Hydrocodone is an opioid medication that’s prescribed to treat moderate-to-severe pain. It’s often prescribed in combination with other medications, such as acetaminophen (Tylenol), to help manage pain after surgery or injury.
As an opioid, hydrocodone has the potential to be highly addictive, particularly when misused or taken for an extended period. Many people believe that hydrocodone is fairly “safe” compared to other more powerful opioids, like oxycodone or heroin, but the grim reality is that hydrocodone is about as strong as morphine and isn’t much weaker than the other two.
If you’re taking hydrocodone, you’re not taking a “weaker” or “safer” opioid — you’re taking one that’s just as addictive and dangerous as the more powerful opioids out there. Like other opioids, it’s possible to get addicted to hydrocodone fairly quickly.
However, despite this, hydrocodone is considered to have a lower risk of addiction compared to other opioids for a number of reasons.
One of the big ones is that the form hydrocodone is usually prescribed in — a tablet or pill mixed with acetaminophen or another NSAID (nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug), like ibuprofen — is hard to abuse.
Unlike many forms of oxycodone or oxymorphone — both of which can be crushed up and then eaten for a faster effect, snorted, or injected — the NSAID makes these methods of abuse impractical.
Another reason is that hydrocodone is perceived, as mentioned, to be less addictive compared to other opioids despite the fact that it’s just as addictive as morphine.
Whatever the case, it’s a powerful opioid with serious addictive potential that should be taken with extreme caution.
The timeline for developing an addiction varies from person to person and depends on many different factors, like how often you use, how much you use, your genetic predisposition to addiction, and more.
For some, addiction can develop within just a few weeks while others may take months or even years to become dependent. It all depends on you and your situation. If you’re using hydrocodone for just a few weeks after surgery and you have no history of addiction, it’s unlikely that you’ll end up addicted.
However, if you have a history of addiction, especially opioid addiction, even a week may be enough to get you addicted again.
For others who have no history of addiction, take a very low dose only when needed, and only take it for severe pain, it’s unlikely they’ll ever develop an addiction. It all depends on the person and their unique situation.
However, in most cases, if you suspect that you have a problem, the reality is that you probably do. People who aren’t addicts and don’t have a problem rarely question whether they do or not.
It’s important to understand that addiction rarely starts off as a serious problem right from the beginning. For most people, addiction takes time to develop.
It can be very subtle, so it’s critical that you watch for the common symptoms of hydrocodone addiction if you suspect that you or a loved one is addicted. If you see these signs, you’ll want to do something about them right away.
What most people don’t realize is that, in many cases, addiction can be stopped before it has time to get out of control. If you see yourself starting to slip and take action quickly, you might be able to save yourself a lot of pain and suffering.
Here are some common hydrocodone addiction symptoms to watch out for:
Identifying hydrocodone addiction in your family or friends can be challenging as they may try to hide their addiction.
Most people who are suffering from addiction are in denial, especially in the initial stages of addiction, so they try to hide what they know is problematic, hoping things won’t get worse.
However, there are several signs to look for that may indicate a problem:
If you notice these signs in a loved one, try not to get upset or angry and instead talk to them with compassion and understanding. They likely won’t want to admit that they have a problem or will be afraid that you’ll judge them, so it's crucial to offer support and encouragement to seek help.
However, you don’t want to go too far and start enabling them. At some point, if they’re not willing to stop on their own or seek help, you might have to hold them accountable by insisting that they get help.
If they don’t, you might have to implement some consequences so that they see you’re serious.
As mentioned, hydrocodone addiction is much more dangerous than most people give it credit for. In addition to what’s already been listed, leaving your addiction untreated can cause numerous other problems in your life.
Some of the dangers associated with untreated hydrocodone addiction include:
What many people don’t realize is that, in some cases, these problems can’t be fixed easily — and in some cases, they can’t be fixed at all.
Even if you don’t die during an overdose, you can cause permanent damage to your body and brain. Strained relationships can’t always be fixed, and legal problems can affect you for the rest of your life. Even losing a job can derail your entire career permanently.
These are serious consequences that deserve serious consideration. They’re not something to take lightly.
If your loved one is regularly abusing hydrocodone, overdose is a serious possibility. Opioid overdose is so dangerous that it can lead to death because opioids can stop your breathing.
Here’s what to look out for if you think your loved one might have overdosed.
One of the most common signs of hydrocodone overdose is slow or shallow breathing. Hydrocodone, like other opioids, acts on the central nervous system and can depress respiratory function.
In the case of an overdose, a person may struggle to breathe, or their breathing may become irregular and shallow. This can lead to a lack of oxygen in the body, which can be life-threatening if not addressed.
Someone who is experiencing a hydrocodone overdose may have cold, clammy skin, a weak pulse, or both. These signs indicate that the body is struggling to maintain proper blood flow and oxygen levels, which can be life-threatening.
Confusion and drowsiness are other common signs of a hydrocodone overdose. The drug can cause cognitive impairment, making it difficult for the affected person to think clearly or respond to stimuli.
They may appear confused, disoriented, or have difficulty staying awake. If you notice someone exhibiting these signs after taking hydrocodone, it's essential to seek medical attention immediately.
A more severe sign of hydrocodone overdose is a loss of consciousness. The person may become unresponsive or slip into a coma.
This can result from the drug's effects on the central nervous system and is extremely dangerous. If someone loses consciousness after taking hydrocodone, call for emergency help right away to ensure they receive the necessary medical intervention.
If you or a loved one is struggling with hydrocodone addiction, it's critical to seek help as soon as possible.
Not everyone goes to rehab right away, though that’s very common. There are many other alternatives that don’t require you to withdraw from life entirely for 30 days or more, like intensive outpatient programs (IOP) or sober living.
In IOP, you usually spend 2–3 hours in a group session 2–3 times a week with others struggling with addiction, listening to educational lectures, doing group therapy, or hearing from other addicts who have recovered.
In most IOPs, you get access to the same type of therapies that you’d get in rehab, just on a smaller scale. This can be a good way to get treatment for your addiction while still remaining with your family and continuing to work.
Sober living is another option, where you move into a sober house. You’ll be drug tested regularly and required to attend a certain number of 12-Step meetings, meetings in other recovery programs like SMART Recovery, and/or therapy appointments.
Sober living requires a larger investment of time because you’re not living at home anymore, but the higher level of accountability can be a great way to jumpstart your recovery once you’ve detoxed from hydrocodone.
As you seek help for hydrocodone addiction, it's essential to remain open and honest about your struggles and needs. This honesty will allow healthcare professionals to provide the most effective treatment plan possible.
If sober living or IOP isn’t enough, several more intensive treatment options are available for overcoming hydrocodone addiction, each catering to the unique needs and circumstances of the individual.
Because opioids are physically addictive and cause withdrawal, most people who are addicted to hydrocodone need to detox before going into rehab. Detox is important for a couple of reasons.
First, if you try to detox on your own without medical help, the withdrawals might be dangerous, especially if you have other health conditions, like heart disease or diabetes.
Second, if your withdrawals are particularly bad, you might not be able to handle them and might go back to using right away.
Every detox center is different. Some will give you other opioids, like Suboxone, to wean you off hydrocodone. Others might only give you benzodiazepines, like Librium, until you’re able to get through the withdrawals.
Inpatient rehab programs provide a structured, supervised environment where you can focus solely on your recovery for 30 days or more. These programs typically include individual and group therapy, medication management, and support for co-occurring mental health issues.
Going to rehab is fairly common, and there’s no shame in it. If you’re not able to stop on your own or through other methods, rehab might be the best choice.
MAT involves using medications like methadone, Suboxone, or naltrexone to help manage withdrawal symptoms and cravings.
This approach can be an effective component of a comprehensive addiction treatment plan but is usually reserved for people who have struggled to stay sober through other approaches in the past.
Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), family therapy, and other counseling approaches can address the underlying issues contributing to addiction and teach you healthy coping strategies for maintaining sobriety.
Maintaining sobriety after recovering from hydrocodone addiction can be challenging, but there are several strategies to help support your ongoing recovery:
It's essential to remember that recovery is a lifelong process, and you may have some setbacks. However, with the right tools and support, it's possible to maintain sobriety and reclaim your life.
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Cristal Clark, LPC-S, is the Medical Reviewer for ASIC Recovery Services. She reviews all website content for quality and medical accuracy. She is a master’s level Licensed Professional Counselor Supervisor and graduated from Liberty University in 2011. She has worked in the behavioral and mental health field for over 12 years and has a passion for helping others. She has been clinical director and CEO of a 200 plus bed facility, PHP, and IOP, with experience managing a team of counselors, individual/group/and family therapy, and coordinating continuum of care. Cristal is trained in EMDR and certified in non-violent intervention. She is a member of American Counseling Association and American Association of Christian Counselors.