How Addictive Is Hydrocodone?

white pills spilling out of medication bottle

Hydrocodone is a powerful opioid prescribed to relieve severe pain. It’s also a widely abused drug, playing one of the leading roles in the nearly 165,000 deaths from opioid medication overdoses since 2000.

Why Do People Develop Hydrocodone Addiction?

Hydrocodone–more commonly known by its brand names, Vicodin, Norco and Lortab–is an opioid, which is the same class of drugs as heroin. Hydrocodone also contains acetaminophen, the pain reliever found in over-the-counter drugs like Tylenol.

Hydrocodone drugs are prescribed for moderate to severe pain for everything from dental procedures to terminal illnesses. Its use should be carefully monitored by a physician. Here are a few facts about hydrocodone addiction:

  • Hydrocodone works on the reward center of the brain in a way that causes it to release more than normal levels of the “feel good” neurotransmitters (dopamine and serotonin).
  • The excess of these neurotransmitters creates a feeling of euphoria that people may try to achieve again, especially people who are vulnerable to substance abuse issues.
  • With continuous abuse, the brain begins to depend on hydrocodone to produce more dopamine and serotonin.
  • Once people develop a dependence on hydrocodone, physical and psychological withdrawal symptoms occur without the drug, which causes many people to continue abusing hydrocodone to avoid the discomfort of withdrawal.

What Are the Signs of Hydrocodone Addiction?

Vicodin, Norco and Lortab can come with several unwanted side effects, even when used as prescribed.  Symptoms of hydrocodone addiction may include the regular side effects of the drug at a more intense or frequent occurrence, as well as some behaviors that characterize many drug addictions:

  • Cardiovascular issues, such as a slow or irregular heartbeat
  • Lightheadedness or dizziness
  • Seizures and convulsions
  • Constipation, nausea and vomiting
  • Blurred vision and headache
  • Paranoia and feeling disoriented
  • Mood swings
  • Delusions and hallucinations
  • “Nodding out”–a state of semi-consciousness
  • Doctor shopping for prescriptions
  • Withdrawal from family and friends
  • Jeopardizing work or school status with absences or poor performance
  • Inability to decrease or quit using hydrocodone on one’s own
  • Financial or legal trouble due to drug use
  • Preoccupation with using and getting more hydrocodone
  • Physical and psychological withdrawal symptoms when not using
  • Needing more hydrocodone to achieve the same effect or feel “normal”

How Addictive Is Hydrocodone?

In 2014, the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration reclassified hydrocodone as a Schedule ll drug, which means that it’s a controlled substance with high potential for abuse. This upward shift from its previous designation as a Schedule lll drug took effect on the heels of the emerging opioid epidemic; data was making the widespread abuse of prescription painkillers increasingly clear.

The intensity of hydrocodone addiction is thought to be in line with heroin addiction. Both members of the opioid family of drugs, hydrocodone and heroin act on the same part of the brain’s reward center. These powerful opioids are described by those who abuse them as producing a feeling of euphoria and comfort like no other drug. The intense high, combined with the way opioids rapidly deplete the brain’s feel-good neurotransmitters make it extremely difficult for people who abuse the drug to stop on their own without medical detox and addiction treatment.

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