How Long Does Hydrocodone Stay in Your System?

Darren McCollester Collection/Getty Images News

Hydrocodone is prescribed for people with severe pain. It is an opiate analgesic that works by changing the way the brain and nervous system respond to pain. Brand names for extended-release capsules and tablets include Hysingla and Zohydro ER. Besides hydrocodone alone, there are also products such as Vicodin, Lorcet, and Norco that combine hydrocodone with acetaminophen, ibuprofen, aspirin, or antihistamines.

Knowing how long hydrocodone affects your system and how long it takes to eliminate it can help avoid dangerous interactions with other medications, side effects, and risk of overdose.

How Hydrocodone Affects Your System

When you are first prescribed hydrocodone, your doctor will gradually adjust the dosage, ensuring you can tolerate it. It also comes in extended-release capsules and tablets, that can be taken once or twice daily.

Once taken, it begins to work in 10 to 20 minutes, with the peak effects in 30 to 60 minutes, then continuing for 4 to 8 hours. The body breaks it down to several metabolites, with half of it broken down in just under 4 hours. It is eliminated through the liver and urine.

As an opiate, hydrocodone not only works to block pain but can also depress breathing at higher doses, which can lead to dangerous interactions with many other medications and substances if you have ever had COPD, asthma, a head injury, or any breathing problems. You must be closely monitored when you start on hydrocodone or change your dose.

Common side effects include constipation because this drug slows your digestive tract. You should discuss this with your doctor to take measures to relieve constipation. You may also feel drowsy and shouldn't drive or operate machinery if it affects you in that way.

You also may risk withdrawal symptoms if you suddenly stop taking hydrocodone. Don't discontinue it without following the directions of your doctor.

Preventing Dangerous Interactions with Hydrocodone in Your System

You must not drink alcohol or use any medications containing alcohol while you are on hydrocodone or you risk a dangerous interaction.

Your doctor needs to know all the medications you have been taking, as well as any that you discontinue or start taking while taking hydrocodone. They can affect how hydrocodone works in your body, and vice versa, so dosages might need to be adjusted to prevent dangerous interactions. These include antifungal medications, benzodiazepines, carbamazepine, cimetidine, antibiotics, other narcotic pain medications, muscle relaxants, phenytoin, rifampin, sedatives, sleeping pills, tranquilizers, and medications for mental illness, nausea, and HIV. Herbal supplements that might interact include St. John's wort and tryptophan.

If you are pregnant or plan to become pregnant, discuss this with your doctor as there are risks to newborns of mothers who have prolonged use of hydrocodone during the pregnancy.

Signs of Overdose or Dangerous Interactions

If more hydrocodone is taken before the last dose is out of the system, an overdose could occur. Overdoses can happen if the extended release pill is cut or crushed, which will release too much of the drug at one. Always take them intact.

Here are the symptoms of a Hydrocodone overdose or a dangerous reaction with other drugs and medications:

  • Slowed breathing
  • Sleepiness
  • Muscle weakness
  • Cold, clammy skin
  • Abnormally low blood pressure
  • Slowed heartbeat
  • Coma
  • Death

Call 9-1-1 immediately if you suspect someone is suffering from a Hydrocodone overdose. If caught early the overdose can be reversed with a treatment of Narcan.

How Long Hydrocodone Takes to Be Eliminated From Your System

A variety of factors play a role in determining exactly how long hydrocodone takes to be excreted by the body and removed from your system. It passes through to the urine where it can be detected for three to four days after a dose. Hydrocodone, like many other drugs, can be detected with a hair follicle drug test for up to 90 days. If you have been prescribed hydrocodone and must take a drug screening test, be sure to disclose your prescription to the testing laboratory.

Was this page helpful?

Article Sources

Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial policy to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. US Food & Drug Administration. Hydrocodone Bitartrate and Acetaminophen Labeling-Package Insert. December 19, 2014

Additional Reading

  • Hydrocodone. MedlinePlus NIH.
  • Hydrocodone/oxycodone overdose. MedlinePlus NIH.
  • Opiates. Mayo Medical Labs.