Vicodin Abuse: Side Effects, Withdrawal, & Treatment

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

What is Vicodin?

Vicodin is a hydrocodone combination medication used to relieve moderate to severe pain. It’s made up of hydrocodone, an opioid analgesic, and acetaminophen, which is found in pain relievers like Tylenol.1, 2

The hydrocodone component of Vicodin relieves pain by activating opioid receptors throughout the central nervous system and altering the perception of pain signals sent to the brain.1, 2

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 Vicodin and other hydrocodone-containing medications:4

  • Have 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

According to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), Vicodin is currently discontinued.5

What Are the Signs of Vicodin 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 Vicodin. 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 Vicodin, hydrocodone combination products, or other prescription opioids does not necessarily mean a person is addicted to the substance, however.

Using Vicodin 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 Vicodin, 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 Vicodin Use and Abuse

Taking Vicodin or other prescription opioids as prescribed can still yield side effects. Hydrocodone in combination with acetaminophen side effects include:1, 2

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

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

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

Vicodin Overdose

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

What Are the Symptoms of Vicodin Withdrawal?

Withdrawal symptoms can occur when someone with opioid dependence suddenly stops taking a drug like Vicodin.9 Symptoms of Vicodin 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 Vicodin 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

Vicodin Abuse 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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