Millions of Americans are given opioid prescriptions to treat pain, but the dangers of prescription misuse can lead to opioid use disorder (OUD). There has been an epidemic of overdoses throughout the United States, and prescription painkillers that contain hydrocodone (such as Norco and Vicodin) have been at the forefront of this development.

Between 1999 and 2016, over 200,000 people died in the U.S. from overdoses related to prescription opioids (according to the CDC).

This CDC also stated that deaths involving prescription opioids were five times higher in 2016 than they were in 1999. All of these statistics stem from the claims of pharmaceutical representatives, who claimed their product wasn’t addictive when it was released.  These claims led to doctors prescribing the drugs for the treatment of pain at historic levels.

While all patients who consume opioid medications don’t develop addictions, studies have shown that 80 percent of heroin users started using it after becoming addicted to prescription opioids.

Many of these users also said they’d received opioid medications from family and friends.  Another 60 percent have leftover medications, which they hold onto for future use. Since overprescribing has created this crisis, more needs to be done to start managing how they’re prescribed.

While patients require opioids to get through their daily lives, the prescriptions need to be measured on a patient-to-patient basis. Pain management should be similar to addiction treatment and customized to the person’s individual needs.

Until these limitations and guidelines are put in place, an influx of opioid addiction and overdoses will continue. To treat this problem, it’s important to know the signs and symptoms of addiction.

How Does Hydrocodone Work?

Hydrocodone is a powerful opioid painkiller that’s used in popular opioid drugs such as Vicodin and Norco. While it was derived from the poppy plant in the 1920s, it’s now a semisynthetic drug. Hydrocodone is one of the most frequently prescribed painkillers in the U.S., due to the way it can treat a multitude of symptoms related to pain. It’s frequently used for post-surgery treatment and other routine procedures, such as the removal of wisdom teeth.

Hydrocodone works by binding with opioid receptors in the brain and spinal cord. It then blocks pain signals that travel to the brain. Essentially, the drug changes the user’s perception of pain, so it can be extremely beneficial to individuals who experience acute or chronic pain.

Once these natural receptors enter the central nervous system (CNS), they create an overproduction of these pain blockers. The CNS drastically slows down, and a rush of euphoria takes over. After this rush, the user can feel relaxation and sedation, which is due to the stimulation of dopamine.

Dopamine is responsible for regulating emotions, cognition, and reward-processing. The repeated use of hydrocodone rewires the brain and creates an association between the use of heroin and the reward of dopamine. This rewiring leads to compulsive use, which in turn leads to tolerance.

What Are The Signs Of Hydrocodone Addiction?

Addiction to painkillers is often unintentional. Individuals who want to treat chronic pain never imagine the potential impact of the drug. Studies have shown that infrequent use of hydrocodone can lead to physical dependence, which can cause alarming effects (even in the short term).

While some people can use drugs without becoming addicted, others have a predisposition for addiction.

Here are some signs of hydrocodone addiction:

  • Feeling abnormal or dysfunctional without it
  • Taking it in unprescribed doses
  • Developing increased tolerance
  • Having the inability to stop using it
  • Lying about hydrocodone use
  • Withdrawing from social activities
  • Using illegal means to obtain the drug
  • Using illegal means to obtain the drug
  • Rashes from scratching
  • Itchiness
  • Chronic drowsiness
  • Lethargy
  • Nausea
  • Dizziness
  • Shallow breathing
  • Constipation

How Dangerous Is Hydrocodone?

As an opioid, hydrocodone does come with significant risks when the drug is used for too long or abused. Opioids can become habit-forming, causing tolerance, chemical dependency, and withdrawal after a period of consistent, long-term use.

In some cases, doctors can help you wean off of the drug after you no longer need it. However, if an addiction forms, you may begin to have powerful cravings that are difficult to resist.

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, prescription drug abuse is a risk factor for more dangerous illicit opioids like heroin.

Using illicit opioids, even illegally acquired pills can be dangerous. Illicit drugs are unpredictable and can be deadly for a number of reasons. Their potency is unknown, and it can be difficult to determine a safe dose for any given person.

Dealers will often cut their products with inert substances, weakening the effects of the opioid. If you get used to a diluted supply, you may take a very high dose when you encounter a purer product, leading to an overdose. To compensate for adulterated products, dealers may mix in more powerful synthetic opioids like fentanyl that are cheap and easy to make.

Fentanyl is powerful enough to cause a fatal overdose in a dose that’s about the same size as a snowflake.

Fentanyl can even be pressed into pills that look just like hydrocodone or other opioid prescriptions. When prescriptions or other drugs come from illicit sources, that are inherently dangerous.

High doses can cause dangerous overdose symptoms that can become life-threatening without medical intervention. The drug can start to suppress important functions of the nervous system, including your heart rate, blood pressure, and breathing.

A hydrocodone overdose should be taken very seriously, as it can lead to death.

Here Are Some Symptoms:

  • Blue lips
  • Low blood pressure
  • Shallow breathing
  • Clammy skin
  • Drifting in and out of consciousness
  • Vomiting
  • Seizures

If an overdose isn’t immediately addressed, it can be fatal. Therefore, you should immediately call 911 if you suspect someone has overdosed on hydrocodone.

What’s Involved In Hydrocodone Addiction Treatment?

Regarding hydrocodone, it’s inefficient and uncomfortable to quit “cold turkey.” While addiction is a lifelong disease, it’s very treatable with the right therapies and management.


During detox, medical professionals will continually monitor your health 24/7 throughout your stay. You could be in the detox for three to seven days, depending on the severity of your addiction and other medical problems that may be present. During your stay, you’ll become prepared for the level of care you’ll complete after detox.


If the assessment team feels you need additional care, you’ll be placed in residential treatment. This treatment could involve a stay of up to 90 days, depending on the severity of the addiction. It will entail a variety of addiction therapies, including cognitive-behavioral therapy, family therapy, individual therapy, and group therapy.


If the team decides the client has a less severe addiction and a stable living environment, they will recommend an outpatient program. This option will involve attending the same types of therapy as an individual in residential, but they’ll live at home. Outpatient is especially useful for clients who can’t stop working or attending school.

Hydrocodone Abuse Statistics

  • More than 99 percent of hydrocodone abuse occurs in the U.S.
  •     In 2011, nearly 82,500 ER visits were linked to nonmedical hydrocodone use.
  •     According to the DEA, 24.4 million people over the age of 12 have used hydrocodone for nonmedical reasons.
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