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Hydrocodone is a highly addictive opioid commonly prescribed to treat moderate to severe pain. Understanding the risks of hydrocodone use and its addictive properties is the first step to recovery.

What is Hydrocodone?

Hydrocodone is one of the most commonly prescribed opioids in the United States. Hydrocodone is an opioid that is legally prescribed by physicians to treat and manage pain and is available in both immediate and extended-release capsules.

While generally safe if taken as prescribed and for a short amount of time, hydrocodone use interacts with opioid receptors in the brain and produces a feeling of euphoria while also treating pain. Therefore, the risk of misuse and addiction is high.

Extended use of hydrocodone can become habit-forming, leading to mental and physical dependence. With highly addictive properties, hydrocodone is a contributing factor to the American opioid epidemic. Overdose on hydrocodone can be fatal.

Side Effects of Hydrocodone Use

Common side effects of hydrocodone use include:

  • Drowsiness
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Constipation
  • Dizziness
  • Lightheadedness
  • Anxiety
  • Severe mood swings

More serious side effects include shortness of breath, chest tightness, and addiction. Addiction is one of the most serious side effects of hydrocodone use.

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Signs of Hydrocodone Abuse

Addiction is a result of physical changes to your brain, whereas dependency is the natural increase of tolerance to a substance to the extent that if stopped, one would enter into withdrawal. Dependence can occur without an addiction but is a stepping stone to addiction.

It is important to understand the signs of hydrocodone addiction in you or a loved one. Opioids such as hydrocodone produce euphoric feelings that can be addictive. Due to its high addiction and abuse rate, hydrocodone is classified as a Schedule II controlled substance by the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA). Below are signs of hydrocodone dependency:

  • Drowsiness
  • Constricted pupils
  • Slowed heart rate
  • Weak pulse
  • Chronic constipation or nausea
  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Dependence
  • Frequently requesting refills
  • Abandonment of responsibilities
  • Loss of money or personal property

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    Signs of Overdose

    Hydrocodone use has the potential to form physical dependency. Those who misuse hydrocodone experience a tolerance buildup and must take more frequent and higher doses to feel the same effects. In an effort to achieve the same “high” effect, an individual also increases the risk of overdose.

    According to a study by the American Society of Addiction Medicine (ASAM), drug overdose is the leading cause of accidental death in the US, with 52,404 lethal drug overdoses in 2015. Opioid addiction is driving this epidemic, with 20,101 overdose deaths related to prescription pain relievers.


    Symptoms of a hydrocodone overdose include:

    • Dilated or constricted pupils
    • Vomiting
    • Blue skin
    • Low blood pressure
    • Weak pulse
    • Possible seizures
    • Shallowed to no breathing
    • Coma
    • Stopped heartbeat

    Hydrocodone addiction can lead to severe symptoms or a fatal overdose. Seek immediate medical attention if you experience symptoms of a hydrocodone overdose.

    Hydrocodone Withdrawal

    Withdrawal symptoms emerge when an individual stops or significantly reduces their hydrocodone intake. Withdrawal from hydrocodone is not life-threatening. Symptoms of hydrocodone withdrawal include a runny nose, tearing eyes and yawning, anxiety or restlessness, irritability, chills, goosebumps, or sweating. More severe withdrawal symptoms include insomnia, stomach cramps, nausea or vomiting, muscle cramps, joint pain, muscle spasms, rapid heart rate, or suicidal thoughts.

    Some patients who go through withdrawal will experience opioid-induced hyperalgesia (OIH). Opioid-induced hyperalgesia occurs when a patient receives opioid treatment and becomes more sensitive to pain. OIH typically happens while a patient is weaning off of the opioid.

    Detox from hydrocodone varies from patient to patient. However, withdrawal symptoms typically start within 8 to 12 hours of the last dose. More severe symptoms will present themselves within 24 hours. Depending on the frequency of use, the medical effects from hydrocodone detox may last up to 10 days. Cravings can last for several months after the withdrawal period.

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    Treatment and Resources

    There are several treatment options for those with an addiction to hydrocodone. Hydrocodone addiction can be addressed with a combination of medications and therapy.

    Medication-assisted treatment (MAT) is an effective treatment option for combatting hydrocodone addiction. Medication-assisted treatment is the use of medication in conjunction with behavioral therapy to treat substance abuse disorders. MAT is a clinical, science-based treatment option administered by physicians. Medications used in MAT are FDA-approved to relieve withdrawal symptoms and impede psychological cravings for the drug. Research shows that MAT is an effective treatment option to prevent overdose and sustain recovery.

    Currently, there are several MAT-approved medications, including Buprenorphine, Methadone, Naltrexone, and Naloxone.

    Buprenorphine suppresses and reduces opioid cravings.
    Methadone reduces opioid cravings while minimizing the effects of withdrawal.
    Naltrexone prevents the euphoria sensation caused by opioids.
    Naloxone helps reverse the effects of an overdose in an attempt to prevent overdose.
    Suboxone works by attaching to opioid receptors to stop or reduce withdrawal symptoms and curve drug cravings.


    Each of the MAT-approved treatment options should be paired with some form of therapy.
    Effective, evidence-based therapy methods include:

    • Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CDT)
    • Adventure therapy
    • Family, group, and or individual counseling
    • Motivational interviews
    • Expressive therapy

    If you or a loved one are seeking treatment for hydrocodone addiction, Arista Recovery can help on the road to recovery. Our evidence-based integrated care model and holistic approach are focused on sustaining recovery. Contact us today for more information.

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