Hydrocodone Addiction and Treatment
Hydrocodone Addiction and Treatment
What is Hydrocodone?
Hydrocodone is a narcotic pain reliever that is the most frequently prescribed opiate in the United States, according to the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA).1 Doctors prescribed nearly 83.6 million prescriptions for hydrocodone in the United States in 2017.
Hydrocodone relieves pain, but it also causes a rush of the neurotransmitter dopamine to the brain. This effect can give off a euphoric high that many people find addictive.2 As a result, a person may take more and more hydrocodone as a means to achieve the same high they once did.
While hydrocodone has medical uses, it is subject to abuse. In 2017, an estimated 1.7 million people in the United States suffered from a substance abuse disorder related to prescription pain medications like hydrocodone, according to CNN. Many of those addicted to opioid drugs need addiction treatment at a drug rehab facility.
A Brief History of Hydrocodone Use in America
Hydrocodone is a synthetic (lab-made) narcotic that is chemically similar to morphine, a natural opiate. Morphine has been present in America for more than 150 years, with Civil War soldiers taking it on the battlefields (and unfortunately becoming addicted to it in the post-war era).
The Creation of Hydrocodone
Hydrocodone was first created in a laboratory in 1920 in Germany. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration didn’t approve it for sale in America until 1943. Doctors first started describing the addictive effects of hydrocodone in 1923. However, it wasn’t until 1961 that doctors first published a report on hydrocodone addiction and dependence.
In 1980, a research letter published in the New England Journal of Medicine reported that incidences of addiction to narcotics were rare in hospitalized patients. Unfortunately, this made doctors and many medical experts believe narcotics were also safe for chronic pain patients. In 1995, pharmaceutical manufacturer Purdue Pharma claimed that OxyContin, a long-acting form of the narcotic medication oxycodone, was safer to take than short-acting medications. In 2007, Purdue Pharma paid $634.5 million in criminal and civil fines for misleading physicians and the general public.
Currently, hydrocodone is the second-most opioid pharmaceutical submitted to drug evidence at local, state, and federal laboratories. Americans also use an estimated 99 percent of the world’s hydrocodone supply, according to The Washington Post.3
Americans use 99% of the World’s Hydrocodone Supply
Pharmaceutical manufacturers may sell hydrocodone under the brand names Vicodin and Lortab. However, there are lots of slang terms for the drug on the street, namely:
One of the most common misconceptions about hydrocodone is that because it is a legal prescription medication that it cannot be addictive or deadly. An estimated 70,200 people died from a drug overdose in the United States, and an estimated 47,600 involved opioids like hydrocodone.
Abuse, Health Risks, and Withdrawal
How is Hydrocodone Abused?
People may take hydrocodone in a pill form. They may also crush the pills and snort them or mix them in liquids and inject them. If a person takes hydrocodone that isn’t prescribed to them, they are taking it illegally.
People can and do overdose from hydrocodone in the United States. These overdoses can prove deadly.
Many hydrocodone formulations also have acetaminophen in them. This helps the hydrocodone work more effectively. However, if a person takes a lot of hydrocodone (more than prescribed and using it illegally), they’re at risk for liver damage.
A person can experience withdrawal symptoms if they take hydrocodone on a regular basis or if they abuse it illegally. While hydrocodone withdrawals are not deadly, they can cause symptoms that include:
- Restless legs
- Strong cravings for the drug
Because the withdrawal period for hydrocodone can be so strong, some people may choose to utilize professional rehabilitation treatment. Medically supervised detoxification programs can help a person stop taking hydrocodone while receiving medications that may help a person reduce their withdrawal symptoms.
The U.S. Food & Drug Administration has approved medications to treat hydrocodone addiction. Examples of these medications include methadone and Suboxone. These medications don’t give off the same euphoric high a person can experience when they take hydrocodone. As a result, a person may be able to take a legal medication instead of illegally abusing hydrocodone.
Treating Addiction to Hydrocodone
Hydrocodone addiction is difficult to break, but it is possible. It often requires seeking professional medical treatment and participating in some form of continued treatment over their lifetime (such as participation in a support group such as Narcotics Anonymous). Steps to becoming a sober individual free from hydrocodone include:
Stopping hydrocodone and taking medications to reduce withdrawals or slowly tapering a person’s hydrocodone dose can help. Initial opioid withdrawal may take anywhere from hours to days, depending on a person’s health, how much a person was taking before, and how long they’ve been abusing the pills.4
A person struggling with addiction can often benefit from counseling or talk therapy. This therapy can help a person identify how to build a new life free from hydrocodone abuse. Topics may include identifying a person’s motivations for stopping substance abuse or helping a person identify triggers that can keep them abusing a particular substance.
A person can take medications like methadone and Suboxone to reduce their risks for overdose and minimize drug cravings. A person must often enter a drug monitoring program to participate in these programs.
A person will often participate in a relapse prevention program, such as Narcotics Anonymous or SMART Recovery that helps a person continue in their recovery and overcome obstacles they may experience even years after they got sober.