The drug crisis we are facing in the United States is unprecedented. Narcotic prescription pain pills have become one of the most widely prescribed and abused drugs in history. Hydrocodone is the active ingredient in many pain medications and is part of the family of opioids. Hydrocodone is derived from the opium poppy just as all opiates are, but it is considered semi-synthetic because it does not naturally occur.

Hydrocodone is the most regularly prescribed opioid in the United States. Many people are familiar with the pain medications Lortab and Vicodin. Both Vicodin and Lortab are combination medications which contain hydrocodone and acetaminophen. In reports, hydrocodone has caused more cases of misuse, overdose, and death than any other prescription pain medication. Hydrocodone is most commonly prescribed for the treatment of pain and as a cough suppressant.

A bottle of Hydrocodone pills dumped out on top of dollar bills.
According to the National Safety Council’s findings in 2017:

  • Every day, 115 Americans die from an opioid overdose
  • The opioid epidemic is the deadliest crisis in American history
  • One in 10 Americans knows someone who has died from an opioid overdose
  • 11 million Americans misused a prescription opioid in the past year
While these numbers are disturbing, steps are being taken to combat the war on opioid abuse. 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.U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration

Fox News reported what the reclassification entails. Initially in 1970, the Controlled Substances Act was passed, which placed hydrocodone in the Schedule III class, a class with less regulations. Under Schedule III, a prescription for Vicodin could 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 30-day prescription at a time.

The Drug Enforcement Administration identifies numerous brand and generic hydrocodone products in the United States. Most hydrocodone formulations are combination products, which means they contain hydrocodone and other ingredients. The most frequently prescribed combination is hydrocodone and acetaminophen.

Some common medications containing hydrocodone are:

  • Vicodin® (hydrocodone/acetaminophen)
  • Lorcet® (hydrocodone/acetaminophen)
  • Lortab®(hydrocodone/acetaminophen).
  • Lortab ASA® (hydrocodone/aspirin)
  • Vicoprofen® (hydrocodone/ibuprofen)
  • Hycomine® (hydrocodone/chlorpheniramine/phenylephrine/acetaminophen/caffeine)
Hydrocodone is believed to work by connecting to opioid receptors, which are located on cells 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 create 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 in ways where the effects occur faster, such as crushing the pills to snort or inject.

Effects of Hydrocodone:

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

After repeated use of hydrocodone over a period of several weeks, the body can develop a physical need for the drug. Therefore, with discontinuation of use, withdrawal symptoms can occur.

If you begin feeling withdrawal symptoms when you stop taking hydrocodone, your body has most likely developed dependence to the drug. Ideally, hydrocodone is intended for the short-term treatment of pain or cough suppression. The effects of hydrocodone can cause people to look for answers about how long it takes for this medication to completely clear from the body.

Depending on the dose and formulation of hydrocodone, the half-life of hydrocodone can vary from 3.5 to 9 hours.

For Vicodin or Lortab, it usually takes around 4 hours for the body to process and eliminate half the hydrocodone dose that was taken.

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 cause a number of withdrawal symptoms that anyone stopping it should be aware of. It is important to seek medical attention when discontinuing long-term hydrocodone use to avoid and monitor for medical emergencies such as seizures or serious increases in blood pressure. Each person 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. It varies from person to person. 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.
  • Body height / weight / fat: Normally, prescribed doses of hydrocodone are based on the size of the person, 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 kidneys are key organs for processing and eliminating anything from the body. If the liver or kidneys are damaged, the elimination process will take longer.
  • Metabolism: The faster a person’s metabolism, the faster the body will break down and use 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 hydrocodone 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. Dose, 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 be 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.

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.