Hydrocodone is a key contributor to the U.S. opioid epidemic, playing a large role in the 247,000 prescription opioid overdose deaths from 1999 to 2019. Typically used to treat moderate to severe pain, hydrocodone is also a drug of abuse for its potential to produce an opioid high when taken in large amounts.
Some hydrocodone brand names include Lorcet, Vicodin, Norco, and Lortab. Hydrocodone is an opioid drug that doctors may prescribe to treat severe pain. It’s also a prescribed opioid for moderate pain, but most often other drugs like ibuprofen or acetaminophen will be used in cases of pain that are not severe. Many types of hydrocodone include acetaminophen as well, such as Lortab and Vicodin.
How Long Does It Stay in Your System?
Drug testing can detect hydrocodone in the body for hours, days, or months after your last dose depending on the type of test. Common tests for hydrocodone and the time they can detect the drug include:
- Urine tests – up to four days
- Hair tests – up to 3 months
- Saliva tests – up to 36 hours
The length of time that hydrocodone can be detected varies by person. As far as how long you can feel its effects, If prescribed medically for severe pain, the effects of hydrocodone typically last around 4-6 hours. However, the extended/longacting hydrocodone may last around half a day.
A semi-synthetic opioid, hydrocodone is derived from poppy plant extractions, but is made in labs. This is in contrast to natural opiates like morphine, which come from opium poppy resin and are generally less synthesized.
Medicine that contains hydrocodone comes in capsules, tablets, and liquid. These are typically the forms you’ll find on the street, though some people crush and snort hydrocodone or use it intravenously. Illegal use is a form of prescription drug abuse. Either it comes from fake prescriptions, doctor shopping, or diversions by people in the medical industry. Pills may be white, yellow, or orange, and are usually oval shaped with the milligrams imprinted on them as well as the brand name (ex. Norco).
What Does It Taste Like?
Hydrocodone users have described the pills as having a bitter taste and liquids as having a burning sensation. The liquid forms of hydrocodone are usually mixed with a flavoring agent to make it easier to take.
Street names include:
People who take hydrocodone at prescribed doses for medical purposes feel a decrease in pain sensations and may feel more relaxed. For those who abuse the drug, the high-inducing effects of hydrocodone have been described similarly to those of other opioids. Hydrocodone abusers report feeling extremely relaxed and content. They may also experience intense euphoria and feel emotionally “warm.”
With repeated abuse, the high of hydrocodone gets harder to achieve. You build a tolerance and become physically dependent on the drug. This means you must take more and more hydrocodone to feel the effects you want, and you will experience withdrawal symptoms when it leaves your system.
Why Is Hydrocodone Addictive?
Hydrocodone works on the reward center of the brain in a way that causes it to release high levels of the “feel-good” neurotransmitters dopamine and serotonin. In excessive amounts, it can create a sense of euphoria that users try to achieve again, especially people who have substance abuse issues.
With continuous abuse, the brain begins to depend on hydrocodone to make more dopamine and serotonin. Once you develop a dependence, physical and psychological withdrawal symptoms occur without the drug. The addiction cycle is perpetuated because you may continue abusing hydrocodone to avoid the discomfort of withdrawal.
There are several symptoms and signs of hydrocodone addiction to be on the lookout for. If you’re concerned that a loved one is abusing hydrocodone, notice if any of the following are happening:
- Taking more of the medication than instructed by the doctor or pharmacist
- Taking hydrocodone without a prescription
- “Nodding out” – a state of semi consciousness
- Appearing dizzy or unsteady
- Mood swings
- Empty or hidden prescription pill bottles
- Frequent complaints of headaches or stomach issues
- Seizures or convulsions
- Vision problems
- Slurred speech
- Seeing multiple doctors for medications (doctor shopping)
- Withdrawing from family and friends
- Poor performance or regular absences at work or school
- Distracted or unclear in conversations
- Changes in sleeping habits, weight, and personal hygiene
- Symptoms of depression or anxiety
- Drug withdrawal signs like vomiting, runny nose, fatigue, chills, or sweating
If you’re concerned that you may be addicted to hydrocodone, be aware of these warning signs, and get help if you’re having any of them:
- Inability to decrease or stop taking hydrocodone
- Feeling like you need hydrocodone to function or get through your day
- Financial or legal trouble due to drug use
- Preoccupation with using and getting more
- Adverse effects and withdrawal symptoms when you go for a period of time without taking the drug
- Needing more hydrocodone to get the same effect or even to feel “normal” (tolerance)
- Experiencing withdrawal symptoms (physical dependence)
- Cardiovascular issues such as a slow or irregular heartbeat
- Lightheadedness or dizziness
- Jeopardizing work or school status with absences or poor performance
- Doctor shopping for more hydrocodone or buying it on the streets
- Mood swings
- Delusions and hallucinations
- Loss of interest in social activities or hobbies
- Avoiding friends and family
- Putting yourself or others in dangerous situations while on hydrocodone (ie. driving, operating machinery, etc.)
- Continued abuse despite negative consequences to your health, relationships, and livelihood
Hydrocodone was reclassified as a schedule ll drug by the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) in 2014. This designates it as a controlled substance with high potential for abuse and addiction. The reclassification was due to the discovery of how big a role painkiller prescription drugs were playing in the burgeoning opioid epidemic.
Abuse can put you at greater risk for some serious long-term health issues. These include:
Brain damage – Opioid addiction can lead to mental health disorders as well as alter the part of your brain responsible for spatial awareness, attention, and memory.
Heart problems – The effects of hydrocodone and other opioids can put you at risk for heart issues such as heart failure, heart attack, low blood pressure, and clogged blood vessels.
Overdose – Opioids slow your breathing rate due to its effect on your central nervous system. This puts you at risk for overdose because the brain isn’t getting enough oxygen.
If hydrocodone is combined with drinking or other drugs, your risk for overdose and other damaging and deadly consequences increases.
Hydrocodone also contains acetaminophen, the pain reliever found in over-the-counter drugs like Tylenol. Hydrocodone drugs like Vicodin are prescribed for moderate to severe pain for everything from dental procedures to terminal illnesses. Its use should be carefully monitored by a physician.
Doctors determine the dose of hydrocodone needed based on your level of pain, physical make up, co-occurring conditions, and other drugs you’re taking. It’s prescribed in tablet or liquid form. People who abuse hydrocodone may crush the tablets and snort them or inject it in a liquid format. This can be dangerous and fatal.
- Runny nose
- Muscle cramps
Hydrocodone addiction treatment must address the reasons why you’re using substances and teach you healthier ways to cope with them. Some components of opiate addiction treatment may include:
Medical detox – Most people with opioid addictions will require medical detox. This allows you to safely eliminate drugs from your system under the care of medical professionals. Withdrawal and detox in a treatment center usually includes medications to ease withdrawal symptoms. Your detox team is there around the clock to attend to discomfort and medical emergencies.
Residential treatment – Opioid addictions are tough to kick, and most people do better in an inpatient setting that allows them space and distance from triggers and substances. Components of addiction treatment may include:
- Individual therapy
- Group therapy
- Family therapy
- Dual diagnosis treatment
- Cognitive behavioral therapy
- Dialectical behavior therapy
- Alternative and experiential therapies
Medication-assisted treatment (MAT) – MAT works on your opioid receptors in the same way as hydrocodone and other opioids. They can prevent the strong cravings that send some people into relapse without getting you high. MAT always includes behavioral therapy and other support.
Continuing care – Many people take a step-down approach to addiction treatment that helps ease the transition back into everyday life. You may start in inpatient treatment and then move into a partial hospitalization program or intensive outpatient program. Eventually you’ll attend outpatient treatment for 1-3 hours a week before moving into independence. Some people choose to live in a sober living residence that offers a setting that supports sobriety as they’re transitioning back into everyday life. An aftercare plan is a critical component of long-term recovery and may include:
- Therapy appointments
- Psychiatry appointments
- Support groups
- Medication-assisted treatment
- 12-step groups
- Healthy self-care practices
Looking for Help?
Addiction recovery is possible. If you or a loved one is struggling with addiction, contact Footprints to Recovery today. We offer inpatient and outpatient rehab and provide evidence-based treatment that addresses co-occurring disorders, trauma, and other challenges that fuel drug and alcohol abuse.