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Hydrocodone Addiction: Signs, Effects, and Treatment

According to the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, hydrocodone is the most frequently prescribed opioid painkiller in the U.S.1 Even when used as directed, hydrocodone addiction and unintentional overdose are a risk.2

The 2021 National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH) reports that 4 million people aged 12 or older misused hydrocodone products in the past year.3 That same year, 5 million people (1.8%) aged 12 or older had a past year prescription pain reliever use disorder, the term used by the NSDUH for addiction to these substances.3

People who use hydrocodone should know the potential dangers of the substance to use it safely and avoid addiction or overdose. This article will help you understand what hydrocodone is, hydrocodone risks, the signs of dependence, and how to seek help if you think that you or someone you care about might have a hydrocodone addiction.

What Is Hydrocodone?

Hydrocodone is a prescription opioid that is typically prescribed to treat moderate-to-severe pain, usually due to cancer or surgery.2 Hydrocodone can also be prescribed as an antitussive (cough suppressant). It is available as both a standalone product or in combination products (e.g., a single pill that contains hydrocodone combined with other medications such as acetaminophen, aspirin, or an antihistamine).2

Hydrocodone (also known by brand names Hysingla, Norco, and Vicodin, among others) is one of the most commonly prescribed prescription opioids.It is a substance that is closely related to codeine and morphine because it produces similar effects.1

Prescription opioids like hydrocodone are commonly misused for nonmedical reasons, such as to get high (e.g., experience euphoria) or to relax.4 Hydrocodone misuse is most frequently via oral administration and is often taken in combination with alcohol.1

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), around 21% to 29% of people who are prescribed opioids for chronic pain misuse them, 8% to 12% develop an opioid use disorder (addiction), and 4% to 6% of people who misuse prescription opioids transition to heroin.4

Hydrocodone vs. Oxycodone

Hydrocodone and oxycodone are both prescription opioid painkillers, but they are not the same drug. Most studies have shown that they are similar in effectiveness for pain relief.5 Both block pain signals sent by the body by binding to mu-opioid receptors.6, 7 They are also both the most popular opioid painkillers among people who misuse these types of drugs.4

Some reports indicate that people who mishandle opioids may prefer to use oxycodone because they say it produces a better high and results in more euphoric effects than hydrocodone.4

Is Hydrocodone Addictive?

Yes, repeated misuse or abuse of hydrocodone or other prescription opioids can lead to a substance use disorder (SUD), specifically opioid use disorder (OUD), as mentioned above.1, 4 SUD is the general term used to diagnose substance addiction and can occur due to chronic substance use.4

A SUD can develop when repeated use of a substance causes changes in the brain and behavior that are characterized by uncontrollable drug or alcohol use, resulting in significant negative consequences, such as health problems or an inability to meet responsibilities at work, school, or home.4

Treatment for Hydrocodone Addiction

If you or someone you care about are struggling, you should know that there are effective, evidence-based hydrocodone addiction treatments that can help.4

It’s not advisable to quit using hydrocodone “cold turkey” as opioid withdrawal can be extremely uncomfortable.13 The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) says that trying to withdraw from opioids without medication can cause needless suffering, especially in people who already have a limited pain tolerance.13

Professional medical detox is typically the first step in the recovery process and can help you safely and comfortably undergo withdrawal and prepare you for further treatment, such as inpatient drug rehab or outpatient drug rehab.13, 14 Withdrawal typically starts 8 to 24 hours after your last dose and lasts about 7 to 14 days, or longer in some cases.15 During medical detox, you may receive medication to help eliminate or minimize withdrawal symptoms and ensure your comfort. Medications can include:4, 13, 15

  • Methadone. This is an opioid agonist medication that binds to the same brain receptors as opioids. It helps to prevent or minimize withdrawal symptoms. People can remain on methadone after detox and formal treatment are complete to help them avoid relapse.
  • Buprenorphine. This is a partial opioid agonist medication that also acts in a similar way to methadone to prevent or minimize withdrawal symptoms. People can also remain on buprenorphine following detox and formal treatment to help reduce the risk of relapse.
  • Lofexidine. This is a non-opioid medication that helps minimize withdrawal symptoms.

People who have completed detox programs are usually advised to transition to a treatment program to help them identify and address the underlying issues that led to the addiction.13, 14 Treatment can take place in different settings and at different levels of intensity.

While treatment varies, patients can expect to receive different types of group and individual therapies to help them learn new skills and address substance-using behaviors. Therapies can include:4, 16

  • Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT). This can help you identify and replace negative, unhelpful, or unhealthy thoughts and behaviors that contribute to your substance use. You learn new coping skills and healthier ways of managing stress.
  • Contingency management (CM). This provides positive reinforcement for healthy behavioral changes. People often receive rewards or vouchers to exchange for tangible goods when they achieve target behaviors (such as providing negative drug tests).
  • Family or couples therapy. This can help address issues in relationships that impact substance use or are affected by the person’s addiction.

Getting Help for Hydrocodone Addiction

Getting help for hydrocodone addiction can feel overwhelming, but you don’t have to do it alone. American Addiction Centers (AAC) is a leading provider of evidence-based addiction treatment across the U.S. Our admissions navigators are available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week when you contact . You can share your story, learn about treatment options, and can verify your insurance over the phone.

You can also easily and quickly check if your insurance is in-network by filling out the form below.

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