Hydrocodone Addiction and Abuse
As an additive in pain medication, hydrocodone pills are among the most-prescribed opiate-based prescriptions available in the US. This drug is sold under several brand names by major pharmaceutical companies. It’s one of the main medications identified as a culprit in the nation-wide crisis that has claimed more than 400,000 people so far and caused the government to declare a public health emergency in 2017.
What is Hydrocodone?
It’s an opioid pain medication that’s used to treat mild to moderate pain after tooth extraction, minor surgery, or injuries. Hydrocodone pills are manufactured with a formulation of the opiate and acetaminophen, which is the generic name for the active ingredient in Tylenol. The addition of this drug is believed to bolster the effects of hydrocodone to relieve pain without the harsher effects of stronger opioid-based medications in this class.
Opioids are synthetic forms of powerful narcotic pain relievers that have a similar chemical structure to morphine and heroin. The addition of non-narcotic painkillers is thought to reduce the more harmful aspects and effects of opiate-based prescriptions while providing temporary relief from acute pain. When taken for longer than the intended duration or in high amounts, the drug is extremely habit-forming and destructive physically and psychologically.
What is Hydrocodone Used For?
In addition to formulations containing over-the-counter pain relievers, hydrocodone pills are also prescribed in a pure form under the brand Zohydro. This particular opiate is used for temporary pain relief after medical procedures like tooth extraction and minor surgeries, injuries, and conditions where the pain is moderate but short-term.
The drug is believed to have milder effects and fewer side-effects than other opioids, but hydrocodone addiction has been a huge problem since the first wave of prescription pain medication abuse in the 1990s. The addition of over-the-counter pain relievers fools people into thinking these prescriptions are safe, and they are when used for a short time, as prescribed. However, abuse increases the odds of addiction, liver damage, and other long-term health problems.
Hydrocodone Brands, Dosages, and Their Uses
The typical hydrocodone dosage is 5 or 10 milligrams, with a second number meaning the dosage of other pain relievers. For example, a generic prescription that calls for the pharmacist to dispense hydrocodone 5mg/325mg tablets would contain 5 milligrams of hydrocodone and 325 of generic Tylenol. Brands that the tablets are sold under include Lortab, Vicodin, and Norco.
What are these medications, and what’s the difference between them when they’re prescribed to relieve pain?
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How Can You Become Addicted to Hydrocodone?
Hydrocodone is a narcotic analgesic that’s currently classified as a Schedule II substance, meaning it has clinical benefits but a high potential for abuse and dependence; it was previously classed as a Schedule III drug when it was considered less harmful than other opioid-based medications.
Hydrocodone addiction is possible because this drug affects the brain the same way as other opiates. Even a low hydrocodone dosage bonds to the opioid receptors in the brain to block pain and cause mild relaxation and euphoria. Although it’s prescribed for short-term pain relief, it’s one of the most abused medications in its class. Hydrocodone is also easily diverted because many people who take it for temporary, relatively minor pain don’t even finish their prescription, leaving it stored in medicine cabinets and closets where friends or relatives with substance use disorders can get their hands on it.
Abuse is considered when the medication is taken in higher doses than prescribed, diverting someone else’s prescription, purchasing it illegally on the street, or feigning pain to extend the prescription duration or obtain more refills.
Abuse or Dependency?
There’s confusion over the difference between abuse and dependence, and some wonder whether it matters in light of the epidemic of opiate, abuse. They can be concurrent conditions, but they’re two separate problems that require a different approach to overcome them.
Dependence is considered when the brain requires the drug in order to function. It occurs because the natural pain-blocking mechanism and dopamine release is disrupted and co-opted by artificial means. The brain loses the ability to produce the necessary chemicals to regulate pain relief and release pleasure-causing chemicals on its own. This often happens with tolerance, and it can be a component of addiction. However, individuals can be addicted to hydrocodone without being dependent.
Hydrocodone addiction is determined when craving and/or need for the drug overpowers everything else in one’s life. Use will continue despite the odds of overdose or death, and regardless of any negative consequences. In either case, withdrawal symptoms can be painful and potentially life-threatening. Recognizing the signs of addiction or dependence and getting help early increases the odds of complete, long-term recovery.
How Can You Tell if Someone is Abusing Their Prescription?
As mentioned above, early intervention saves lives. Addiction may be easy to hide for a while, but it can quickly spin out of control, taking the life of the individual down with it.
Due to the high rate of misuse, doctors and family members or friends should be on the lookout for symptoms of dependency or addiction. Some of these include:
- Increased preoccupation with the medication
- Counting pills or anticipating the next dose
- Doctor shopping or forging prescriptions
- Diversion, illegal purchase, or stealing someone else’s pills
- Defensiveness when confronted about use or rationalizing use
- Flu-like symptoms or irritability when unable to obtain hydrocodone
- Attempting to quit or cut back on use without success
Is it Easy to Get Help for Hydrocodone Addiction?
Since the problem with hydrocodone addiction is an ongoing health concern, Stepping Stone Center for Recovery has developed a program tailored to individuals struggling with opioid addiction.
Contact Stepping Stone and Get Help Today
Don’t face Hydrocodone addiction alone. Call us at 1-866-957-4960 or fill out the form below and our admissions coordinators will answer any question that you may have about treatment options available to you.