Hydrocodone is a popular prescribed painkiller (narcotic) that is given to individuals who are experiencing moderate to severe pain. You might more commonly know the drug by its brand names – such as Vicodin, Lortab, and Norco. The painkiller can be a wonder drug to those suffering, but also has a dark side for people who become addicted to it. Hydrocodone is an opioid, in the same family as oxycodone and morphine – and like these similar opiate drugs, comes an increased possibility of dependence and addiction. It is estimated that between 26.4 million and 36 million people worldwide are addicted to opioids, such as hydrocodone. In the United States alone, more than 2.1 million people are addicted to this popular medication and others similar to it. In fact, this epidemic has become so widespread across all demographics in America that in 2018, the Department of Transportation even took steps to curb its use by updating their DOT drug testing regulations to include four additional semi-synthetic opioid drugs.
The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration’s (SAMHSA’s) National Survey on Drug Use and Health confirms that 5.9% of all entrants into rehabilitation (rehab) facilities are there because of opioid (e.g., hydrocodone) abuse. Sixty percent of individuals in rehab facilities are White, 21% are African-American, and 14% are Hispanic and Latino. American Indians or Alaska Natives and Asian/Pacific Islanders make up 2.3% and 1% of the population of individuals in rehab facilities, respectively.
Why the Sudden Increase in Hydrocodone Addictions?
You might be thinking that hydrocodone addiction rates seem to be skyrocketing lately – to the point that government officials are even recognizing that the United States is under an opioid addiction epidemic. You would be correct in your thoughts! The SAMHSA reports that rates of hydrocodone addiction have quadrupled since 1999 alone. So, what’s causing the increase? A couple of factors:
- Higher manufacturing rates of hydrocodone (the United States makes up about 100% of all hydrocodone consumption worldwide according to the National Institute of Drug Abuse)
- The incredible increase in hydrocodone prescriptions written – for reference, in 1999, doctors wrote 76 million opioid prescriptions. In 2013, doctors were estimated to have written 207 million prescriptions for opioids.
With this increase in doctors writing hydrocodone prescriptions, comes a higher percentage of hydrocodone addiction problems. Emergency room visits, hospitalizations, rehab rates, and mortality rates have all increased exponentially in recent years due to non-prescription hydrocodone abuse. And this addiction rate doesn’t look to be slowing down any time soon.
Symptoms of Hydrocodone Abuse
Why is hydrocodone so addictive? And, what symptoms should you be aware of if you suspect someone you know is suffering from a hydrocodone addiction? Individuals who are abusing hydrocodone may exhibit a number of physical symptoms as well as behavioral symptoms. According to Rehab International Organization, hydrocodone addiction accounts for more than 60% of all drug addictions, with addiction rates increasing by 20% each year. And teens are at the forefront of those suffering from this drug addiction.
Hydrocodone abuse can be spotted by individuals exhibiting some or all of the following behaviors:
- Taking more hydrocodone than a typical dose (overusing the drug)
- Hiding the drug from others and/or lying about taking the drug
- Stealing to get their hands on more hydrocodone
- Purchasing hydrocodone illegally (i.e., on the streets)
- Manipulating health care providers to obtain hydrocodone prescriptions
- Seeing two or more doctors to obtain prescriptions
- Exaggerating pain symptoms to receive additional hydrocodone prescriptions or refills
- Becoming socially isolated
- Showing signs of anger when asked about their hydrocodone use or when their drug supply runs low or out
- Being obsessed with how much of the drug they possess and/or holding onto large quantities of the drug in fear of running out
- Exhibiting withdrawal symptoms
When hydrocodone addicts run out of the drug, they will likely exhibit a number of withdrawal symptoms until they can get their hands on more. In fact, withdrawal symptoms can start to present themselves within just 6 hours of not having the drug.
Withdrawal symptoms can include:
- Insomnia and related sleep disturbances
- Severe drug cravings
- Upset stomach/diarrhea
- Stomach cramps
- Loss of appetite
- Watery eyes/runny nose
- Muscle pains and aches
- Flu-like symptoms
Individuals who become addicted to hydrocodone eventually need to take more and more of the drug to experience the euphoric highs they are seeking from the pain medication. When they take higher and higher dosages than intended, they place themselves at risk for a hydrocodone overdose. The signs of hydrocodone overdose include:
- Cold/clammy hands
- Slowed breathing and heartbeat
- All over muscle weakness
- Loss of consciousness
If you suspect someone is suffering from a hydrocodone overdose, call 911 and get them to a hospital right away.
Hydrocodone Rehab Facilities/Programs
Individuals who become addicted to hydrocodone should enter rehab facilities or rehab programs to wean themselves off of the drug. On average, withdrawal symptoms will last for approximately one week when individuals detox from the drug. The height of the physical withdrawal symptoms mentioned above occur 72 hours after stopping hydrocodone use.
If you enter into a treatment or rehab facility for hydrocodone abuse, the doctors will wean you off of hydrocodone slowly – decreasing your intake by about 25% per day. This lessens the number of withdrawal symptoms and the severity of these symptoms.
While the physical withdrawal symptoms are short-lived, the psychological withdrawal symptoms can continue for months after ceasing the use of hydrocodone. This is especially where rehab centers and drug counselors are beneficial if you are suffering from hydrocodone addiction. Some of the more emotional side effects of hydrocodone withdrawal include intense cravings and being easily swayed by temptations (i.e., loss of self-control around drugs).
Hydrocodone rehab includes both inpatient and outpatient facilities and treatment programs. Inpatient rehab facilities supervise medical detox programs for hydrocodone abusers. Although the physical withdrawal from hydrocodone is rarely life-threatening, it’s not a pleasant experience to go through because of all of the physical symptoms you may experience.
The real focus of both inpatient and outpatient rehab treatment centers is on the psychological withdrawal from hydrocodone. Because the psychological factors are usually what keep an individual from recovering on their own (after detox), it’s important to seek psychological counseling when undergoing rehab from hydrocodone addiction.
Hydrocodone abusers who attend outpatient facilities for rehab do not stay at the rehab facility. Rather, they attend a few hours of counseling sessions, sometimes on a daily basis, and then leave the rehab facility and stay with family or friends. Outpatient rehab facilities work better with individuals who can handle the freedom of not being supervised 24/7 as with an inpatient rehab facility. Most often, the choice between attending outpatient vs. inpatient rehab facilities is based on the severity of your drug addiction.
Inpatient rehab facilities are more standard for those suffering from moderate to severe hydrocodone addiction. In these types of rehab facilities, you’ll undergo detox under medical supervision and then attend daily counseling sessions to help you cope with the psychological side of drug addiction. The typical minimum stay in an inpatient rehab facility is 28 days, though many individuals stay longer to get the help they need to kick the drug addiction without the distraction of home life.
In addition to medical detox and rehab, some medications can be prescribed to individuals suffering from hydrocodone abuse to treat dependence on opioids. One of the most common prescriptions for treatment of opioid addiction, according to the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP), is Buprenorphine products (e.g., Subutex). These products fill opioid receptors in the brain to counter withdrawal symptoms such that when someone takes hydrocodone, it will no longer get them “high.”
Update 2019: There is encouraging evidence from studies that lab grade CBD oil is effective in providing relief from withdrawals from heroin and other opiate addiction rehab.
Hydrocodone addiction rehab facilities are only one step in the process for kicking an addiction to this narcotic medication. Once an individual goes through medical detox and rehab, it’s important that the individuals learn relapse prevention techniques to avoid starting the process over again.
Finding a Hydrocodone Treatment Center
If you or an individual you know is suffering from hydrocodone addiction, you are not alone. As one of the most abused drugs out there, it’s not hard to imagine that someone you know might be suffering from dependence on this medication.
To find a hydrocodone treatment center that will work with your needs, you can search online for types of rehab facilities that will meet your needs. Different treatment programs may work for different people. Beyond outpatient and inpatient rehab facilities, there are options for state-funded treatment centers as well as rehab facilities covered by insurance.
Recognizing the problem and undergoing detox is just one step of treating hydrocodone addiction. The most comprehensive treatment plans will also include psychological counseling and prevention techniques. And with the rise of opioid addiction the world is experiencing (and the potential for prescription medication abuse to lead to other illegal street drugs), the importance of getting help for hydrocodone addictions cannot be stressed enough.