Addiction to opioid medications is an epidemic in the United States. As prescribing practices to treat pain changed in 1999, more and more people received prescriptions for potent opioid drugs, like Vicodin, Percocet, and OxyContin. Many of these medications are intended for short-term use. They typically act on pain for 4-6 hours and then wear off.

People who are prone to substance abuse and addiction are more likely to develop an addiction to, and dependence on, these medications, and they often continue to abuse them after their prescription has ended. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) notes that, between 2000 and 2015, a half-million people died from opioid overdose related to abuse and addiction. Currently, around 91 people die per day in the United States due to narcotics addiction. Although many prescription practices have changed to reduce the impact of this epidemic, people who become addicted to temporary prescriptions like Vicodin may switch to more potent drugs, like heroin or fentanyl.

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Vicodin Use Health Concerns

  • Hearing Loss
  • Chronic Constipation
  • Liver Damage
  • Kidney Failure
  • Cardiovascular Damage
  • Brain Damage
  • Reproductive Problems
  • Pregnancy Risk
  • Dependence
  • Addiction

What Is Vicodin?

Vicodin is an opioid painkiller that combines hydrocodone, an opioid medication, and acetaminophen, an over-the-counter painkiller that can also treat fever. Both of these drugs are very effective at treating pain, and they act on two different regions of the brain. By combining these medications, pain can be treated more effectively.

However, Vicodin is prescribed to treat moderate or severe pain that will likely go away, such as pain after surgery or pain due to an injury that is being treated. When people become addicted to this medication, they can suffer many serious side effects, especially if they abuse the drug on a long-term basis. Hydrocodone by itself can be dangerous, and large doses of acetaminophen can cause serious harm as well.

The Most Common Long-Term Problems due to Vicodin Use

Here are the 10 most common long-term problems associated with Vicodin addiction:

  1. Hearing Loss

    Profound hearing loss can occur due to long-term Vicodin abuse, and this damage may not be reversible. One report notes that people who take between 15 and 75 Vicodin tablets per day can suffer hearing loss, ranging from minor loss to complete loss of hearing. Sometimes, the damage can be so extensive that finding an effective hearing aid can be difficult.

  2. Chronic Constipation

    Opioid drugs are linked to constipation. This side effect can begin as soon as the person begins taking the medication, or it could take more time to develop. Doctors who prescribe opioid painkillers may also prescribe stool softeners or fiber supplements to reduce the impact of constipation. Although constipation is very treatable, it can cause serious long-term problems if untreated or if it occurs consistently due to Vicodin abuse. Hemorrhoids and prolapse are damaging and painful side effects from long-term constipation.

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  4. Liver Damage
    Liver damage can occur with opioid drugs, but for people who struggle with Vicodin, it is more likely to occur because of the acetaminophen added to hydrocodone. Elevated liver enzymes begin when a person takes more than four grams (4,000 mg) of acetaminophen per day for 3-7 days. When these enzymes are elevated for a long time, liver damage occurs.
  5. Kidney Failure
    A report from as early as 2001 noted that 8-10 percent of people who took acetaminophen regularly suffered kidney damage. Doses of acetaminophen greater than the maximum recommended dose of 4,000 mg can lead to renal failure, which can occur because a person is struggling with Vicodin addiction or because they combined prescription Vicodin with over-the-counter cold or flu medications that contain acetaminophen.
  6. Cardiovascular Damage
    Taking large doses of Vicodin, or other opioids, for a long time can lead to irregular heartbeat, which in turn can cause damage to arteries and veins or heart attack.
  7. Brain Damage
    Opioid medications like Vicodin reduce breathing rates, which can deprive the body of oxygen over time. This deprivation can damage many organ systems, particularly the brain. Personality changes, memory loss, difficulties with cognition, and cognitive decline are all signs of brain damage.
  8. Reproductive Problems
    Opioid narcotics like Vicodin can cause low hormone levels, especially in men. A study linked low testosterone levels and erectile dysfunction to chronic opioid abuse.
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  10. Pregnancy Risk
    Narcotic drugs have been linked to addiction in infants, so babies can go through painful withdrawal when they are born. Addiction to any narcotic, from Vicodin to heroin, can lead to low birth weight and premature birth, both of which can be dangerous for the child’s short-term survival as well as long-term quality of life.
  11. Dependence
    Physical dependence on a medication like Vicodin can occur if the person is taking the drug as prescribed at regular, monitored doses. However, it is also used as a metric for measuring addiction because the body becomes used to the drug much more quickly at higher doses. When the body receives a regular dose of potent drugs that bind to opioid receptors and help control the release of neurotransmitters like dopamine, the brain begins to need the presence of that chemical to reach physical equilibrium. When a person has developed dependence, they are more likely to experience withdrawal symptoms when they stop taking their medication. Many doctors will taper their patients’ doses of pain medication over time to help prevent withdrawal symptoms.
  12. Addiction
    Addiction is the compulsive ingestion of an intoxicating substance specifically to get high. The compulsion becomes self-destructive, and the individual begins to seek substances rather than go to work or school, attend social functions, or perform other routine activities. This self-harming condition is linked to the forced release of neurotransmitters like dopamine and serotonin, which lead to the euphoria associated with many addictive substances, including Vicodin. The brain’s reward center is falsely triggered by drugs like Vicodin, especially at large doses, so the person feels bad or anxious when the drug wears off.

Long-term abuse of Vicodin can lead to serious, and sometimes irreversible, physical harm. Compulsive abuse can also lead to overdose, which may cause death. Working with a medical professional to safely detox from Vicodin and then participating in a complete rehabilitation program is the best course of action to overcome a Vicodin addiction.

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