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Vicodin Addiction

What is Vicodin?

Authored by Jane Squire MSc

Edited by Hugh Soames B.A.

Reviewed by Michael Por, MD

Vicodin is a popular painkiller that has been glamorized over the years by films, television shows, and literature. Adding to Vicodin’s popularity is the use of it by celebrities in their private lives and at one time, it seemed to be the prescription of choice by many doctors seeking to help patients living in pain. Unfortunately, many of the individuals who called upon Vicodin for help found themselves addicted to the painkiller.

The painkiller can trace its roots back to the 1890s when the first medical use of acetaminophen was recorded. It wasn’t until 1978, however, that German pharmaceutical company Knoll combined acetaminophen with hydrocodone to create Vicodin. Overnight, a wonder painkiller drug was created and by the 1990s, it was used by everyone seeking to be free of pain to individuals looking for a prescription drug as a high.

Vicodin contains 500 milligrams of acetaminophen and five milligrams of hydrocodone. It comes in several forms including syrup, capsule, and tablet. Doctors prescribe Vicodin for individuals suffering from various forms of pain. Originally, it was used by patients as an alternative when other options didn’t work. However, there was a time when doctors prescribed Vicodin without weighing other pain-relief options and patients grew dependent on it. Vicodin dependency has led to an opioid crisis experienced by a number of countries currently.

Hydrocodone (Vicodin)

Hydrocodone is sold under the brand name Vicodin, along with Norco, Lortab and others. All brands contain the same active ingredient, the opioid analgesic, oxycodone, as well as the active ingredients of Vicadin. Some people with hydrocodone addiction have an addiction to opioids that have similar effects in sufficiently large quantities, including morphine, codeine and heroin.

This type of preference has both practical and psychological reasons, the researchers say. Hydrocodone binds to pain receptors in the brain, specifically known as Mu opioid receptors. If it binds to these receptors, pain signals are weakened or completely blocked.

Mu opioid receptors are also responsible for the positive aspects of drug use, and when used repeatedly, the effects of opioids on the frontal cortex weaken the brain’s ability to make decisions and regulate mood. When people try to stop or reduce the use of Vicodin, they find out how dependent their bodies have become on painkillers. It also introduces the feeling of “good” sensations or euphoria caused by opioids, which also encourages people to take the drug again.

Although Vicodin is usually taken orally, some who misuse the drug crush the tablets or inject the powder. Since most people begin their hydrocodone addiction by misusing the prescription given to them by their doctor, it can be difficult to detect signs of addiction. Prescription drug misuse involves taking pills more often than prescribed, taking the pills outside the prescribed timeframe, or taking them more than one day in a single day instead of taking one pill every day for a specified period of time, as prescribed.

Individuals may experience withdrawal if they reduce or quit taking Vicodin cold turkey. Even users who take Vicodin as directed by their doctor can experience some withdrawal symptoms.

What are the signs of Vicodin Addiction?

Vicodin dependency causes negative health effects to those who misuse it. Long-term use and addiction can damage the liver. If acetaminophen is taken in large quantities it will affect the liver and can cause it to shut down. Combining alcohol with Vicodin can have even more serious consequences on the taker. There are other common signs that a person is Vicodin dependent and these can vary from mild to series. Signs of Vicodin dependency include:

  • Sleepiness/Drowsiness
  • Dizziness/Lightheadedness
  • Relaxed and calm feeling
  • Euphoria
  • Constipation
  • Anxiety
  • Depressed heart rate/Depressed breathing rate
  • Aches, pains, muscle pain, and cramps
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Sadness, feeling of low self-worth, and depression

Long-term Vicodin use can cause individuals to build up a tolerance of the drug. Users may have to increase their Vicodin dosage to gain the same effects they achieved before. Increasing the dosage of Vicodin due to tolerance can escalate quickly and lead to full-blown dependency.

Vicodin Addiction Withdrawal Symptoms

Individuals may experience withdrawal if they reduce or quit taking Vicodin cold turkey. Even users who take Vicodin as directed by their doctor can experience some withdrawal symptoms. It doesn’t take long for withdrawal symptoms to begin as users may experience them just six hours after their final dosage of the drug.

Withdrawal can be easily confused with the flu and user may not realize they are suffering from the effects of stopping their drug use. Symptoms of withdrawal include:

  • Intense Vicodin cravings
  • Sweating
  • Nausea/Vomiting/Diarrhea
  • Restlessness/Insomnia
  • Watery eyes
  • Runny nose
  • Enlarged pupils

Death from Vicodin Addiction

Opioid misuse has been increasing in the United States and in 2018, research found that 128 people died each day of overdose. In the 1990s as Vicodin use rose, US doctors claimed individuals would not become addicted to the painkiller. The claim led to more individuals taking Vicodin and other opioid-based painkillers. It also led some doctors, whom were convinced that Vicodin wasn’t addictive, to prescribe it at high rates. Due to Vicodin’s long history in American society especially, it is a drug of pop culture in modern times.

Prescription medications and over-the-counter pills are some of the most misused substances by teenagers, according to the National Institutes of Health. In 2017, research found that 11.4 percent of individuals between the ages of 12 and 25 recreationally used prescription medication.

Free Guide: Best Rehabs for Vicodin Addiction

Long-term Vicodin users should seek medical detox to wean themselves off of the addictive drug. Medication-assisted treatments (MAT) are available to users seeking to end their dependence on the drug. Methadone and buprenorphine are used as replacements for opioids.

Why Did People Begin Using Vicodin?

Hydrocodone intercepts pain messages from reaching the brain. It alters the way in which users respond to pain and gives them a euphoric feeling when Hydrocodone is taken in large doses. Most, if not all, individuals who become addicted to Vicodin do not start out on a mission to become addicted. It is an involuntary dependency that builds up due to long-term, large dosage use. Vicodin’s powerful effects should not be ignored and just because it is medication prescribed by a doctor, it doesn’t mean it is safe to rely on. In fact, being prescribed by doctors, whom individuals trust, is what led to widespread addiction problems.

Can You Manage Pain without Vicodin?

Individuals suffering from pain can manage it without the use of Vicodin. There are pain relief alternatives available. Medications that do not contain opioids that can be used in Vicodin’s place include nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDS). NSAIDS block pain and inflammation in muscles and joints caused by injuries and/or sprains.

Anti-depressants can also be used as pain relievers. Severe pain can cause depression in individuals and anti-depressants can lighten a person’s mood boosting their well-being. Topical medications can also be applied to source areas of pain. Creams, ointments, and patches may offer relief to pain sufferers.

How to Treat Vicodin Addiction?

Individuals experiencing Vicodin dependency should speak with their doctor. Users should talk to their doctors about reducing their Vicodin consumption. Patients may be prescribed a medication to help ease potential withdrawal symptoms. Some patients may be advised to take a tapered approach to end their dependency on Vicodin.

Long-term Vicodin users should seek medical detox to wean themselves off of the addictive drug. Medication-assisted treatments (MAT) are available to users seeking to end their dependence on the drug. Methadone and buprenorphine are used as replacements for opioids. A methadone or buprenorphine medication can be slowly reduced over time by a doctor allowing the patient to finally live drug free.

MATs stop intense withdrawal symptoms while detoxing. Individuals can focus on recovery and not the extreme debilitating aspects of it. MATs can potentially reduce a person’s chances of relapsing during detox. Detox should be followed by comprehensive therapy in all cases to rid an individual of their opioid dependency.

Naltrexone for Vicodin Addiction

Although naltrexone is commonly used to treat Vicodin addiction, it does not stop cravings for the drug. For this reason, Naltrexone treatment for Vicodin addiction usually begins after the detox and withdrawal phase, and only under medical supervision.

Naltrexone is a common brand name pill commonly prescribed under the brand names ReVia and Depade and available in the United States, Canada and Europe. The injectable, extended release form of the drug is often sold under the name Vivitrol and is available in a variety of forms depending on the amount of medication required per day.

Another form of Naltrexone is a type of implant used in treatment that is shaped like a small pellet and inserted into the lower abdominal wall. The device releases a constant amount of Naltrexone when implanted, and the drug can also be administered through a prolonged injectable release every month.

Last Updated: 9th May 2020

Vicodin Pharmacology

Vicodin contains 500 milligrams of acetaminophen and five milligrams of hydrocodone. It comes in several forms including syrup, capsule, and tablet. Doctors prescribe Vicodin for individuals suffering from various forms of pain.

Brand Name

Hydrocodone

Generic Names

Lortab®, Norco®, Vicodin®

Street Names

Bananas, Dro, Fluff, Hydros, Tabs, Vikes, V-itamin, Watson-387, 357s

Read the latest in current recovery methods

Vicodin in the News

47,590 people died of an opioid overdose, and more than 2 million suffer from opioid addiction disorder, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the National Institutes of Health… [Click to Read More]

I was so terrified when I got sober from a ten-year run on Vicodin and alcohol. I was terrified about being outed. I was terrified of the tabloids. I felt like that weakness was going to be exposed and then exploited…[Click to Read More]

At my height on Vicodin, I would take 125 a day,” he said. “It got to the point I would take a pile of 15 Vicodin and would have to take them with chocolate milk...[Click to Read More]

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