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Hydrocodone Side Effects, Addiction, and Treatment

What is Hydrocodone?

Hydrocodone was created from Codeine, and it was originally discovered by Dr. Helene Lowenheim and Dr. Carl Mannich.1 The drug was designed as an alternative to pain relievers of the time. Hydrocodone side effects are much safer than the previously used pain relievers such as heroin or opium.2 Hydrocodone is typically taken orally and under medical supervision or approval.

Drug class

Hydrocodone is an opioid. It works by binding to opioid receptors in the brain to produce a calming effect. Like other opioids, hydrocodone runs the risk of being addictive. When taken in excess, the chance of developing hydrocodone addiction increases.

What other names does it go by?

Hydrocodone has a few generic names, including:

  • Hycet
  • Maxidone
  • Lortab
  • Norco
  • Xodol

 

As a controlled substance, it can only be obtained from a pharmacy and with an active prescription. The most common street name is Hydro.

Hydrocodone Uses

Hydrocodone is primarily a pain reliever. It’s often prescribed after surgery or in the event of severe and chronic pain. A hydrocodone dosage for post-surgical pain typically expires within weeks.

However, when prescribed for pain related to a debilitating injury or other prolonged ailments, the risk of dependency increases. In terms of treatment, there’s no major difference between hydrocodone, tramadol, or oxycodone. Hydrocodone can also be used to treat persistent coughs.

Hydrocodone Side Effects

Hydrocodone has several side effects which can be either short or long-term. The most common hydrocodone side effects include:

Short-Term

  • Tiredness: As an opioid, the major hydrocodone side effect is sedation. The drug blocks pain receptors and, when used as intended, lessens chronic pain. When abused, this effect can lead to short-term feelings of euphoria.
  • Brain Fog: Hydrocodone affects brain chemistry by creating mental fog, which reduces thought clarity and function. This effect also makes you more prone to irrational decisions and kneejerk reactions.
  • Dizziness: The dizziness caused by hydrocodone can lead to accidental physical harm, severely impaired motor skills, and vomiting.
  • Respiratory issues: Opioids impact the central nervous system (CNS), which can cause labored breathing and long-term brain damage. When mixed with other substances such as marijuana or alcohol, this risk increases.
  • Diarrhea: Opioid medicines contain small amounts of lactose. In individuals with lactose tolerance (approx. 65% of the world population), opioids such as hydrocodone can trigger an allergic reaction. 3
  • Bloating: Hydrocodone filters out through the kidney and liver. When taken in excess, it can cause bloating and abdominal cramps because the body is working to remove the drug from its system.
  • Confusion: When abused or taken on an empty stomach, hydrocodone can cause extreme confusion and incoherent speech. This confusion is intensified during an overdose and can lead to long-term mental and physical damage.

Long-Term

There are several long-term hydrocodone side effects. Because hydrocodone is used to treat persistent, severe pain – which has few causes – it’s not common for hydrocodone prescription to last for years. This means that, while long-term hydrocodone side effects are possible when the drug is taken as intended, they are unlikely.

  • Organ failure: Hydrocodone abuse means the body spends more time filtering out the drug. Additionally, prolonged drug abuse causes the build-up of residual chemicals, causing prolonged, undue stress on the body’s filtration system. This can cause organ failure, significantly increasing the odds of developing a life-threatening condition.4
  • Dependency: Extended abuse of hydrocodone and other substances will invariably lead to tolerance and dependency. Dependency can ruin careers, interpersonal relationships, and greatly reduce the function of the mind and body.
  • Chemical insufficiency: One of the most significant hydrocodone side effects is adrenal insufficiency. Adrenal insufficiency disrupts the body’s natural hormone regulation, causing the body to store too much of one natural chemical and not enough of another. This throws the body out of rhythm and leads to conditions such as high blood pressure, mood disorder, or vitamin deficiency.

Withdrawal

Typically, opioids such as hydrocodone are prescribed as short-term solutions. However, if tolerance or cravings develop, then it’s time to stop using the drug. Speak with a doctor to see if it is best to taper off the drug or quit it cold turkey. Signs of hydrocodone withdrawal include:

  • Suicidal ideation: Drug use can lead to severe depression and negative thoughts, especially during withdrawals.
  • Insomnia: Opioids affect the body’s circadian rhythm, making it hard to get a good night’s sleep. Insomnia can lead to irritability, mental fog, and poor decision-making.
  • Chills: Chills are a common sign of drug withdrawal and are caused by chemical imbalances.
  • Irregular Heart Rhythm: Hydrocodone can cause increased blood pressure, which leads to an irregular heartbeat. It can also lead to strokes and disrupted bodily functions.
  • Overdose: The most severe hydrocodone side effect is an overdose. Hydrocodone overdose is bought about by severe depression of the CNS, resulting in labored breathing. A depressed CNS can cause hypoxia, meaning the body cannot absorb oxygen from the air and suffocates. Hydrocodone overdose can also occur when hydrocodone is quit cold turkey. To overcome withdrawal, it’s best to taper the dosage over time.

Withdrawing from hydrocodone must often occur gradually. A medical professional will monitor vitals during a visit to ensure any negative impact from withdrawal is mitigated. In time, they may also prescribe a new drug with lower rates of addiction and reduced potency.5

Hydrocodone vs. Oxycodone

The common question of hydrocodone vs. oxycodone is a matter of choosing which one provides fewer side effects. Both are opioid pain relievers. However, oxycodone lasts up to 4 hours longer than hydrocodone.

The side effects differ as well. Oxycodone is reported to increase feelings of dizziness, whereas hydrocodone side effects induce more intense feelings of fatigue.6

Tramadol vs. Hydrocodone

Tramadol, an alternative to hydrocodone, is a longer-lasting option for pain relief. Tramadol can last up to 6 hours compared to hydrocodone, which lasts approximately 1-2 hours.

The choice between tramadol and hydrocodone depends on how long pain relief is needed. While tramadol is often considered the safer of the two, studies have shown that it possesses a high risk of addiction.7

Hydrocodone Dosage

The prescribed hydrocodone dosage is at the medical provider’s discretion and is based on a patient’s suspected pain levels.

In the event of tapering off, a medical professional will continuously prescribe weaker dosages. This staves off withdrawal and reduces the drug’s tolerance.

Dosages can only be changed by the prescribing doctor. If, for any reason, you’re experience pain from the recommended dosage – reach out to your doctor.

Hydrocodone acetaminophen 5-325

A common hydrocodone dosage is hydrocodone acetaminophen 5-325. The name refers to the potency of the drug. The 5 in 5-325 refers to the amount of hydrocodone, 5mg. The 325 is the amount of acetaminophen, 325mg. This dosage is considered average but can be overwhelming for smaller individuals. Patients must consult a doctor to find the right dosage. For reference, acetaminophen is a pain reliever and is mostly used in flu medicine as a fever reducer.

Treating Addiction to Hydrocodone

There are options for treating Hydrocodone addiction.
  • Inpatient: Inpatient treatment allows for hydrocodone withdrawal to be managed by medical staff. The staff provides 24/7 treatment and detox services. Inpatient treatments can include rehabilitation centers, hospital stays, or transition assistance housing for those in recovery. Inpatient treatment is best for those that cannot cope with the physical and emotional changes required for recovery.
  • Outpatient: Outpatient therapy is a long-term care plan with set intervals for checkups. It often involves a plan created by the doctor and patient to help address the future needs of the patient. Outpatient is started once inpatient is completed or for those who need to be near home during recovery.
  • Therapies: Therapy includes psychiatric help to build positive coping mechanisms and uncover the emotional basis for addiction. Other therapy options include family therapy, meditation, talk therapy, and group support systems.

Hydrocodone is a serious drug. When abused, the side effects can cause long-term disability or an overdose. Working with a medical professional is the best option in overcoming addiction. If you or anyone you know is suffering from a hydrocodone addiction, reach out to find help.

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