A Look at Hydrocodone Addiction and Abuse

Hydrocodone is a commonly prescribed narcotic analgesic for severe pain. It is popularly known by the brand names like Vicodin, Lortab, and Norco. While these drugs are very effective in alleviating even the most extreme of pain, they do possess a high potential for addiction and abuse.

Understanding Hydrocodone

This substance is the principal active ingredient of a variety of narcotic painkillers that are often prescribed to manage moderate to severe pain. These drugs are often prescribed as oral medications to be taken for the short-term management of dental pain as well as pain related to traumatic injuries. Regrettably, because of its high addicting potential, individuals who use hydrocodone for a significantly longer period of time or even take substantially larger doses than is recommended can develop tolerance which can then lead to dependence and eventually addiction.

Hydrocodone, like other opioids, work to alleviate pain by blocking the transmission of pain signals to the brain. This is done by adhering to the opiate receptors that form a bridge between the pain signals and the brain region where these signals are interpreted as pain. Because the signal pathway has been blocked, the brain no longer perceives pain. Aside from the blocking of pain signals, the dampened cortical activities lead to a feeling of elation or euphoria.

How the Drug is Used

Hydrocodone is usually combined with other analgesics, usually acetaminophen or ibuprofen. Both acetaminophen and ibuprofen are over-the-counter painkillers that do not require a doctor’s prescription. These are typically indicated for mild to moderate pain. While both OTC painkillers are not addicting, they do create other health problems especially if taken for a significantly longer period of time or in substantially larger doses.

Individuals who misuse hydrocodone generally use the drug not according to its recommended route and dosage. For example, instead of taking the drug via the oral route as a tablet, they crush the pill and snort the powder or dilute it in sterile water for injection directly into the vein. Because of the dangers of misuse, abuse, and addiction, hydrocodone combination formulations have been reclassified as Schedule II controlled substances from Schedule III.

Effects of Hydrocodone Abuse

It is quite difficult to recognize someone who is abusing hydrocodone. The only way you can tell if someone is abusing hydrocodone is if that person has a legitimate prescription for it but uses it in a way that is contrary to what the doctor recommends. This often means taking more than the recommended number of pills per dose or even taking the hydrocodone pills more often than the recommended frequency. If someone uses it in ways that is other than its intended route of administration, such as crushing it to be snorted or mixed as an injectable form, then that person can be said to be abusing hydrocodone.

The reason why people abuse hydrocodone is because of its euphoric effects. Additionally, people who abuse hydrocodone also tend to experience the following.

  • Relaxation
  • Calmness
  • Decreased anxiety
  • Extreme happiness

Generally, the higher the dose of the hydrocodone, the faster the development of these effects. Unfortunately, this also leads to hydrocodone overdose which can include nausea, confusion, and drowsiness. In more serious cases of hydrocodone overdose, respiratory depression can develop leading to respiratory arrest and death.

Why Hydrocodone is Addicting

The reason why hydrocodone is addicting is that these substances interfere with the natural opiate receptors of the brain, primarily those found in the limbic system. These receptors are what regulates the entry of impulses from other parts of the body. They also function in the physiologic reward system in the brain. When someone abuses hydrocodone, the substance reprograms the brain so that the hydrocodone-containing receptors are now considered the new norm.

Essentially, the brain has lost the capability of producing its own natural substances that normally bind with these receptors. When the level of hydrocodone is reduced because of the individual’s failure to take the substance at the expected dose, the body goes into severe withdrawal. The only way to alleviate the withdrawal symptoms is to take hydrocodone. This causes physical dependence.

The sad thing is that the body also tries to adapt to this new norm. As such, after some time, the euphoric and relaxant effects may no longer be felt by the person. The only way he can relieve the experience is by taking more of the hydrocodone preparation and in more frequent doses.

Effects of Mixing Hydrocodone with Other Drugs

Some individuals, in an effort to heighten the euphoria they get from hydrocodone, often mix it with other similar substances particularly alcohol. When these two substances are combined, however, the result can be fatal as both can depress the central nervous system. This can result in an abnormally slow and shallow respiration which can terminate in death, secondary to respiratory arrest.

In some cases where the individual can no longer obtain a prescription for hydrocodone, they will often resort to using other opiates that are readily available in the streets. Heroin is the most common alternative for hydrocodone as an effective source of euphoric effects.

Treatment for Hydrocodone Addiction

It is imperative that individuals who are addicted to hydrocodone seek help from highly-trained and duly-certified hydrocodone addiction treatment professionals. The individual will also undergo comprehensive evidence-based treatment programs that include cognitive behavioral therapies, group therapies, family therapy, and experiential therapy, among others. Education, nutritional support, psycho-social counseling, and therapeutic communication are essential pillars of the hydrocodone treatment program. The individual is then prepared for reintegration into the community. Social support groups and sober living communities can be provided to help ensure continuity of therapeutic programs. This helps ensure greater success in recovering from hydrocodone addiction.

Recovering from hydrocodone addiction can be challenging. However, with the right kind of help and the right level of motivation, it is possible to live free from addiction.

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