Hydrocodone Abuse: Signs & Treatment

Hydrocodone is a semisynthetic opioid found in well-known painkiller brands such as Vicodin (now discontinued) and Norco. It is commonly prescribed for the management of moderate to severe pain and may also be used to suppress cough.1,2

What Are the Side Effects of Hydrocodone?

Hydrocodone use as a painkiller but it causes potential damage to the liver

Hydrocodone is a potent narcotic painkiller with a range of side effects that include:4-6

  • Constipation.
  • Nausea and vomiting.
  • Stomach pain.
  • Itching.
  • Dry mouth.
  • Drowsiness.
  • Headache.
  • Dizziness.
  • Confusion.
  • Depression.
  • Increased pain sensitivity.
  • Slowed breathing.

What Is Hydrocodone Abuse?

Prescription opioids should only be taken by the prescription holder and must only be taken exactly as prescribed and directed by a doctor. Misuse or abuse of a prescription medication may mean:5

  • Taking a medication that belongs to someone else.
  • Taking a medication in a way other than how it was prescribed (e.g., taking a larger dose or taking it more often than indicated).
  • Taking a medication for the purpose of getting high.
  • Using a prescription medication in a way other than how it was designed to be taken, for example by crushing and snorting or injecting it.

What Are the Signs that Someone Is Addicted to Hydrocodone?

Some signs that a person may be abusing or addicted to hydrocodone include: 4,5,7,8

  • Attempting to get hydrocodone refills by reporting lost/stolen prescriptions.
  • Seeking early refills.
  • Continually requesting increases in hydrocodone from doctors.
  • Visiting multiple doctors for hydrocodone or other opioids.
  • Showing signs of withdrawal when the hydrocodone prescription runs out
  • Unwillingness to discuss alternatives to hydrocodone or other opioids to treat pain.
  • Exaggerating symptoms of pain.
  • Seeming overly sedated/sleepy.
  • Appearing confused.
  • Regularly scratching the skin.
  • Small pupils.
  • Experiencing relationship problems related to hydrocodone use.
  • Not functioning well at work, home, or other areas of life.
  • Cravings for hydrocodone or other opioids.
  • Acting very secretive in an effort to hide hydrocodone use.
  • Changing social circles.
  • Erratic mood and/or noticeable changes in personality.

What Is Hydrocodone Withdrawal Like?

Dependence on a drug like hydrocodone means that your body has adapted to the constant presence of the substance and now needs it to function normally. Dependence is a normal physiological adaptation that may develop in association with continued use of many  medications, whether the drug is being taken as prescribed or is being misused.5 When you’ve become dependent on hydrocodone and then attempt to reduce your dose or quit completely, you are likely to experience withdrawal symptoms such as:5

  • Chills and sweating.
  • Goosebumps.
  • Yawning.
  • Teary eyes.
  • Runny nose.
  • Bone, joint, and muscle pain.
  • Nausea and vomiting.
  • Diarrhea.
  • Stomach cramps.
  • Restless legs.
  • Insomnia.
  • Irritability and anxiety.
  • Loss of appetite.

Withdrawal from hydrocodone and other opioids can feel very uncomfortable but it is not usually life-threatening. Certain medical complications such as dehydration from diarrhea and vomiting or complications from another unknown preexisting condition (e.g., cardiac complications) can increase a person’s risk.9 Medications utilized in professional detoxification programs can help to alleviate the discomfort and drug cravings associated with opioid withdrawal.9


Prescription Drug Categories


How Do You Treat Hydrocodone Addiction?

Therapy and Counseling for Recovery

There is no single path to recovery for hydrocodone addiction. Treatment should be designed around the unique needs of each patient.10 Those with more severe opioid addictions may need to spend time in an inpatient rehab program to do intensive work on the issues that led them to abuse hydrocodone. Those with less severe addictions and/or a great deal of social support may do well beginning in some form of outpatient treatment.11,12

A combination of behavioral therapy plus FDA-approved medications for opioid use disorder is more effective in helping a person to stay sober long-term than either medication or behavioral therapy alone. This combination is referred to as medication-assisted treatment, or MAT. Medications used as part of MAT for opioid addiction include methadone, buprenorphine, and naltrexone. These medications may be prescribed for as long as they are effective (months or even years).13

At Sunrise House, we offer both medical detox and inpatient programs, as well as medication-assisted treatment. And we individualize your treatment plan so that you receive the kind of care that works best for you.

Our admissions process is simple, and we’re here to help you any time of day. If you’re in crisis and need assistance now, call us at .

Frequently Asked Questions

What are street names for hydrocodone?

Hydrocodone has numerous brand names, including Vicodin (discontinued), Lortab (discontinued), Zohydro and Norco. Many, though not all, street names for hydrocodone drugs were derived from former and current brand names. They include:14-16

  • Tabs.
  • Hydros.
  • Norco.
  • Vike.
  • Vic,
  • V-itamins.
  • Fluff.
  • Watson-387.

What are the symptoms of a hydrocodone overdose?

When someone abuses hydrocodone-containing medications or any opioid, they put themselves at increased risk of experiencing a life-threatening opioid overdose, which can cause extremely slowed breathing. This may result in hypoxia (a lack of oxygen to the brain) and death.5

Symptoms of an opioid overdose include:17

  • Tiny pinpoint pupils.
  • Extreme sleepiness or unconsciousness.
  • Very slow or shallow or stopped breathing.
  • Limp body.
  • Blue, cold, or pale skin.
  • Choking or gurgling sounds.

If you see someone displaying these signs, get help immediately. Call 9-1-1 and stay with the person until help arrives. Lay them on their side with knees bent to avoid choking, and administer naloxone if you have any with you. Get more information about the steps to take in an opioid overdose.

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