When a doctor prescribed Vicodin to treat her back pain, Mandy took the drugs as she was told. But, every so often, she would sneak an extra pill or two to deal with a bad day. Before long, she was taking extra Vicodin on good days, at work and, finally, not to get sick.
At that point in her abuse, Mandy was addicted. The Vicodin she was taking was not to relieve pain or get high, but to avert the cravings and ugly discomfort from withdrawal. When that vicious cycle became too much for her to bear, Mandy decided to enter an addiction treatment program, where she was prescribed buprenorphine to help make her transition toward recovery less tortuous.
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Mandy’s addiction to Vicodin is, sadly, becoming more increasingly common. That’s because Vicodin contains hydrocodone, a semi-synthetic opioid. Doctors use opioids to dull severe pain after surgery or sudden injuries, including broken bones. Opioids decrease the body’s perceived discomfort to instead create a feeling of euphoria by blocking messages of pain to the brain. That’s why opioids, including Vicodin, Oxycontin, and fentanyl, are also used to manage chronic pain, from long-term back ailments to care for patients with terminal cancer.
The problem is Vicodin is one of the most addictive pain killers. Once patients who abuse Vicodin become dependent, they will need to take enough of the drug just to feel normal. This type of misuse only fosters addiction and can lead to overdose and death.
Powerful painkillers like Vicodin kill more than 115 people per day in the United States. As many as 42,000 people died from opioids in 2016. That’s five times more than in 1999. One of the reasons is doctors prescribe more of these pills than patients need. What’s left over often finds its way into illegal sales on the street.
When even those illicit pills become scarce, many of the newly addicted will turn to heroin – another opioid – to compromise the intense symptoms of withdrawal, which can feel like the worst flu, but even more excruciating. No wonder the grip of Vicodin addiction is so difficult to break.
What is Vicodin?
Vicodin is a brand name narcotic prescribed to alleviate pain. Because Vicodin contains hydrocodone, a semi-synthetic opioid that acts on the nervous system to alter the way the body responds to pain stimuli, the risk of addiction is extremely high. Vicodin is prescribed more often than any other pain medicine in the United States. Available in either liquid or tablet form, Vicodin is an alternative medication for patients who cannot take drugs, such as morphine or oxycodone.
Patients who take Vicodin may experience side effects such as:
- Confusion, mood changes
- Low blood pressure
Prolonged use of Vicodin or heavy concentrations can put a patient at risk of liver damage. Vicodin should also not be taken in combination with alcohol or buprenorphine.
What is Vicodin Withdrawal?
Upon entering the bloodstream, Vicodin acts quickly by attaching to pleasure and pain receptors in the brain, which then alters the release of neurotransmitters like dopamine, serotonin, and oxytocin. Drugs like Vicodin, heroin, and cocaine amplify this disruption to affect emotional states. In the case of Vicodin, to sedate and relieve pain.
When Vicodin stimuli continue to saturate these receptors over an extended period, the body becomes dependent on the chemical interaction and demands more of the drug. When the patient doesn’t provide enough Vicodin to satisfy these pleasure and pain receptors, the body responds. This is called withdrawal.
What Are Vicodin Withdrawal Symptoms?
After taking this narcotic for more than a week, the patient who changes the amount of Vicodin they take may experience withdrawal symptoms a day or two later, especially if the medication is stopped completely. These symptoms include:
- Generalized pain
- Elevated heartbeat
- Fever and chills
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Although withdrawal is not life-threatening, a doctor’s supervision during this period is highly recommended to help a patient taper off the medication.
What Are the Stages of the Vicodin Withdrawal Timeline?
The timeline and stages of any opioid withdrawal, including Vicodin, will depend on the patient’s tolerance level, genetics, frequency of use, and dosage. As a hint at what to expect, a general timeline might include:
- The first six to 12 hours of withdrawal will consist of muscle aches, difficulty sleeping, anxiety, fever, sweats, and high blood pressure. These symptoms will intensify across the next two to three days.
- Many of the same symptoms will peak around 72 hours after the last dosage but will now include dehydration as well as an intense craving for more of the drug.
- Most physical symptoms begin to subside, but depression and the intense craving to use again will persist.
- After a month, all physical symptoms should be non-existent; post-acute withdrawal symptoms (PAWS) including depression, anxiety, and mood swings are rare, but possible, which can serve as a threat to relapse and a return to using.
Treatment for Suboxone Withdrawal
Doctors can choose to prescribe buprenorphine or Suboxone, which are longer-acting opioids, to help wean off Vicodin and ease the discomfort associated with withdrawal. Like Vicodin, these medications bind to receptors, but for more extended periods and without the intense high. This enables patients to pursue behavioral therapies while tapering of Vicodin. Doctors may also prescribe other medications to counteract nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea.
Why Should I Detox?
Withdrawal from opioids like Vicodin can feel like death, which makes thinking about staying clean more difficult for patients who are more concerned that they are about to die. For individuals addicted to Vicodin, this dire feeling is fraught with severe diarrhea, tremors, anxiety, and cramps. Detoxification at either a hospital or substance abuse treatment facility can make the unpleasant process of withdrawal from Vicodin somewhat manageable.
During inpatient detox, a doctor can prescribe medications like buprenorphine or Suboxone to patients to ease opioid withdrawal symptoms and position them toward recovery.
Certified healthcare staff can also monitor patient progress and prevent any medical complications in a safe and peaceful environment.
What Is the Next Treatment Step?
Detox is only one part of treating an addiction to Vicodin. Following successful detox from the pain killer, an extended stay at a residential treatment center can provide the tools required to sustain sobriety. Here you will be fitted with a personalized recovery plan which is likely to include group therapy, one-on-one counseling, educational lectures and workshops to strengthen your resistance to relapse and to help you start feeling good about yourself.
Start Your Journey to Recovery Today
When managed appropriately and for short periods, Vicodin can serve as an effective painkiller. But, that was a time long ago that you no longer understand. Unfortunately, your abuse of Vicodin has spiraled out of control. If you or a loved one recognize this dark side to Vicodin and seek the need for specialized care, help is available. You will find this assistance at California Highlands Vistas. Beginning with detox and on through our post-treatment alumni program, our highly trained medical professionals and substance abuse counselors are ready to help eliminate your dependency on Vicodin and any other opioids that have defined your addiction.
Stanford Medicine. Retrieved from from http://med.stanford.edu/news/all-news/2019/02/common-opioids-less-effective-for-patients-on-ssri-antidepressants.html
U.S. National Library of Medicine. Retrieved from from https://medlineplus.gov/opioidabuseandaddiction.html
U.S. National Library of Medicine, National Center for Biotechnology, Information. Retrieved from from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK310654/
U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Retrieved from from https://www.fda.gov/news-events/press-announcements/fda-approves-first-non-opioid-treatment-management-opioid-withdrawal-symptoms-adults
National Institute on Drug Abuse. Retrieved from from https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/effective-treatments-opioid-addiction/effective-treatments-opioid-addiction