Signs of Hydrocodone Abuse
The short- and long-term effects of hydrocodone misuse can cause brain dysfunction and ongoing health problems. What are the symptoms of addiction and signs of hydrocodone abuse, and what can friends, family members, and the medical community do to help?
Are There Signs of Hydrocodone Use?
It’s important to monitor patients with known prescriptions for sympotoms of hydrocodone abuse, but hydrocodone abuse in those who are taking it in excess or covertly may be hiding any tell-tale signs of misuse. This can cause someone to develop an addiction to hydrocodone in secret, with no outward signs or symptoms until it has taken firm hold.
People taking medications that contain hydrocodone will often exhibit symptoms of deep relaxation and mild euphoria. They’ll become drowsy about an hour after taking the medication, but the effects begin faster if the user crushes and snorts the pills. Shortly after taking a dose, there may be slight stomach pain and nausea. Some users often become constipated after a few days of regular use.
What Are the Side Effects of Hydrocodone Misuse?
Hydrocodone is a prescription painkiller that’s abused by nearly two million people every year. Side effects are not too bad when taking the drug for a short time under the guidance of a doctor. They include mild nausea, headache, and drowsiness. These effects can be multiplied and become deadly if the drug is taken with other drugs or alcohol, or when the drug is used while operating vehicles or heavy machinery.
When signs of hydrocodone abuse is a factor, the side effects are more pronounced and dangerous. The addition of acetaminophen increases the risk of liver damage with prolonged or heavy use. Other immediate side effects, which can occur even when the drug is taken as prescribed, include:
- Vomiting and stomach discomfort
- Breathing problems
- Slow heartbeat
- Dry mouth
- Confusion or difficulty concentrating
- Blurred vision
These effects ease after the drug is out of the system with no treatment necessary. As long as there’s no dependency or addiction, there should be no withdrawal period once the medication is discontinued.
Short-Term Effect of Hydrocodone Use
Hydrocodone is a very common and popular prescription painkiller. It is even commonly prescribed to children and teens in certain circumstances. The typical prescription for hydrocodone indicates a dosage of two tablets taken every 4 – 6 hours, as needed to treat pain. Most symptoms of hydrocodone abuse are relatively mild when abuse isn’t a factor, but there can still be some short-term effects that require attention.
One immediate short-term effect is the possibility of developing dependence or tolerance for hydrocodone. Both occur because the brain and body become accustomed to the presence of the drug, and individuals have trouble functioning at a ‘normal’ level without it. Tolerance means more of the drug is necessary over time to experience the same effects. Dependence means that the brain requires it in order to perform functions that have been turned over to artificial stimulation by drugs.
In fact, early withdrawal symptoms mimic continued pain from the original medical procedure or injury. This may lead those at the threshold of dependence or addiction to ask for a refill or extension or to divert the medication from others with a legal prescription.
The initial signs of hydrocodone abuse use are pleasurable, and this can lead users to continue to take the drug even after it’s no longer needed to relieve pain. This is partly because the drug causes a flood of dopamine in the pleasure/reward center of the brain.
Other possible short-term effects are:
- An artificial sense of well-being or euphoric feelings
- Anxiety if the drug is unavailable
- Constricted pupils
- Increased drowsiness, lethargy, and confusion
- Increased tolerance, leading to higher dosages
- Numbness or muscle weakness
- Reduced stress and worry, which can lead to rationalizing use and cause risk-taking behavior
Long-Term Effects of Hydrocodone Use
The long-term signs of hydrocodone abuse include almost certain dependence, increasing the risk of addiction, serious, possibly irreversible, health problems, and death. These dangers increase if additional drugs are taken or if hydrocodone is used illegally or beyond the original prescription. It’s at this point that use is difficult to hide, and outside help from a hydrocodone addiction treatment center may be needed to break the cycle of abuse.
Long-term effects may include:
- Depression, anxiety, and dysphoria
- Mood swings and irritability
- Suppressed appetite
- Sleeping more than usual
- Jaundice due to effects on the liver
There are also serious conditions in connection to long-time or heavy use, including:
- Liver disease, damage, or failure
- Bowel obstruction due to prolonged constipation
- Slow or irregular heartbeat and depressed respiration
- Allergic reactions like itchy skin, rashes, and hives
How Long Does Hydrocodone Stay in Your System?
The whole purpose of taking prescription pain medication at regular intervals is to maintain a predetermined level in the bloodstream for pain management. This keeps someone who is recovering from minor surgery or an injury comfortable while reducing the risk of compensating by taking too much medication at once.
Hydrocodone begins to work within about 20 minutes of taking a dose, it peaks after about two hours, and it remains in the system for up to eight hours. The half-life of hydrocodone is about four hours. The liver and kidneys filters most of the drug; it leaves the body through urination. The half-life of hydrocodone refers to the length of time half of the original amount takes for the body to metabolize it and leave the bloodstream.
Taking more hydrocodone or another opiate while the drug remains in the system can lead to overdose. Immediate medical attention or administering an opioid antidote is necessary to prevent death. Due to the severity of the opioid epidemic, many police and first responders are now required to carry an over-dose-reversing drug like Narcan.
Symptoms of a hydrocodone overdose include:
- Slowed heartbeat and respiration
- Muscle weakness
- Cold, clammy skin
- Extremely wide or pinpoint pupils
- Loss of consciousness
Getting Help With Addiction to Hydrocodone
It is easier to manage short-term, minimal use or dependence by ceasing the drug. Withdrawal symptoms will be uncomfortable but fairly mild. However, those with severe long-time or heavy use will experience more intense signs of hydrocodone abuse and withdrawal that are better attended to in a rehabilitation center under the supervision of medical professionals with the tools, experience, and knowledge to help people overcome addictions.