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Taken properly, hydrocodone can provide a significant amount of pain relief. For people in severe pain, the drug can literally be a lifesaver. In fact, hydrocodone might be one of the most effective pain relievers on the market for specific types of pain. For example, according to an article published in the Journal of Clinical Pharmacology, patients who were given hydrocodone and acetaminophen needed no more pain control six hours after surgery, but 25 percent of people who only received acetaminophen needed more pain control during the same time period. It’s clear that this drug has the capacity to reduce suffering.

But along with these remarkable benefits come some rather serious risks.

In fact, it’s well known that hydrocodone use can result in serious cases of addiction. Researchers tried to determine exactly how addictive hydrocodone is in a study published in the Journal of Pain and Symptom Management. They compared three medications: NSAIDS, tramadol and hydrocodone. Cancer patients who took these drugs were asked to report their use, their overuse and their ability to quit using the drugs, and researchers used these scores to rank the drugs by addiction potential. While addiction rates for tramadol and NSAIDS were below three percent, hydrocodone addiction rates were well over four percent. In other words, hydrocodone was much more addictive than the other drugs studied. It’s clear that while the drug can provide pain control, it can also become quite addictive. Learning more about the drug can help family members spot a blossoming addiction and make sure the person they love gets needed help to beat the addiction.

What Is Hydrocodone?

hydrocodone addiction treatmentHydrocodone is created in a lab, and it’s closely related to the street drug heroin. It’s designed to help the user feel relaxed and calm, and the drug increases the body’s production of a series of feel-good chemicals that can make symptoms of pain seem unimportant and insignificant. The drug can also suppress a person’s urge to cough.

Since it is such an effective pain reliever, hydrocodone is found in a wide variety of medications, including:

  • Vicodin, which combines hydrocodone with acetaminophen
  • Oxycodone, which provides a time-release dose of hydrocodone
  • Cough syrups, which may contain other drugs such as expectorants and pain relievers
  • Sinus pain tablets, which may also contain decongestants and pain relievers

In most cases, people who abuse hydrocodone look for the tablet forms of the drug. They may take the tablet orally, they may chew up the tablet and swallow it, or they may crush the tablets and sniff them. They may also combine the tablets with water and inject the drug into their veins. Some studies suggest that people who abuse hydrocodone steal the medication from others, or they buy the medications on the street from dealers. Other studies suggest the opposite. A study published in the American Journal of Therapeutics, for example, found that 75 percent of people who entered a treatment program for painkiller abuse were prescribed the medications by their doctors. Of these patients, the most commonly abused medication mentioned was hydrocodone. It’s possible that, since the drug is so prevalent, it’s easy for addicts to find it almost anywhere.

As a result of this availability, hydrocodone abuse is the rise in the United States. In fact, according to the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, hydrocodone has been the second most common drug submitted in evidence after police raids. The combination of hydrocodone with acetaminophen is the most common form of the drug found on the market. Dealers and addicts seem to be collecting the drug in higher numbers than ever before.

Topics of Interest


Addiction Basics

opiates on the brainHydrocodone, like all other opiates, reacts with specific receptors in the brain. When the user takes in the drug, it quickly travels to these locations and latches on tightly. This latching forms a sort of signal for the brain, and it begins to respond by pumping out chemicals of its own. These chemicals are typically released when a person is about to experience something intensely pleasurable, such as seeing a loved one or eating a delicious meal. Instead of just releasing a tiny dose of those chemicals, however, the user receives a whole flood of the chemicals and the body goes into a bit of a shocked mode.

In general, the human body likes to keep chemicals in balance, and the brain considers an overdose of chemicals to be harmful and unacceptable. As a result, if the user keeps taking hydrocodone, the body will begin to adjust. The user takes a dose, and the body responds by releasing fewer of the pleasurable chemicals. The user then takes a higher dose, and the body responds by adjusting its own internal chemistry. In other words, it stops producing the natural chemicals that are now being substituted by the drugs.

This is the chemical basis of addiction, and it’s quite serious. When the user tries to stop taking hydrocodone, the body’s revised chemistry reacts with alarm. After all, it’s become accustomed to having access to high amounts of hydrocodone at all times. It’s not sure what to do without that access.

National Institute on Drug Abuse, including:

  • Restlessness
  • Deep pain in the bones
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Insomnia
  • Depression

The addict may be driven right back into the arms of the addiction when these symptoms begin. In a way, this is a completely reasonable response. The addict knows that taking the drug again will make the symptoms stop. It can be hard for addicts to break this cycle alone.

Risks of Addiction

People who abuse hydrocodone face a real and serious risk of overdose. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that, in 2007, 93 percent of unintentional poisonings in the United States were caused by drugs, and opioid medications such as hydrocodone were the most commonly used drugs. As the hydrocodone user fights his or her body, taking higher levels of the drug in order to feel the flood of beneficial chemicals, the risk of overdose grows higher and higher. Hydrocodone tends to slow breathing, so some addicts simply stop breathing altogether after a hit, and by the time they reach the emergency room, it may already be too late for help.

Addicts who do manage to take high doses without losing their lives may lose a significant amount of the things that make life worth living. They may spend all their money on drugs, and have none left for basic necessities such as food or rent. They may break off their social relationships in order to spend more time abusing drugs. They may stop going to work or school.

In many cases, people who abuse hydrocodone want to stop using, but they feel physically unable to stop, and trapped within their own addictions.

It doesn’t have to be this way. Often, families can make a real difference in the life of an addict by holding an addiction intervention. Here, the addict is confronted with the reality of the hydrocodone addiction, and given a series of consequences that will come about if the addict doesn’t stop using. Then, the addict is encouraged to enter a treatment program, and told why treatment works. These confrontations are less about anger and reprisal, and more about caring and recovery. The addict wants to get help; the family shows the addict how it’s done.

At Rehab International, we can advise you about a wide variety of programs that can help people recover from a hydrocodone addiction.

We can offer advice on staging an intervention, and then recommend a treatment program. Call us today to find out more.


Rehab International is a service provided by Foundations Recovery Network. As part of the Foundations Recovery Network, our goal is to provide science-based treatments to individuals suffering from issues of addiction and mental illness.

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