Vicodin Addiction

Vicodin is a prescription medication that’s commonly used to treat moderate to severe pain symptoms. As a common medication that contains an opioid, it’s one of the most frequently used and effective pain-management options. However, opioids can also be dangerous when misused, leading to dependence and addiction. The United States is currently in an epidemic of opioid addiction. The past decade has seen rising overdose rates and substance abuse problems related to prescription and illicit opioid drugs. Vicodin addiction can lead to the use of more dangerous substances like heroin. 

Learn more about Vicodin addiction and how it can be effectively treated. 

What Is Vicodin?

Vicodin is a prescription drug that contains a combination of hydrocodone and acetaminophen. Both of these substances are used to treat pain symptoms, but only hydrocodone is a narcotic pain-reliever. Acetaminophen is the active ingredient in medications like Tylenol, and it’s included in Vicodin to help treat pain and other symptoms like fever. Hydrocodone is an opioid that’s used to treat moderate to severe pain symptoms. It’s a semi-synthetic drug that’s derived from the naturally occurring opiate codeine. Hydrocodone is weaker than other prescription opioids like oxycodone, although these two drugs may be equally effective in treating pain.

Vicodin is a popular medication for treating pain from a variety of sources. It may be used to treat acute pain from an injury, post-surgery, and even chronic pain symptoms caused by diseases like cancer. However, long-term use of an opioid should be followed by a plan of tapering and cessation. Opioids like hydrocodone can cause dependence and addiction if misused or used for too long. Vicodin can also cause some side effects, including low blood pressure, respiratory depression, and constipation. 

Hydrocodone is an extremely common opioid in the United States, which is where the vast majority of hydrocodone use takes place. It’s important to be aware of medications like Vicodin and their potential side effects, including addiction. 

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Why Is Vicodin Misuse Dangerous?

Vicodin misuse can lead to a number of side effects, including chemical dependency and addiction. Dependence refers to a phenomenon when your brain chemistry is adapted to a frequently used drug. In this case, your brain will adapt to hydrocodone and come to rely on it. If you stop using the drug, you’ll begin to experience uncomfortable withdrawal symptoms. Opioid withdrawal is similar to a severe case of the flu with powerful compulsions to use the drug again.

Addiction is caused when you use the drug compulsively despite serious consequences. At this point, your substance use disorder can quickly get out of control, affecting multiple areas of your life. It’s common for people in active addiction to experience biological, psychological, and social problems. Addiction can also lead to strained relationships and financial ruin. 

Vicodin pills strewn about a grey surface

The misuse of prescription drugs like Vicodin is linked to severe opioid use disorder and the escalation to illicit drug use. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, nearly 80 percent of heroin users start by misusing prescription opioids like hydrocodone. Illicit drug use increases your risk of developing serious health issues like blood-borne diseases. Vicodin misuse can also increase your risk of experiencing a dangerous overdose.

Opioid overdoses can slow your nervous system down to the point where it hinders vital functions like breathing. High doses of an opioid can cause respiratory depression, which can cause oxygen deprivation and death. Vicodin is more likely to cause an overdose if it’s mixed with other substances like alcohol or prescription depressants. 

Why Does Vicodin Cause Addiction?

Addiction is a complex disease that affects the reward center of the brain and the way you respond to a particular drug. The reward center of the brain is devised to create positive feelings when you encounter healthy, life-sustaining things like a warm meal or comfortable shelter. It works by releasing certain feel-good chemicals like endorphins, dopamine, serotonin, and oxytocin. However, opioids like hydrocodone mimic endorphins in the brain. 

If they cause a euphoric high, they may also release dopamine. Your brain responds to drug use as if it’s an activity that creates a powerful and rewarding effect, and learns to encourage you to repeat it. Compulsions to use may get out of control, and you may feel you need to use more and more often. This can mean you spend more time high or seeking drugs, which can hinder your ability to work and take care of responsibilities at home. 

Addiction is often related to chemical dependence, which is when your brain chemistry adapts to the presence of a drug. Psychoactive substances can have a powerful effect on your brain, altering your brain chemistry over a time of consistent use. When you stop using the drug, you may experience uncomfortable withdrawal symptoms. The opioid in Vicodin may cause withdrawal symptoms that are similar to the flu, causing nausea, vomiting, sweating, and diarrhea. Withdrawal and addiction cravings work together to encourage compulsive use of a drug and make it difficult to quit on your own. 

What Is the Scope of Vicodin Addiction?

Opioid addiction is a major problem in the United States. Over the last decade, overdose rates have continued to rise. This has to do with the influx of illicit drugs like heroin and the overprescription of opioid medications like Vicodin. Using prescriptions as directed isn’t likely to lead to a severe substance use disorder. However, doctors may prescribe more opioids than a person needs to avoid running out and experiencing pain. The extra pills may be put on a shelf or given to friends or family members. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, the misuse of prescription opioids is a significant risk factor for later heroin use.

According to the 2018 National Survey on Drug Use and Health, 9.9 million Americans over the age of 12 misused prescription opioids like hydrocodone. 

How Can Vicodin Addiction Be Treated?

Vicodin addiction may represent a severe substance use disorder, but it can be treated with the right level of care and therapies. Addiction treatment is a multi-leveled process, depending on the severity of your needs. Because addiction is complex, effective addiction treatment will address biological, psychological, and social needs. When you first begin a treatment program, you’ll go through an assessment process to determine the level of care you need and the course of your treatment plan. Each treatment plan is unique and speaks to individual needs. 

Woman being consulted about drug abuse

If you have high-level medical needs, you may go begin with medical detox, the highest level of care in addiction treatment. Detox is reserved for people with severe medical issues, especially related to withdrawal symptoms. Opioid withdrawal isn’t usually life-threatening, like depressant withdrawal, but it can be extremely unpleasant. Opioid withdrawal can cause flu-like symptoms, including vomiting, sweating, and diarrhea. In some cases, withdrawal can lead to dehydration, which can be dangerous. Without help, opioid withdrawal is extremely difficult to get through while avoiding relapse. 

Once you complete detox, or if it’s not necessary, you may move on to medically monitored or clinically managed inpatient treatment. This level of care is ideal for people with high-level medical or psychological needs that have already been through the withdrawal phase. If you’re able to live independently, you may advance to an outpatient treatment program where you live on your own and attend treatment during the day. 

Outpatient treatment is broken into intensive outpatient with nine or more hours of treatment each week and outpatient with fewer than nine hours of treatment each week. 

Sources

American Psychiatric Association. (2017, January). What Is Addiction? Retrieved from https://www.psychiatry.org/patients-families/addiction/what-is-addiction

ASAM. (n.d.). What is the ASAM Criteria? Retrieved from https://www.asam.org/resources/the-asam-criteria/about

Marco, C. A., Plewa, M. C., Buderer, N., Black, C., & Roberts, A. (2005, April). Comparison of oxycodone and hydrocodone for the treatment of acute pain associated with fractures: A double-blind, randomized, controlled trial. Retrieved September 18, 2020 from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/15805317/

National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2018, July). Treatment and Recovery. Retrieved from https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/drugs-brains-behavior-science-addiction/treatment-recovery

National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2020, July 08). Prescription opioid use is a risk factor for heroin use. Retrieved September 18, 2020, from https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/research-reports/prescription-opioids-heroin/prescription-opioid-use-risk-factor-heroin-use

SAMHSA. (2019 August ) 2018 National Survey on Drug Use and Health Methodological Summary and Definitions. Retrieved from https://www.samhsa.gov/data/sites/default/files/cbhsq-reports/NSDUHMethodsSummDefs2018/NSDUHMethodsSummDefs2018.htm

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