Hydrocodone is a potent opioid pain reliever, available by prescription in America. Hydrocodone is also classified as a narcotic, and it’s the active opioid in several brand-name drugs such as Lortab, Vicodin, and Norco, all of which have a serious potential for abuse and addiction.
Below is an overview of hydrocodone, and information on what to expect with a hydrocodone drug test. There is also information on how long hydrocodone stays in your system.
As with other opioids, when someone takes hydrocodone it is believed to work by binding and activating to opioid receptors in the central nervous system. Hydrocodone changes the way a person senses pain and, in the short-term, it raises their tolerance for pain. In the long-term, opioid use often decreases pain tolerance (a phenomenon referred to as opioid-induced hyperalgesia). Since taking hydrocodone activates the brain’s pleasure and reward center, it can also cause people to feel a sense of euphoria, or a high.
This fact is especially true if someone takes large doses of the medication, or takes it in ways other than how it’s intended to be used, such as snorting it, or dissolving it and injecting it.
Opioid addiction and abuse have become serious problems in communities throughout the U.S., and the addictive nature of these medications contributes to the difficulty in finding solutions for the opioid epidemic.
Since hydrocodone is so frequently used in combination medications with acetaminophen, people should exercise extreme caution. Acetaminophen, the active ingredient in Tylenol, can cause liver damage, especially in higher doses. So, not only are there the risks associated with the hydrocodone itself but if someone is abusing a drug that also contains acetaminophen, they’re putting themselves at risk of liver damage or acute liver failure because of that substance.
First, when someone takes hydrocodone they will usually begin feeling the initial effects within about 10 to 20 minutes, and the peak effectiveness of the drug is apparent in anywhere from 30 to 60 minutes. The effects are then experienced for anywhere from four to eight hours.
The half-life of a standard 10 mg dose of hydrocodone is just under four hours.
What this means is that if you use hydrocodone, it will take your body about four hours to eliminate half of the drug from your system. If you’re dependent on hydrocodone, it would usually take anywhere from 6 to 12 hours for you to start feeling withdrawal symptoms after you take your last dose.
How long it takes your body to eliminate hydrocodone can also depend not just on the drug, but many individual factors including your overall health, genetics, and how often or heavily you use hydrocodone.
All drugs have a certain window of detection time, and often during a hydrocodone drug test, the substance is still detectable, even long after you’ve stopped feeling the effects.
Also, whether or not a hydrocodone drug test will show the substance can depend on how the test is administered.
When someone takes a hydrocodone drug test, it shows whether or not there is a certain amount of a drug breakdown product in the system, and the cutoff level for detection can depend on the screener’s testing preferences.
Most of the hydrocodone in a person’s system is eliminated through their urine, and while the actual hydrocodone might not be detectable after a 24-hour window, certain breakdown products, including one called norhydrocodone, can be detected for up to two days after use in the urine. Also, in people who use hydrocodone heavily, the norhydrocodone may be detectable for longer than two days since the drug tends to build up in the system.
There are even some estimates showing that a hydrocodone urine test can show the drug for up to a week after the last time it was used.
Aside from a hydrocodone urine test, other drug tests could be used as well such as blood, saliva or hair tests, but these aren’t used very often because they are more invasive, expensive and difficult to conduct.
National Center for Biotechnology Information. “Opioid-induced hyperalgesia: a qualitative systematic review.” Anesthesiology. Published March 2006. Accessed January 2019.