Hydrocodone is a powerful opioid painkiller that is prescribed to treat pain after surgery or serious injury. Doctors typically do not prescribe hydrocodone for long-lasting chronic pain, but sometimes, people become addicted to hydrocodone and use the medication for years.
Opioid drugs bind to the opioid receptors in the brain, confusing pain relief and the risk/reward system. Individuals who suffer from addiction to opioid painkillers like hydrocodone feel rewarded when they take the drug because of how the drug chemically acts on the brain. This stimulation can be very difficult to give up, but it is important to end addiction to hydrocodone to prevent long-term physical consequences.
What Is Hydrocodone Withdrawal Like?
When people suffer from addiction to hydrocodone, they may try to quit the drug cold turkey, or without help. This can lead to withdrawal symptoms, which include both short-term and long-term symptoms.
Short-term withdrawal symptoms include:
- Agitation, anxiety, and mood swings
- Increased tearing, unrelated to emotions or eye irritation
- Cold0 or flu-like symptoms like flushing, runny nose, and chills
Later-stage withdrawal symptoms include:
- Pain or cramping in the stomach
- Nausea or vomiting
- Continued mood swings
- Dilated pupils
- Muscle cramps
- Joint pain
How Long Does Hydrocodone Withdrawal Last?
Depending on how large the last dose of hydrocodone was, withdrawal symptoms can begin in as little as 6 hours or as long as 12 hours. This can also vary depending on how the individual ingested hydrocodone. If the drug was taken as a pill and digested, effects wear off more slowly than if the individual snorted or injected the drug.
Hydrocodone withdrawal peaks within 1-3 days or 72 hours after the last dose.
Acute symptoms will be worse during this time, especially physical pain and nausea. If a person has suffered from hydrocodone addiction for years, and become tolerant of large doses, there is a small possibility that withdrawal can induce seizures or suicidal thoughts, which can be very dangerous if the person is alone without medical supervision. As a result, medical detox is always recommended for hydrocodone withdrawal.
After 1-2 weeks, the bulk of the individual’s withdrawal symptoms should have passed, for the most part.
Psychological effects like depression or anxiety may linger for a few more days to another week, but if individuals have social support from friends, family, a therapist, and a rehabilitation program, they are much less likely to suffer these effects as strongly.
Because addiction is a disease, it is likely that the individual can feel cravings for years after overcoming hydrocodone addiction. These cravings may not be as intense as during the first two weeks of withdrawal and detox, but they can be disturbing. This is another time when it is important for the individual to have social support from friends and family, as well as a therapist or support group.
- Day 1: Withdrawal symptoms begin, including stomach and muscle pain. The individual might also feel anxiety and depression, and begin to experience cold- or flu-like symptoms.
- Day 2: Withdrawal symptoms fully set in, with physical symptoms being the most difficult.
- Day 3: Physical symptoms including nausea, joint pain, and sweating begin to subside.
- Day 4: Diarrhea will likely stop, and pain will continue to subside. Emotional symptoms will still be present, but may get better as physical sensations improve.
- Day 5: Physical symptoms will mostly be gone, although psychological withdrawal symptoms will still be present.
- Day 6: Ability to eat improves, and mood likely begins to improve as well. Physical movement should no longer be painful.
While the specific timeline will vary for each individual struggling with hydrocodone addiction, the above serves as a basic template. Withdrawal will not last forever. With the support of medical professionals, therapists, and friends and family, the individual can get through the process and proceed to the bulk of addiction treatment.
Medications to Help with Hydrocodone Withdrawal
Inpatient rehabilitation is often recommended for people who suffer from hydrocodone addiction. Often, medical detox is part of inpatient care. These programs often use medications to ease withdrawal symptoms in addition to providing continual supervision and support.
Various medications may be used during the opiate withdrawal process. In some instances, medications are used on a long-term basis to essentially replace the drug of abuse. These replacement medications are considered safe and don’t bring about euphoric effects when used correctly. Generally, clients are then slowly weaned off these medications as they progress in recovery.
- Methadone: As a partial opioid agonist, methadone helps to ease physical pain and also reduces the effects of opiates like hydrocodone. Although methadone is typically used for individuals suffering from heroin addiction, it is sometimes used in cases where a person has struggled with hydrocodone addiction for a long time. Methadone may be used to ease the body away from dependence on the drug and allow the brain time to chemically adjust as hydrocodone leaves the body.
- Naltrexone: This medication prevents opioid medications like hydrocodone from binding to opioid receptors in the brain. This means that if an individual relapses and takes hydrocodone, the person will feel no effects from the drug. Naltrexone is a maintenance medication used after an individual has tapered off hydrocodone or gone through a medical detox program. When an individual appropriately uses this medication under a doctor’s supervision, naltrexone can stop the reward centers of the brain from demanding hydrocodone, because the drug no longer triggers the sensation of pleasure.
- Suboxone: This is actually two medications combined into one prescription, used to help ease opiate withdrawal. Suboxone contains both buprenorphine and naloxone. Buprenorphine is a mild opioid agonist that eases cravings for hydrocodone. Naloxone only kicks in when Suboxone is used intravenously, and it reverses the effects of buprenorphine. For individuals suffering from heroin addiction, this is beneficial because they are often accustomed to using drugs intravenously. Any opioid taken via injection acts faster, so a person suffering from hydrocodone addiction may try to bypass buprenorphine’s effects by injecting Suboxone, but naloxone prevents this from working.
- Mood-stabilizing medications: These psychiatric medications help to ease emotional or psychological withdrawal symptoms. These mood-stabilizing medications can ease depression, anxiety, panic attacks, paranoia, and suicidal thoughts. Use should be closely monitored by supervising physicians since certain benzodiazepines have significant addiction potential.
Get Help to Overcome Hydrocodone Addiction
Individuals who suffer from an addiction to hydrocodone should seek help immediately. Opioid painkillers can damage the liver, lungs, heart, and brain, and an overdose can lead to death.
Inpatient rehabilitation facilities often work best for many who struggle with addiction, in part because of the comprehensive nature of the care provided.
Doctors and other medical professionals monitor clients as they go through withdrawal and detox from hydrocodone safely.