Hydrocodone: Side Effects, Addiction and Treatment

Hydrocodone is a prescription opioid painkiller that has a high potential for abuse. Read on to learn more about how hydrocodone works, what addiction looks like, and treatment options for opioid use disorder.

What is Hydrocodone?

Hydrocodone is an opioid medication used to relieve moderate to severe pain and to suppress cough. 1

Hydrocodone relieves pain by activating opioid receptors throughout the central nervous system and altering the perception of pain signals sent to the brain. It suppresses cough by decreasing activity in the part of the brain associated with coughing.2,3

Although prescription opioids are generally safe when taken as prescribed by a doctor and only used for a short period of time,3 pain relievers that contain hydrocodone are Schedule II controlled substances, as designated by the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA). This is because hydrocodone:4

  • Has a high potential for abuse.
  • Could lead to severe psychological and physical dependence.

Aside from relieving pain, prescription opioids like hydrocodone can also make people feel relaxed and/or high. They are considered dangerous because opioids are highly addictive, and their misuse can lead to overdose and death.3

What Are the Signs of Hyrocodone Addiction?

An opioid use disorder (OUD) can only be diagnosed by a medical or clinical professional. However, there are some things you can look out for if you believe someone you know might be abusing a prescription opioid like hydrocodone. These signs include:6

  • Reporting lost or stolen medication frequently.
  • Trying to get medication refilled early.
  • Attempting to obtain a prescription from a difference source.
  • The doctor noticing withdrawal symptoms during office visits.
  • Repeatedly requesting increasing doses of opioids from the prescriber.
  • Reporting an increase in pain despite a lack of progression of disease.

When a person meets with a healthcare professional to discuss potentially problematic opioid use, the doctor or clinician will likely use a set of criteria from the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 5th Edition: DSM-5 to diagnose an opioid use disorder.

An OUD may be diagnosed if the person exhibits 2 or more symptoms from the criteria list.7

Misuse of hydrocodone or other prescription opioids does not necessarily mean a person is addicted to the substance, however.

Using hydrocodone as prescribed can lead some individuals to develop a tolerance to the drug. This may be more likely if it’s used long-term.3

If someone continues to misuse a substance like hydrocodone, they also increase their likelihood of developing physiological opioid dependence. People who develop significant opioid dependence may be at risk of several withdrawal symptoms if continued use of the drug slows or stops.3

Acute opioid withdrawal can be extremely unpleasant, making quitting even more difficult. For these reasons, many people benefit from medical support after deciding to stop taking the substance.3

Health Risks of Hydrocodone Use and Abuse

Taking prescription opioids as prescribed can still yield side effects. Hydrocodone side effects include:1,2,3

  • Drowsiness.
  • Lightheadedness.
  • Changes in mood.
  • Mental clouding.
  • Stomach upset.
  • Constipation.
  • Itchiness.
  • Narrowed pupils.
  • Slowed breathing.

Other, more serious, health risks to using or abusing hydrocodone include:1,2,3

  • Agitation, confusion, and/or hallucinations.
  • Severe nausea and vomiting.
  • Urinary retention.
  • Severe physical dependence.
  • Addiction.
  • Slowed or irregular breathing.
  • Overdose.

Hydrocodone Overdose

Just like other prescription opioids, it’s possible to overdose on hydrocodone. An overdose occurs when a person takes enough of a substance to produce life-threatening symptoms or death.3 Signs of a hydrocodone overdose include:8

  • “Pinpoint pupils”, or eyes that look small and constricted.
  • Loss of consciousness.
  • Slow, shallow, or altogether stopped breathing.
  • Choking sounds.
  • Limp body.
  • Pale and/or cold skin.

When a person’s breathing slows or stops, the amount of oxygen going to their brain drops. This can result in permanent brain damage, coma, or death.3

How to Respond to an Opioid Overdose

  • Call 911 immediately.
  • If you have it on hand, administer naloxone.
  • Don’t leave the person alone.
  • Try and keep them awake.
  • Lie them on their side to keep them from choking.
  • Provide the responding medical personnel with information, if you can.

What Are the Symptoms of Hydrocodone Withdrawal?

Withdrawal symptoms can occur when someone with opioid dependence suddenly stops taking an opioid like hydrocodone.9 Symptoms of hydrocodone withdrawal include:9, 10

  • Agitation and/or anxiety.
  • Insomnia.
  • Dilated pupils.
  • Runny nose.
  • Sweating.
  • Yawning.
  • Goose bumps.
  • Muscle aches.
  • Abdominal cramping.
  • Nausea.
  • Vomiting.
  • Diarrhea.

How Long Does Hydrocodone Withdrawal Last?

Opioid withdrawal symptoms can be uncomfortable but are generally not life-threatening. Withdrawal symptoms commonly start within 6-12 hours of the last use of a relatively short-acting opioid like hydrocodone.7

Hydrocodone Addiction Treatment & Detox

To manage withdrawal symptoms and avoid relapsing during the detox process, many people benefit from medically assisted detox programs at addiction treatment facilities or, if the risks of severe or complicated withdrawal is high enough, hospitals. This creates a safe, comfortable place for a person to come down off the substance(s) they are on while their health is monitored by medical professionals.

In some instances, medication may be administered for opioid withdrawal symptoms, such as methadone or buprenorphine.10

Once a person has completed detox, there are several options for treatment for OUD. These include:

  • Inpatient rehab.
  • Residential treatment.
  • Partial hospitalization programs.
  • Outpatient rehab.

Within treatment programs, patients can expect daily therapy in group or one-on-one settings, medical and mental healthcare services, as well as recreational and holistic therapies

If you or a loved one is ready for recovery from an opioid use disorder, give us a call at . River Oaks Treatment Center offers detox, evidence-based treatment and therapies, and aftercare planning. Call us to learn more about addiction rehabilitation near Tampa.

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We are here to help you get sober and learn how to stay that way. Retreat to the sunny climate near Tampa, Florida for a stay at the gold standard of treatment facilities. At River Oaks, we offer customized care plans to help you on your recovery journey at our beautiful Hillsborough County campus.