Pain is an important function of the body that lets you know when something’s not right. Without it, accidents, diseases, and injuries could continue to damage your body without you knowing.

However, anyone who’s ever smashed their finger in a door knows that pain can also present a big problem. It tends to linger, which can put a damper on your recovery and makes it difficult to rest and relax. Plus, people who suffer from chronic pain can struggle with daily life. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 50 million people in the United States struggle with chronic pain.

Opioid medications are incredibly useful in treating pain symptoms that would otherwise make recovering from injuries, surgeries, and chronic pain unbearable. Doctors have prescribed opioids for decades for that reason. However, the effectiveness of opioids comes at a steep price. There is a high risk of users developing dependence and addiction when they are used for too long or abused beyond the recommended dose.

Vicodin is a common opioid medication that’s prescribed to treat pain from a wide variety of sources. But the drug is also one of the most commonly abused opioid medications.

What is Vicodin?

Vicodin is a popular opioid medication that’s used to treat pain that’s associated with injuries, postoperation, and chronic illnesses. Unlike other opioids, the medication is also mixed with another analgesic drug called acetaminophen, which is commonly found in over-the-counter pain relievers like Tylenol. This gives the drug both opioid pain-relieving effects and acts and an anti-inflammatory. The opioid in Vicodin is called hydrocodone, and it’s a semi-synthetic opioid that’s derived from codeine.

Hydrocodone was first synthesized in 1920, and it was approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for use in the United States in 1943.

The drug was combined with acetaminophen and sold under the name Vicodin in the 1950s. The drug is an effective pain reliever. It begins working within 10 to 20 minutes and relieves pain for about four to eight hours. Hydrocodone is a powerful pain reliever that’s similar to codeine. It’s on the weaker end of the spectrum of opioids. When compared to oxycodone, a study found that hydrocodone was about 1.5 times weaker. Still, the drug is powerful, effective, and has a significant addiction liability.

Vicodin works in a way that’s similar to most opioids. It’s a full agonist that binds to certain opioid receptors in the brain and body. That means it attaches to receptors that are designed to regulate pain and activates them. Vicodin specifically activates a type of opioid receptor called MOR, which limits nervous system excitability, causes pain relief and sedation. It can also cause itching, nausea, and dilated pupils. In a high enough dose, the drug can cause euphoria, which makes it popular as a recreational drug.

Vicodin is one of the most commonly abused prescription opioid medications because of its euphoric effects and because it works relatively quickly. Abuse can lead to chemical dependency, addiction, withdrawal, and overdose. In many cases, prescription opioid abuse can lead to the use of more dangerous illicit drugs like heroin and fentanyl. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) 80 percent of people who use heroin, started by abusing prescription opioids, as found in a 2013 study.

What are the Signs of Vicodin Addiction?

Vicodin addiction is a serious and chronic brain disease, but it’s usually preceded by signs and symptoms that can let you know that you’re developing a substance use disorder. If you or someone you know has been prescribed an opioid medication such as Vicodin, it’s important to learn to recognize the signs of addiction. Addressing a substance use disorder early can help to avoid some of the most severe consequences.

Opioid addiction usually follows a period of growing tolerance and chemical dependence. Tolerance occurs when your brain starts to get used to the presence of the drug in your brain and starts to adapt to it. Dependence occurs when your brain starts to rely on that chemical to maintain normal brain function. If you stop using after developing a chemical dependence, you’ll start to feel uncomfortable flu-like withdrawal symptoms. This can encourage continued drug use.

If someone in your like is struggling with an opioid-related substance use disorder, there will also be some observable behavioral signs, including:

  • Strange sleep patterns
  • Anxiety
  • Irritability
  • Suffering work or school performance
  • Mood swings
  • Taking more of a drug than intended
  • Legal problems
  • Financial problems
  • Stealing or asking for money
  • New friends, associates

A substance use disorder becomes an addiction when you continue to use compulsively despite the serious consequences.

What is Involved in Vicodin Addiction Treatment?

Addiction is a chronic disease, but it’s one that’s treatable with the right services. To be effective, addiction needs to be tailored to your individual need. Treatment will begin with an intake and assessment process that’s designed to help place you in the right level of care for your needs.

If you have high-level medical needs, you may be placed in a high level of care like medical detox. Detox is designed to get you through withdrawal symptoms safely and as comfortable as possible. However, it can also be beneficial to people with other medical complications that need immediate treatment. If you have medical needs, but you don’t require 24-7 medically monitored treatment, an inpatient program can provide 24 hours of medical monitoring.

If you can live on your own, you may enter an intensive outpatient program or outpatient program. At this level, you’ll go through a variety of therapies that are based on your needs. Your treatment plan can include individual, group, and family therapy, as well as a variety of behavioral therapies.

How Dangerous is Vicodin?

As a prescription-strength opioid, Vicodin comes some inherent dangers. If the drug is abused, or used for too long, it can cause chemical dependency and addiction. Addiction to opioid pain pills is notoriously difficult to overcome, especially on your own. As mentioned before, prescription opioid addiction often leads to the use of illicit drugs like heroin. Prescriptions are expensive and difficult to obtain.

People seeking medications will go to many different medical facilities to “doctor shop” or look for a doctor that will give them pain pills since one doctor will only prescribe enough for short-term therapeutic use.

As your tolerance level grows, you will need more and more of the drug to achieve a euphoric high. When it becomes too difficult to get pills from doctors, you may try to get them from illegal sources or switch to the cheaper heroin. Heroin is the most widely available illicit drug in the United States after marijuana.

However, both heroin and illicit pills can be extremely dangerous

Illegal drugs can be unpredictable in their strength. Dealers often cut heroin with inert or even dangerous powdered substances that decrease the strength of the product. Users that are accustomed to taking higher doses of week heroin will overdose when they encounter less adulterated heroin. Both heroin and illicit pills can contain an extremely powerful opioid called fentanyl, which is about 100 times more powerful than morphine. Users often take fentanyl-spiked heroin thinking it’s a normal dose.

Opioids suppress your central nervous system, and during an overdose, it can suppress it at dangerous levels. Overdose can cause unconsciousness, coma, clammy skin, slow heart rate, and low blood pressure. In cases of fatal overdose, the most common cause is respiratory depression that leads to brain damage and death.

Vicodin Abuse Statistics

  • More than 83 million prescriptions were written for products containing hydrocodone in the U.S. in 2017.
  • More than 11 million people misused hydrocodone in 2016.
  • The DEA reported 19,718 cases of illicit hydrocodone distribution in the U.S.
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