How Long Does Hydrocodone Stay in Your System?

The drug crisis in we are facing in the United States is unprecedented. Prescription pain pills have become one of the most widely prescribed and abused drugs in history. Hydrocodone is the active ingredient in many pain pills and lives in the family of opioids. Hydrocodone is derived from opium poppy just as all opiates are, however the difference is that it is considered semi-synthetic because it does not naturally occur. The only way to produce hydrocodone is to chemically modify the codeine molecule of the poppy. Nonetheless, hydrocodone is the most regularly prescribed opioid in the United States and is connected to more drug abuse than any other legal or illicit opioid, combined. A couple very common pain prescriptions that most people are familiar with are Lortab and Vicodin. Vicodin is comprised of hydrocodone and acetaminophen. This prescription pill in particular has been reported responsible for more prescriptions, misuse, overdoses and deaths than any other prescription painkiller around. Hydrocodone is most commonly prescribed for the treatment of chronic pain management and relief as well as a cough suppressant.
A bottle of Hydrocodone pills dumped out on top of dollar bills.
The National Safety Counsel reports some alarming statistics around opioid prescription pills:

  • Every day, 60 people die from opioid pain medications, which is equal to roughly 22,000 people per year.
  • More than 259 million opioid prescriptions were written in 2012 and this number has been on the rise since then.
  • 19 million Americans are addicted to opioid painkillers.
  • 43 million adolescents and adults reported non-medical use of prescription opioids in 2014.
  • 4 out of 5 heroin users started on prescription opioids.
  • Research indicates 4% to 6% of prescription painkiller abusers will transition to heroin use.
While these numbers are disturbing, steps are being taken to combat the war on hydrocodone prescriptions. In December 2013, the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, DEA, issued a final ruling that hydrocodone combination products will now fall into a more restrictive category of controlled substances. This was done after the FDA made a recommendation based on a scientific review that this step be taken stating:

“We concluded that hydrocodone combination products meet the criteria for control under Schedule II of the Controlled Substances Act, and we believe DEA’s new rule will help limit the risks of these potentially addictive but important pain-relieving products.”

Fox News reported what the reclassification entails. Initially in 1970, the Controlled Substances Act was passed, which put hydrocodone in the Schedule III class, a class with very few regulations. Under Schedule III, a prescription for Vicodin can be refilled up to five times before the patient has to actually see a physician again, making it very easy for dependency to develop. Now that hydrocodone has been reclassified to Schedule II, patients will only be able to receive one 90-day prescription before they must revisit their doctor.

The Drug Enforcement Administration identifies there are numerous brand and generic hydrocodone products advertised in the United States. All of which are combination products, meaning they contain hydrocodone and other elements.

The most frequently prescribed combination is hydrocodone and acetaminophen. The most common drugs containing this make up are:

  • Vicodin®
  • Lorcet®
  • Lortab®).
  • Lortab ASA® (contains aspirin)
  • Vicoprofen® (contains ibuprofen)
  • Hycomine® (antihistamines)
Hydrocodone acts by connecting to certain proteins called opioid receptors, which are nerve endings located in the brain, spinal cord, gastrointestinal tract as well as throughout other organs in the body. When hydrocodone attaches to these receptors, they have the ability to reduce the awareness of pain and inversely fabricate a sense of comfort.

Opioids like hydrocodone affect areas of the brain associated with reward and pleasure. Because of this, many people seek to intensify their experience by taking more of it or administering it ways where the effects are sped up, such as crushing the pills to snort of inject.

Effects of Hydrocodone

  • Feelings of euphoria.
  • Increased sense of well being.
  • Numbness
  • Feeling drowsy or slow.
  • Reduced worry and stress.

With repeated use of hydrocodone, the assembly of naturally occurring opioids is constrained in the body. Therefore, with discontinuation of use, withdrawal symptoms ensue.

If you begin feeling withdrawal symptoms when you stop taking hydrocodone your body has most likely developed dependence to the drug. Hydrocodone is not meant for long-term usage thus many people become addicted inside their bodies. This can cause them look for answers about how long it takes for hydrocodone to completely clear from the system.

Depending on the dosage amount, the half-life of hydrocodone can vary. Typically, for a 10mg dose, the half-life is around 4 hours. What this means is that it takes around 4 hours for the body to process and eliminate half the hydrocodone they have taken. From there, withdrawal symptoms usually begin to start 6-12 hours after the last dose has been taken.
Naturally, in order to get something out of the system, the first step is that you must discontinue taking it. Unfortunately, when a person stops taking hydrocodone, it can bring on a number of withdrawal symptoms that anyone coming off of it should be aware of. It is important to seek medical attention when coming off of hydrocodone to avoid medical emergencies such as seizures or spikes in blood pressure.

From there, after discounting use, everyone’s body is different when it comes to eliminating and excreting hydrocodone from the system.

There are many factors that control clearance rates of hydrocodone and how long it will stay in a person’s system. The same two people could take the same dose amount, around the same time and one may eliminate it faster than the other. The most important factors to consider are:

  • Age: Depending on a person’s age, some body functions, organs and metabolism will work better than others. Typically, the younger someone is, the faster they will eliminate toxins from their body because they have healthier functioning systems.
  • Body height / weight / fat: Dose amounts will be relative to height, weight and fat make up of a person’s body and a person taking more than what is recommended based on these factors will take longer to clear hydrocodone from his or her system.
  • Genetics: Genetics play a role in how a person processes, reacts and metabolizes hydrocodone in the body. Genetic make up is also a factor for predisposition to addiction as well.
  • Function of the Kidney & Liver: The liver and kidney are key organs for processing and eliminating anything from the body. If a person has damage or issues in either, the elimination process will take longer.
  • Metabolism: The faster a person’s metabolism is, the faster they will burn through foods, liquids and drugs. If a person has a slow metabolism, this will affect their ability to clear hydrocodone from his or her body.
  • Frequency of use: A person who has been using for months or years is understandably going to take longer to eliminate a drug from their body as opposed to a person who has only taken a single dose. This is something to keep in mind also.
According to a guide provided by Very Well, they indicate some average times for hydrocodone to leave the body. The following is an estimated range of times, or detection windows, during which hydrocodone can be detected by various testing methods:

  • Urine: Hydrocodone can be detected in the urine for 3-4 days
  • Hair: Hydrocodone, like many other drugs, can be detected with a hair follicle drug test for up to 90 days.
  • Blood: A blood test can identify Hydrocodone for up to 24 hours.
Every person is affected differently when it comes to hydrocodone withdrawal. The side effects can range from mild to moderate to severe depending on all the factors mentioned. Naturally dose amount, frequency of use and a person’s ability to eliminate hydrocodone from his or her system will play a role in both the timeline of withdrawal as well as the intensity.

When someone has become addicted to an opioid drug such as hydrocodone, the removal of it can cause a painful experience because the body and brain are in an overdrive state trying to recover.

Hydrocodone withdrawal symptoms can include:

  • Muscle aches
  • Runny nose
  • Watering eyes
  • Nausea, vomiting, diarrhea
  • Abdominal cramps
  • Sweating especially at night
  • Chills
  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Irregular heart rate
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Anxiety and depression
  • Irritability
  • Headaches
  • Restlessness
  • Fatigue
  • High blood pressure
  • Severe cravings
  • Suicidal thoughts

Getting through these symptoms using medically supervised detox is recommended initially for helping to manage the withdrawal process, however inpatient or outpatient treatment for hydrocodone substance abuse should be implemented as well. The goal is always long term recovery so addressing the underlying causes of the addiction is crucial.

Prescription Nation 2016, National Safety Council, <>,

Drug Fact Sheet Hydrocodone, Drug Enforcement Administration, <>

Re-scheduling prescription hydrocodone combination drug products: An important step toward controlling misuse and abuse, Food and Drug Administration, <>, October 2014

FDA wants restrictions on hydrocodone painkillers, Fox News, <>, October 2013

How Long Does Hydrocodone Stay In Your System, Very Well, <>, June 2016.

How Long Does Hydrocodone Stay in Your System?
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