Vicodin Addiction: A Comprehensive Guide to This Dangerous Prescription Drug

Vicodin addiction and abuse has become a serious problem in the modern drug-abusing world.

Made from a combination of hydrocodone and acetaminophen, Vicodin has been an incredibly popular opioid-of-choice for many prescribing physicians. From 2009 to 2014, around 71.4 billion dosage units of hydrocodone were distributed in the United States. Oxycodone (another popular opioid of abuse) only had around 40 billion dosage units during the same time.

In fact, according to the Drug Enforcement Administration, Vicodin has consistently remained one of the most frequently abused prescription opioids in the United States and was the second most frequently encountered opioid in drug evidence from 2009 to 2010.  

Becoming addicted to Vicodin also carries with it a number of dramatic health problems that many people may not be aware of.

Ignoring the extremely high risk of addiction that this dangerous drug combination has, there’s also:

  • The threat of damage to internal organs like the liver
  • Physical degradation of the brain
  • Infections of the heart and abnormal functioning
  • Increased probability of turning to more hazardous substances

And when you add in the threat of a potentially fatal overdose as well, this is one drug that’s not worth the consequences involved.

This comprehensive guide to Vicodin abuse and addiction will cover all you need to know about this deadly prescription opioid – from what it is and how it factors into the current opioid crisis to the short- and long-term consequences of developing an addiction to it.

What Is Vicodin Exactly?

Vicodin is a combination of the powerful opioid analgesic hydrocodone as well as the milder pain reliever acetaminophen (which helps to increase the potency of the hydrocodone).

vicodin addiction treatment

Like other prescription opioids, Vicodin is used to treat both chronic and acute pain, usually the kind that other pain relievers tend to not be able to treat. Opioids like Vicodin should be considered a second or even third choice of treatment specifically because of their tendency to cause physical dependence and eventually addiction.

There are a range of Vicodin dosages which vary the amount of hydrocodone and are distinctly branded to distinguish between these dosages. The variations, according to, are as follows:

  • Vicodin: 5mg of hydrocodone and 300mg of acetaminophen (5mg/300mg)
  • Vicodin ES: 7.5mg of hydrocodone and 300mg of acetaminophen (7.5mg/300mg)
  • Vicodin HP: 10mg of hydrocodone and 300mg of acetaminophen (10mg/300mg)

When used according to your doctor’s prescription, Vicodin can be an absolute lifesaver when it comes to treating pain. But when this drug is abused, it can be incredibly damaging to both your body and mind while also putting you at risk of developing a crippling addiction.

We are in the middle of what’s been called an opioid epidemic by major health associations like the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the World Health Organization, and National Institute of Mental Health.

Driven by the immense upsurge of prescription opioid use and abuse over the past several decades, the U.S. has become flooded with clinical-grade painkillers that are not only exceptionally powerful, they’re also inescapably addictive.

Used to treat everything from post-surgery and cancer-related pain to lower back injuries and migraines, sales of medical opioids quadrupled from 1999 to 2014. What’s more, our overall amount of pain as a country remained relatively the same during that time.

This overprescribing (combined with relentless marketing by pharmaceutical companies) has contributed to what may be the most widely-addicted U.S. population in the history of our country.

In fact, life expectancy as a whole for United States citizens has even taken a hit. Due in part to the swelling of the opioid-addicted population, drug overdose has now become the leading cause of death for Americans under 50 years.

A record high, 2016 saw 63,632 confirmed cases of fatal overdoses. A whopping 66.4% of those (or 42,249) involved an opioid of some kind.

And while there have been numerous measures put in place to try and combat this dramatic rise in opioid-related deaths, drug users are finding ways to circumvent such regulations. Drug analogues, for example, give companies the ability to circumvent DEA scheduling and market the substance as fully legal.

The DEA has actually been forced to declare emergency scheduling on some opioid analogues in a desperate effort to help curb the rampant overdoses related to these products.

Ultimately, America is becoming ever more addicted. And arming yourself with education about drugs like oxycodone, hydrocodone, and other prescription opioids is one of the best ways to prevent their abuse.

One of the most common questions among Vicodin abusers is how long does it take to get physically addicted to hydrocodone? And while there is no way to predict with 100% accuracy how long it will take you specifically to build up a physical dependency, the general consensus is that it’ll probably end up happening much quicker than you think.

Physical dependency is usually characterized by two types of reactions: an increase in tolerance to the drug and experiencing withdrawals. Tolerance is defined as needing to take more of a substance to achieve the same effect and withdrawal is characterized by numerous uncomfortable side effects when that drug isn’t used as often as normal. The two are often interconnected since it’s the body’s same physical changes that result in both.

The exact changes that occur in your body to cause these two reactions vary from drug to drug. It may be a boost in potency of certain neurotransmitters, a change in natural production of chemicals like dopamine, or even the growing or killing of specialized cell receptors in the body and brain.

Prescription opioids like Vicodin and opioids in general can end up building tolerance incredibly quickly. In some cases where especially high doses of opioids are administered, patients have developed a physical tolerance within hours of use.

It’s no wonder, then, that 1 in 4 people who receive long-term prescription opioids end up struggling with addiction.

In the end, if you are abusing your Vicodin prescription, dependency can build up quite quickly and you may start noticing signs of tolerance or withdrawals within just a few weeks of use.

Vicodin Overdose: Know the Signs

Overdosing on Vicodin is most definitely a cause for concern. According to the CDC, in 2016,  more than 46 people died every single day from overdoses involving prescription opioids like Vicodin.

And while overdoses can be exceptionally fatal, when the proper emergency services are contacted in time, it is possible to recover from an overdose without any lasting damage. That’s why it’s so important to be able to recognize the signs of a deadly opioid overdose so you can get help before it’s too late.

According to MedlinePlus, the most common symptoms of hydrocodone overdose are:

  • Bluish-colored fingernails and lips
  • Breathing problems, including slow and labored breathing, shallow breathing, or no breathing
  • Cold, clammy skin
  • Coma
  • Confusion
  • Dizziness
  • Drowsiness
  • Fatigue
  • Lightheadedness
  • Liver failure (from acetaminophen overdose)
  • Loss of consciousness
  • Low blood pressure
  • Muscle twitches
  • Tiny pupils
  • Seizures
  • Spasms of the stomach and intestines
  • Weakness
  • Weak pulse

If you think someone you know is overdosing on Vicodin, it’s vital that you contact emergency services immediately. Due to the severe respiratory depression that often occurs, the brain may not be getting sufficient oxygen and within minutes can suffer permanent cellular damage.

It’s also important to note that mixing Vicodin and alcohol also increases the risk of overdose. While abusing them at the same time can heighten their pleasurable effects, they both have a tendency to decrease respiration. And when each of their effects overlap, it can bring on dangerously low respiration much quicker than if each are used separately.

It’s crucial to your health, then, that you avoid mixing Vicodin and alcohol at all costs.

What Are Some of The Short-Term Effects of Abusing Vicodin?

In the short-term, Vicodin is relatively easy on the body as far as harmful side effects go. Used appropriately, Vicodin can help patients manage their chronic and acute pain because of its analgesic effects.

When abused, however, either via snorting, injecting, or taking more than prescribed, Vicodin can create overpowering feelings of well-being, euphoria, and sedation. This, of course, is the main goal of most people who end up abusing the drug.

  • Dizziness
  • Lightheadedness
  • Drowsiness
  • Relaxation and calmness
  • Sleepiness
  • Slowed respiration
  • Stomach pain
  • Dry mouth
  • Tiredness
  • Headache
  • Back pain
  • Muscle tightening
  • Difficult, frequent, or painful urination
  • Ringing in the ears
  • Difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep
  • Foot, leg, or ankle swelling
  • Uncontrollable shaking of a part of the body

The severity of these short-term side effects will likely be directly impact by just how severe your addiction is. The higher and more frequent the dosage, the worse these side effects will likely be.

And of course, one of the most notable short-term effects of abusing Vicodin is an increased risk of overdose which, as we’ve seen, can in fact be fatal.

Long-Term Effects of Vicodin Abuse 

Abusing Vicodin in the long-term comes with a number of pretty serious health complications, some of which may actually lead to permanent damage to both the body and the brain. The heart, lungs, liver, stomach, and more can all be dramatically impacted by Vicodin abuse over time.

In addition to the physical changes in the brain that come specifically with addiction (in areas that, according to NIDA, are “critical to judgment, decision making, learning and memory, and behavior control”), certain opioids have been shown to reduce levels of the brain’s white matter over time.

These physical changes may affect decision-making abilities, the ability to regulate behavior, and responses to stressful situations.

Vicodin use in some cases has been shown to lead to abnormal heartbeat which, in turn, can lead to serious cardiovascular problems in some cases. Beyond that though, injecting Vicodin can also lead to bacterial infection of the heart, especially when needles aren’t sterilized.

The main impact of Vicodin on the lungs has to do with hydrocodone’s side effect of decreasing respiration. Taken properly, this decreased respiration is negligible. But when Vicodin is abused, the slowed respiration can end up being quite severe and even deadly, especially when it comes to overdosing.

Injecting Vicodin bypasses the body’s main filtration system and instead pumps the pure drug directly into your veins. As a result, when the injected Vicodin reaches the liver and kidneys, it can end up causing serious damage over time.

Added to that, however, is the fact that acetaminophen is one of the main components of Vicodin. This drug has long been known to cause serious liver issues when taken inappropriately, even at small doses. When you abuse Vicodin, you’re making that damage even worse.

Opioids like hydrocodone are notorious for their gastrointestinal effects. Nausea and vomiting are common with regular use and over time, constipation can become a serious problem, especially when these drugs are abused.

That’s because the body’s opioid receptors aren’t just in the brain – they’re also in the gastrointestinal tract. And just as opioids cause sedation in the mind, they can also make your digestive system less effective as well. With continued Vicodin abuse, you can expect to suffer from chronic constipation as a result.

Irregular menstrual cycles and other hormonal imbalances are all common with continued opioid use and abuse. That’s because opioids seem to have a direct effect on the endocrine system and essentially block the release of certain hormones necessary for both libido and reproductive health.

According to the Mayo Clinic, there are a number of risks involving opioid abuse and pregnancy. These include:

  • Placental problems, including placental abruption and placental insufficiency
  • Premature rupture of membranes
  • Preterm labor and premature birth
  • Fetal growth restriction
  • Preeclampsia
  • Miscarriage or fetal death
  • Postpartum heavy bleeding
  • Inflammation of the fetal membranes (intra-amniotic infection)
  • Risk of neonatal abstinence syndrome (NAS)

How to Tell If Someone Is Addicted to Vicodin

Whether you’re struggling to find out if a friend or loved one is abusing a drug like Vicodin or if you’re questioning your own level of addiction, if there’s one thing that’s common among almost all victims of addiction, it’s the presence of denial. Maybe it’s your codependency at the root of it all, maybe it’s the refusal to admit that you need help, or maybe you just don’t want to face the fact that a simple habit has become a serious problem.

No matter what your situation is, it’s absolutely essential that you learn to face the truth of your situation and overcome your denial. And one of the best ways to do that is to start looking at the behaviors of you and your loved ones objectively.For these ladies, using amphetamines may seem to offer them a way to cope. With that in mind, it’s understandable why they might be drawn to using this powerful drug.

There are a couple of important signs to watch out for in others if you’re trying to spot a Vicodin addiction. They include:

  • You have a gut feeling your friend or family member is abusing Vicodin.
  • Your friend or loved one goes missing a lot or they have a lot of time unaccounted for.
  • There are a lot of missed days of school or work.
  • Personal hygiene is an issue
  • Money is missing
  • You have observed bizarre behavior.

While it can be tough to admit a friend or family member has an addiction to Vicodin, seeing the signs in yourself can be even harder. Luckily, there are a number of different resources you can use to help.

You can, for instance, take a short online addiction quiz to help you evaluate how bad your dependency and abuse has really gotten. It only takes a few minutes to complete and it could provide the valuable guidance you need to seek out professional treatment.

You can also dive in a bit deeper and use some of NIDA’s self-assessment tools to help you gauge your level of addiction.

In the end, the most important part of evaluating a level of addiction is to try to be completely objective. And these tools can help make doing so much easier.

Vicodin Withdrawal Symptoms

 After you’ve come to terms with your addiction, the next step is finding a drug detox program to begin your recovery process. This stage of recovery involves letting the body naturally cleanse itself of the toxic influence of Vicodin addiction and is necessary to counteract physical dependency.

However, detox from Vicodin is also marked by some pretty uncomfortable withdrawal symptoms. According to Mental Health Daily these include:

  • Abdominal cramps
  • Appetite changes
  • Chills
  • Cravings
  • Depression
  • Dizziness
  • Flu-like symptoms
  • Insomnia
  • Mood swings
  • Palpitations
  • Pupil dilation
  • Suicidal thinking
  • Vomiting
  • Yawning
  • Sweating
  • Sleep problems
  • Panic attacks
  • Nausea
  • Itching
  • Headaches
  • Fatigue
  • Diarrhea
  • Depersonalization
  • Confusion
  • Body aches
  • Anxiety

With the proper medical help and expert guidance from a professional drug detox and rehab program, you can overcome these painful symptoms and be well on your way to a sober and happier life.

Vicodin: One Prescription Addiction That’s Not Worth the Risks

Addiction to Vicodin and other prescription painkillers is one of the most substantial contributors to the ever-worsening opioid epidemic that’s ravaging the United States today. This drug is not only highly addictive like other prescription opioids, abusing it is also especially dangerous and comes with a long list of potential health complications.

That’s why if you or someone you love are struggling with a Vicodin addiction it’s incredibly important that you know where to go to find the professional help you need to recover and prevent relapse. And at Women’s Recovery, we have the expertise, dedicated staff, and proven processes to help you recover from your Vicodin addiction for good.

Contact us today and let us help you down the road to recovery.