What Is a Vicodin Addiction?

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What Is Vicodin?

Vicodin (hydrocodone) is the brand name of a prescription painkiller that can help relieve pain and fever, says Melissa Weimer, DO, MCR, FASAM, an addiction medicine expert at Yale Medicine.

Medications containing hydrocodone are classified as opiate (narcotic) analgesics.

What Is a Vicodin Addiction?

Individuals who have a Vicodin-related addiction actually have an opioid addiction, which is also known as opioid use disorder, explains Dr. Weimer. She says opioid use disorder is a medical disease characterized by compulsive use of an opioid, despite negative consequences.

Opioid pain relievers like Vicodin are considered to be safe if they are taken for a short period of time, per the doctor’s prescription. They work by blocking pain signals between the body and brain; however, in addition to relieving pain, they also induce a relaxed state of euphoria in some people.

This “high” can be addictive and cause people to misuse the medication, which can involve:

  • Taking larger or more frequent doses than prescribed
  • Using the medicine even after the prescription period has ended
  • Consuming the medicine in a different form than prescribed
  • Combining the medication with other harmful substances
  • Using the medication without a prescription
  • Becoming dependent on the medication due to long-term use

According to the 2018 National Survey on Drug Use and Health, approximately 5.5 million people misused a hydrocodone drug. This number includes those who were aged 12 and older.

Signs and Symptoms of a Vicodin Addiction

These are some of the signs of a Vicodin addiction, according to Dr. Weimer:

  • Strong cravings for the medication
  • Compulsive use of the medication, despite it affecting the person’s job, relationships, or health
  • Tolerance to the medication
  • Needing to take more of the medication to achieve the same result
  • Loss of control over usage of the medication
  • Emotional and physiological dependance on the medication
  • Withdrawal symptoms if the person doesn’t take the medicine

Additionally, the person may experience the following symptoms:

Over time, untreated use of Vicodin or other opioids can cause changes in the reward circuit of the brain, says Dr. Weimer. 

Vicodin addiction can result in an overdose or other serious side effects. 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.

Causes of a Vicodin Addiction

Though anyone can develop an opioid use disorder, some individuals are more at risk of developing this condition, says Dr. Weimer. She says some of the risk factors for this condition include:

Before taking Vicodin, it’s recommended that individuals inform their healthcare provider if they have any of these conditions, to help prevent dependence. They can work with their healthcare provider to find alternative options for pain management. 

Diagnosing a Vicodin Addiction

If you or a loved one have a vicodin addiction, you should contact a healthcare provider immediately. “Vicodin addiction can be diagnosed by any clinician,” says Dr. Weimer. “Your healthcare professional may be able to treat you or offer a referral for treatment.”

These are some steps you can expect during the diagnostic process, according to Dr. Weimer:

  • A physical examination by the healthcare provider
  • A series of screening questions
  • A detailed list of questions related to your personal and family medical history
  • Urine or blood tests, to confirm the use of opiates

Your healthcare provider will evaluate your condition based on these factors and determine whether it matches the criteria for opioid use disorder outlined in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM), a guide created by the American Psychiatric Association.

Treating a Vicodin Addiction

These are some of the steps that treatment for vicodin addiction may involve, depending on the severity of the condition.

Detoxification

Detox involves abstaining from using the drug. It can lead to withdrawal symptoms, such as:

  • Stomach cramps
  • Muscle pain
  • Runny nose
  • Sweating
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea 
  • Goose bumps
  • Anxiety
  • Agitation
  • Insomnia
  • Yawning

The symptoms can start within hours of the last dose of vicodin. They can cause severe discomfort, but are not life-threatening.

The detox process may take place in a hospital setting if the person’s condition is severe. Otherwise, it can take place in a therapeutic community, a detox facility, or the person’s home. Undertaking the detox process at home is difficult and needs to be done slowly.

Medication

These are some of the medications that can help treat opioid disorder, according to Dr. Weimer:

  • Methadone is an opioid medication that helps relieve withdrawal symptoms and aids in the detoxification process. It is also used as a long-term maintenance medicine, after which the dosage may be reduced gradually.
  • Buprenorphine also relieves withdrawal symptoms and can help shorten the detoxification period. Like methadone, buprenorphine may also be used for long-term maintenance.
  • Naltrexone can help prevent relapse. Naltrexone can induce withdrawal if the individual takes it while they still have opioids in their system.
  • Naloxone is the antidote to opioid overdose.

Additionally, your healthcare provider may prescribe medication to help regulate your sleep patterns or treat symptoms like diarrhea and vomiting.

For people who are also experiencing pain, Dr. Weimer says it is best treated with multimodal treatments such as physical therapy, physical conditioning, and non-opioid medications.

Counseling

People who have a Vicodin addiction may require long-term counseling after detox. This can take different forms, depending on the individual and their circumstances. Some of the options include:

  • Outpatient counseling with a mental healthcare provider
  • Inpatient treatment in a hospital or treatment facility
  • Intensive outpatient treatment, which may involve daytime hospitalization
  • Community counseling, through programs such as Narcotics Anonymous or SMART

A Word From Verywell

Vicodin addiction can start innocently enough, with people taking the painkiller for an injury or recent surgery, for instance. However, this medication has tremendous potential for misuse, because it contains opioids, a substance also found in heroin and morphine. People may become addicted to the drug and start to misuse it.

Addiction is a brain disease that requires treatment. It’s important to understand that someone struggling with a vicodin addiction needs support and evidence-based treatment, says Dr. Weimer.

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6 Sources
Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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  2. SAMHSA. 2018 National Survey on Drug Use and Health.

  3. American Academy of Family Physicians. Opioid addiction.

  4. National Library of Medicine. Hydrocodone Combination Products. Medline Plus.

  5. American Psychiatric Association. Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders.

  6. Bart G. Maintenance medication for opiate addiction: the foundation of recovery. J Addict Dis. 2012;31(3):207-225. doi:10.1080/10550887.2012.694598

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