therefor lead to worsening side effects such as hemorrhoids, fecal impaction, tearing of the skin around and in the anus, and rectal prolapse. Hydrocodone that contains acetaminophen that is used frequently can also cause gastrointestinal bleeding.
Frequently using hydrocodone causes chemicals that are emitted and absorbed in the brain to be altered, specifically the mood-regulating neurotransmitters (dopamine and serotonin).
“Taking high doses of hydrocodone for long periods of time can cause large doses of feel-good neurotransmitters to flood the brain. Over time, this will change the structures associated with emotional control, rational thinking, memory, and learning.” (Bezrutczyk, 2020)
Brain structures can also be compromised due to the long-term lack of oxygen to the brain. Sometimes this can be reversable, but not always, and could take up to a few years to adjust back to normal. Another side effect is permanent brain damage, due to the occurrence of lack of blood flow that may happen during an overdose. For example, a stroke could occur.
Hydrocodone substances that contain acetaminophen could pose a higher risk for liver damage or liver failure. “Studies show that consuming more than 4,000 mg of acetaminophen in one day can cause acute or chronic liver injury – including cirrhosis and possibly liver failure.” (Bezrutczyk, 2020) Because of this possibility, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has decreased the acceptable amount of acetaminophen to be no more than 325mg in medications that are hydrocodone based. Before this was regulated, hydrocodone contained more than twice that amount and was extremely dangerous.
Loss of Limbs
In extreme cases, loss of blood flow during overdose of hydrocodone, is so severe that it causes a person to need amputation of one or more of their limbs.
Addiction to Hydrocodone
Frequently using hydrocodone can cause someone to become addicted, because the body quickly begins to need it to function normally. If someone suddenly stops taking it, and is using it consistently, they can experience unpleasant withdrawal symptoms. This makes it even more of a challenge to quit using.
“Some people who start out taking hydrocodone as treatment for pain take it to get a euphoric feeling instead. As a result, they use it for longer than recommended, or use more than their doctor prescribed.” (Godman, 2019)
Taking hydrocodone for long periods of time, causes a tolerance to build up in the body, therefore resulting in it needing more and more to feel “normal.”
Symptoms of Addiction to Hydrocodone
- Slower heartbeat
- Cold, clammy skin
- Slowed breathing
- Blurred vision
- Ringing in the ears
- Dizziness or lightheadedness
- Fear and depression
- Nausea and vomiting
- Muscle weakness
Treatment for Hydrocodone Addiction
If you are taking a higher dosage of hydrocodone than necessary or for a prolonged period of time, you may be suffering from a substance use disorder. It’s important to talk to a doctor immediately if you or someone you know is taking hydrocodone inappropriately or feels like they cannot stop taking it.
The first step to getting help is to find a doctor or physician that can perform an evaluation to determine if you are addicted and have a substance problem. If this is the case, then an addiction treatment center may be necessary for complete recovery.
Bezrutczyk, D. (2020, June 18). Hydrocodone Symptoms and Warning Signs. Addiction Center. https://www.addictioncenter.com/opiates/hydrocodone-addiction/symptoms-signs/
Godman, H. (2019, Jan 8). Understanding Hydrocodone Addiction. Healthline Media. https://www.healthline.com/health/understanding-hydrocodone-addiction#takeaway
Medline Plus. (2019, Oct 15). Hydrocodone. https://medlineplus.gov/druginfo/meds/a614045.html#why