Hydrocodone Addiction

As the most prescribed painkiller in America, hydrocodone continues to be a contributing factor in the American opioid epidemic. This generic opioid is used to manage pain and coughing, but can easily become addictive — even to those, it’s prescribed to.

If a person has been taking hydrocodone following surgery or to manage chronic pain or coughing, they may develop an opioid addiction. As hydrocodone attaches to the brain’s opioid receptors, a tolerance builds for the drug and a person can eventually become dependent on the drug’s euphoric high. Hydrocodone addiction can lead to fatal overdose, so it’s important to understand the risks associated with this drug.

Hydrocodone is an opioid drug used for managing pain and suppressing coughs. A well-known, brand-name prescription opioid is Vicodin, which contains hydrocodone and acetaminophen. Hydrocodone is a semi-synthetic opioid because it’s a chemically manipulated form of the natural opiate codeine.

A German pharmaceutical company developed hydrocodone in the 1920s in an effort to find an alternative to codeine that had less risk of toxicity. Later that decade, American scientists were also experimenting with hydrocodone as a replacement for highly addictive cough medicines that contained opioids. Hydrocodone was identified as the best alternative because it reduced pain and managed coughing.

Thirty years later, in 1961, the first reports on the likelihood of hydrocodone’s addictive properties were published. Despite the warnings, however, hydrocodone has continued to grow in popularity.

Hydrocodone is available in a tablet form and a drinkable liquid form. The drug is most commonly prescribed as a small, white, oval-shaped tablet. Each pill is inscribed with the number of milligrams of hydrocodone in the pill. Hydrocodone tablets vary from 10 mg to 120 mg per pill.

Two major pharmaceutical companies manufacture liquid hydrocodone: Pharmaceutical Associates Inc. and Par Pharmaceuticals. The medications are yellow and red, respectively.

hydrocodone addictions
Several pharmaceutical companies sell brand-name versions of hydrocodone. Examples of brand-name drugs that contain hydrocodone and acetaminophen include:

Additionally, another opioid-containing drug is Vicoprofen, which is hydrocodone with ibuprofen.

Hydrocodone is also referred to by street names or slang terms, including:

  • Hydros
  • Tabs
  • Watsons
  • Vics
  • Vicos
  • Vikes
  • 357s
  • Lorris/Loris
  • Nirco
  • Perks

Doctors prescribe hydrocodone to manage severe pain or suppress coughs. Patients who receive hydrocodone often have a persistent cough, chronic pain or may have recently undergone surgery.

The drug has such a high potential for dependence that people who start with a medical need for the drug often become dependent on and addicted to it. As a result, to fuel addictions, many prescriptions are continued longer than necessary.

“Is hydrocodone addictive?” is one of the most common questions related to this substance. Hydrocodone is a highly addictive opioid drug with a high potential for abuse and addiction.

The next question to consider is, “What makes hydrocodone addictive?” Opioids produce calming, anti-depressive and euphoric effects, which often “hook” people on the drug. Due to the likelihood of hydrocodone addiction, it’s possible to become dependent on the drug while taking it for medical purposes with a legitimate prescription from a doctor.

The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration classifies hydrocodone as a Schedule II controlled substance. The five drug schedules are determined based on a drug’s medical uses and its potential for abuse. Although hydrocodone presents a high risk, it does have legitimate medical uses, so it’s a Schedule II drug.

Taking too much hydrocodone at once can lead to drug overdose and death. Overdose is a real threat because it’s possible to build an opioid tolerance quickly, which can cause a person to take increasingly large doses to feel the same effects.

Symptoms of hydrocodone overdose include:

  • Difficulty breathing or no breathing
  • Low blood pressure
  • Weak pulse
  • Loss of consciousness
  • Coma
  • Fingernails or lips turning blue
  • Nausea and vomiting

Although it was first discovered in the 1920s, most scientists didn’t begin paying attention to the rate of hydrocodone addiction, overdose, and death surrounding hydrocodone until the 1960s. Since then, numerous reports have been published.

Some significant hydrocodone abuse statistics include:

Hydrocodone has made headlines through the years as celebrities like Heath Ledger, Michael Jackson, and Brittany Murphy have been found dead after using the drug. Rock singer Courtney Love was famously arrested and charged for illegal possession of hydrocodone and other painkillers. Additionally, “Friends” star Matthew Perry checked himself into rehab for a hydrocodone addiction in 1997.

Getting hooked on the drug also extends past the glitz and glamour of Hollywood. Anyone can develop a hydrocodone addiction. While on the presidential campaign trail for her husband Sen. John McCain, Cindy McCain spoke to the nation about her former hydrocodone addiction involving Vicodin that started after two back surgeries.

Is hydrocodone addictive? Yes, but the good news is there are many options available to treat hydrocodone addiction. Contact The Recovery Village to learn more about treatment for hydrocodone addiction.

Pietrangelo, Ann. “Prescriptions for Hydrocodone Have Dropped Since DEA Classification Change.” Healthline, February 2016. Accessed March 12, 2019.

Drug Enforcement Administration. “Hydrocodone.” Published in October 2018. Accessed March 2019.

GoodRx. “Hydrocodone / Acetaminophen Images and Labels – GoodRx.” (n.d.) Accessed 19 Jan. 2017.

Drugs.com. “Hydrocodone Dosage Guide with Precautions – Drugs.com.” Updated on November 28, 2018. Accessed 19 Jan. 2017.

Ogbru, Omudhome. “Hydrocodone/acetaminophen, Vicodin, Norco: Drug Facts – Page 2.” MedicineNet, 2018. Accessed 19 Jan. 2017.

Cahoon, Lauren, et al. “Celebrity Addictions: Painkillers and Hollywood.” ABC News, 22 Feb. 2008. Accessed 20 Jan. 2017.

Godman, Heidi. “Understanding Hydrocodone Addiction.” Healthline, 12 Dec. 2016. Accessed 20 Jan. 2017.

U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration. “Drug Scheduling.” (n.d.) Accessed 20 Jan. 2017.

Medical Disclaimer: The Recovery Village aims to improve the quality of life for people struggling with a substance use or mental health disorder with fact-based content about the nature of behavioral health conditions, treatment options and their related outcomes. We publish material that is researched, cited, edited and reviewed by licensed medical professionals. The information we provide is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It should not be used in place of the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare provider.

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