Prescription drug abuse across groups, including the elderly, has contributed to public health crises in the U.S. Opioid addiction is at the center of it, and it doesn’t appear to be slowing. Vicodin, generically known as hydrocodone, is a contributor to this public health emergency. 

According to data reported by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Administration, in 2015, nearly 60 million people were reportedly using hydrocodone, with a little more than seven million people misusing or abusing it. The powerful substance also has been popular among adolescents. About 10 percent of all 10th and 12th graders reported to using Vicodin recreationally in 2013, SAMHSA stated in 2016.

People may be familiar with Vicodin because it’s one of the more widely known pain reliever drugs, but they may not be aware of the dual danger it poses to people who use it inappropriately. 

What is Vicodin?

Vicodin is the brand name for hydrocodone and acetaminophen, a prescription medication. It is partially an opioid pain reliever (hydrocodone) and a non-opioid, over-the-counter pain reliever (acetaminophen). It is prescribed for people who have moderate-to-severe pain, and its potency is similar to that of morphine. 

Hydrocodone is also sold under the brand names Norco, Lorcet, and Lortab, among others. Pure hydrocodone, sold under the brand name Zohydro ER, comes in an extended-release capsule. According to the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), hydrocodone medications are prescribed more frequently in the United States than any other opioid medication. The agency also reports that it is linked to more drug abuse than any other legal or illegal opioid medication.

Vicodin, like other opioids, changes the way the brain perceives and responds to pain. Overusing this product can lead to acetaminophen poisoning and liver damage among other adverse health conditions and Vicodin side effects.

Street names for Vicodin include Vikes, Vics, Vicos, Hydros, Lorris, Fluff, Norco, Tabs, Watsons, or Idiot Pills, among others.

What are the Signs of Vicodin Addiction?

Vicodin is a potent medication and regular use can be habit-forming. This means it is easy to develop a physical dependence on it, and this can happen quickly without realizing it.

Misuse and abuse can lead to certain signs or symptoms of hydrocodone withdrawal, which occurs when long-term users suddenly stop taking the drug. Withdrawal happens when the body is attempting to function without the drug in its system. Hydrocodone withdrawal can be uncomfortable, and its effects include flu-like symptoms, constipation, and insomnia.

People who are addicted to Vicodin or other hydrocodone medications may exhibit the following symptoms:

  • Strong, seemingly unbearable Vicodin cravings
  • Constantly thinking about Vicodin or other hydrocodone medications
  • Going to great lengths to obtain Vicodin; users may even engage in “doctor shopping”
  • Isolation from others; strained interpersonal relationships
  • Taking the drug in a manner inconsistent with what is prescribed
  • Experiencing withdrawal symptoms 24-48 hours after the drug is last taken
  • Taking Vicodin to avoid withdrawal symptoms after chronic use
  • Hiding Vicodin use from family, friends, colleagues
  • Feeling unable to stop using the drug despite repeated attempts to quit
  • Feeling like you can’t function without the drug
  • Mixing Vicodin medications with alcohol or other drugs (polysubstance use)
  • Using the drug despite the negative consequences that result from doing so, such as job or relationships loss

These signs and symptoms can help gauge whether a Vicodin addiction is underway. If so, quitting the drug abruptly, as is glamorized in the media, is not recommended. Instead of going the “quitting cold turkey route,” some will need to enter a professional drug rehabilitation facility and get help to get off Vicodin and any other substances they are struggling with.

What is Involved in Vicodin Addiction Treatment?

People who have used opioids such as Vicodin and developed an addiction can recover at a licensed drug rehabilitation facility. Once they have been admitted, they typically start with a professional medical detoxification, which aims to make the process of getting off the drug as safe and effective as possible. The length of detox will depend on a variety of factors, such as medical history, history of addiction, and how long Vicodin. The process can last anywhere from three to 10 days.

During this process, clients can expect their vital signs and overall health to be monitored 24 hours as medical professionals wean them off the drug safely and keep them stable. This may include tapering off Vicodin, which is when doses are gradually reduced over a set period to allow the body time to adjust to not having the drug in its system. 

Recovering Vicodin users may also be candidates for Medication-Assisted Treatment, or MAT, as they end their dependence on the drug. During this process, a medication that acts similarly to Vicodin will be used to block the relaxing, euphoric feelings users are used while also combating some of the withdrawal symptoms that emerge when chronic use is stopped.

After a medical detox is completed, clients typically enter a residential treatment program where they will have the time and space to address the physical and psychological sides of their addiction. These treatment programs can be tailored to an individual’s needs and preferences. Inpatient treatment, which can last from 28-90 days in a facility, depending on the program, involves therapies that can help the person overcome their addiction. Treatment also can incorporate 12-step programs, holistic therapy, family therapy, individual counseling, and group counseling.

White pills being poured into a hand

There also is outpatient treatment for people who may be in the early stages of their Vicodin dependence or have a mild case of it. Outpatient services do not require an on-site stay at a treatment center, an arrangement that gives clients more flexibility as they work drug treatment into their schedules. However, outpatient clients are still required to attend structured sessions three to five times a week or more, depending on the situation.

People who are recovering from Vicodin abuse may want to consider using aftercare services to help them focus on their recovery goals and reduce their chances of relapse.

Some people pursue follow-up medical care and ongoing therapies to help manage post-acute withdrawal symptoms, known as PAWS, that can happen long after dependence on the drug has passed. 

How Dangerous is Vicodin?

Using larger amounts of Vicodin, even if it’s the first time doing so, can cause significant health problems or death. The combined ingredients of Vicodin, which are hydrocodone and acetaminophen, can be dangerous to chronic abusers, especially because they would be overdosing not one but two drugs. 

When users require larger amounts of the drug to satisfy intense, never-ending cravings, overdose is very possible. In the case of Vicodin and other hydrocodone medications, someone abusing the drug can overdose on both ingredients, which can be toxic and fatal when consumed in large amounts. 

Signs and symptoms of a Vicodin overdose are:

  • Loss of consciousness
  • Coma
  • Respiratory arrest
  • Stupor
  • Seizure
  • Liver failure

Consuming too much acetaminophen is also a possibility with this drug. Too much acetaminophen can damage the liver and cause death. Signs of an acetaminophen overdose include:

  • Appetite loss
  • Upset stomach
  • Abdominal pain
  • Diarrhea
  • Vomiting
  • Dizziness
  • Convulsions
  • Sweating
  • Coma
  • Yellowed skin (jaundice)
  • Irritability

Polydrug use, using more than one drug at the same time, is common among Vicodin users. Alcohol is a common substance used in this manner with Vicodin along with other medications that treat mental health disorders and sleep disorders.

How the drug is used also presents overdose potential. Vicodin is intended for oral doses of a certain amount. Crushing and/or dissolving the pills in water so one can snort or inject them can put too much Vicodin in the system.

Vicodin Abuse Statistics

  • As of a 2014 report from the Drug Enforcement Administration, hydrocodone has been the second most frequently encountered opioid pharmaceutical in drug evidence submitted to federal, state, and local forensic laboratories.
  • According to research cited by the DEA, hydrocodone is the most frequently prescribed opiate in the United States with more than 136 million prescriptions for hydrocodone-containing products dispensed in 2013 and with nearly 65.5 million dispensed in the first six months of 2014.
  • The American Association of Poison Control Centers (AAPCC) reports that in 2012, there were 29,391 total exposures and 36 deaths associated with hydrocodone in the U.S.
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