How Long Does Hydrocodone Stay in Your System?

Hydrocodone in Your Blood, Hair, Urine, & Saliva

Hydrocodeone/Oxycontin

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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 ER and Zohydro ER.

Besides hydrocodone alone, there are also prescription products such as Vicodin, Lorcet, and Norco that combine hydrocodone with acetaminophen, ibuprofen, aspirin, and in some cases, antihistamines.

Hydrocodone is a Schedule II drug, meaning it has a high potential for abuse, with use potentially leading to severe psychological or physical dependence. It can be detected for a shorter time with some tests but can be detectable for up to three months in other tests.

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 Long Does Hydrocodone Stay in Your System?

Blood: Up to 24 hours

Urine: Up to four days

Saliva: Up to two days

Hair: Up to 90 days

How Long Does It Take to Feel the Effects?

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.

Hydrocodone begins to work in 20 to 30 minutes, with the peak effects in 30 to 60 minutes, then continuing for four to six hours. The effects of extended-release formulations last a little longer, typically up to 12 hours.

Common side effects of hydrocodone include:

  • Headache
  • Constipation (the drug slows your digestive tract)
  • Difficult or painful urination
  • Drowsiness
  • Dry mouth
  • Tiredness
  • Back pain
  • Muscle tightening
  • Ringing in the ears
  • Trouble falling or staying asleep
  • Swelling in feet, ankles, or legs

If you experience any of the following serious side effects, call your doctor immediately. Some of these could be a sign of an allergic reaction.

  • Chest pain or fast heartbeat
  • Hallucinations (seeing things or hearing voices that do not exist)
  • Fever or shivering
  • Severe muscle stiffness or twitching
  • Loss of coordination
  • Swelling in eyes, face, lips, tongue, or throat
  • Difficulty swallowing or breathing
  • Hives and itching
  • Decreased sex drive or inability to keep an erection
  • Irregular menstruation

How Long Does Hydrocodone Last?

Hydrocodone has a half-life of just under four hours, meaning it takes that long to eliminate half of the dose of the drug. It is metabolized in the liver and eliminated through urine. Up to 20% of the dose is excreted as hydrocodone, with up to 14% eliminated as norhydrocodone and up to 6% as hydromorphone.

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. If you have been prescribed hydrocodone and must take a drug screening test, be sure to disclose your prescription to the testing laboratory.

Blood

For most healthy individuals, it will take one day for hydrocodone to fully clear the blood.

Urine

Hydrocodone passes through to the urine where it can be detected for two to four days after a dose.

Saliva

The drug can be detected in a saliva test for up to 36 hours after the last dose is taken.

Hair

Hydrocodone can be detected longer with a hair follicle drug test—up to 90 days.

Factors That Affect Detection Time

There are a number of different factors that can play a role in how long hydrocodone remains in your system, including frequency of use, dosage, age, metabolism, and overall health.

Dosage

Hydrocodone comes in different strengths as well as an extended-release form, which can impact the amount of time it takes for your body to metabolize the drug.

Metabolism

People with faster metabolisms clear the drug from their systems faster than those with a slower metabolism. Age, activity level, overall health, and certain medications can influence your metabolic rate.

Overall Health

People with impaired liver or kidney function can have a harder time metabolizing and eliminating hydrocodone from the body.

How to Get Hydrocodone Out of Your System

Attempting to flush hydrocodone out of your system by exercising or drinking water will not help you pass a drug test. The only surefire way to get hydrocodone out of your system is to stop taking the drug and give your body time to eliminate it. To avoid unpleasant withdrawal symptoms, work with your doctor to taper off the medication slowly.

Symptoms of Overdose

If more hydrocodone is taken before the last dose is out of the system, an overdose could occur. It's important that you take your medication exactly as instructed by your doctor. Chewing or crushing tablets or opening and dissolving capsules could release all the medication at once and increase your risk of overdose.

Extended-release hydrocodone is specifically formulated to make it difficult to cut, crush, or dissolve pills and capsules in order to help prevent overdose.

The following are the possible symptoms of a hydrocodone overdose:

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

Call 911 immediately if you suspect someone is suffering from a hydrocodone overdose. If caught early, the overdose can be reversed with Narcan (naloxone).

Dangerous Interactions

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 chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), asthma, a head injury, or any breathing problems, you must be closely monitored when you start on hydrocodone or change your dose.

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

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 as they can affect how hydrocodone works in your body, and vice versa. Dosages might need to be adjusted to prevent dangerous interactions. Be especially cautious with:

  • Antibiotics
  • Antifungal medications
  • Benzodiazepines
  • Carbamazepine
  • Cimetidine
  • Narcotic pain medications
  • Muscle relaxants
  • Phenytoin
  • Rifampin
  • Sedatives
  • Sleeping pills
  • Tranquilizers
  • Medications for mental illness
  • Medications for nausea
  • Medications for HIV
  • St. John's Wort
  • Tryptophan

Getting Help

Whether you're taking hydrocodone as prescribed or misusing the drug, quitting cold turkey can result in physical and psychological withdrawal.

Symptoms range from mild to severe, depending on how much you’ve been taking and for how long, and can include the following:

  • Muscle, bone, and joint aches and pain
  • Flu-like feeling
  • Sweating
  • Runny nose
  • Headache
  • Chills
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Cramping or diarrhea 
  • Insomnia or disturbed sleep
  • Teary eyes
  • Tremors
  • Anxiety or restlessness 
  • Gooseflesh
  • Heart pounding
  • Agitation
  • Skin crawling 

If you suspect that you might be dependent or addicted to hydrocodone, talk to your doctor. They can help you taper off the drug, find another medication to alleviate your pain and refer you to a mental health professional who specializes in addiction and recovery.

Your doctor may also recommend an inpatient or outpatient residential addiction treatment center or a local support group like Narcotics Anonymous or SMART recovery.

If you or a loved one are struggling with substance use or addiction, contact the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) National Helpline at 1-800-662-4357 for information on support and treatment facilities in your area.

For more mental health resources, see our National Helpline Database.

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Article Sources
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