If you’re wondering whether you’re addicted to hydrocodone, you’re not alone. In the United States, more than 2.1 million people are addicted to opioids, including hydrocodone.
Hydrocodone brings much-needed pain relief and, for some, a pleasurable sensation of warmth and euphoria. Both effects help explain why it’s appealing to take more.
As the most prescribed painkiller in America, hydrocodone belongs to a group of medicines called narcotic analgesics. These are typically prescribed to manage moderate to severe pain on a short-term basis.
But these pleasurable feelings don’t last. Many people find that they have to take more to experience the desired effects, which may lead to physical dependence and potentially addiction.
Hydrocodone addiction may impact multiple facets of your life, like your physical health, mental well-being, work, school, family life, or social relationships.
Yes, addiction to hydrocodone is possible. It’s a prescription opioid that can lead to physical dependence which, in some cases, may lead to addiction.
The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) classifies hydrocodone as a Schedule II controlled substance. This classification is for drugs with a high potential for abuse. For some, use may lead to severe psychological or physical dependence.
Hydrocodone works by attaching to specific opioid receptors in the brain and blocking pain signals. At the same time, it causes the release of dopamine — a “feel good” hormone — throughout the body.
This can lead to:
- feelings of euphoria
- reduced inhibition
- intense relaxation
Some people enjoy these effects so much that they begin to crave hydrocodone and use it to cope with everyday stresses.
Tolerance to the drug can develop quickly — in some cases, within a week. You may feel you need to take increasingly higher doses to achieve the same effects you felt when you first started the medication.
It’s important to note the difference between a hydrocodone addiction and physical dependence on the drug. While the two often go hand-in-hand, they are not the same.
Physical dependence is characterized by the body adapting to the drug over time, requiring more of it to achieve desired effects. This can occur even when you take the medication exactly as prescribed.
Once the body becomes dependent on hydrocodone, you may feel like you need to continue taking it to feel normal, and quitting may result in uncomfortable withdrawal symptoms.
Addiction is characterized by an inability to stop using a drug, despite harmful consequences to your life and overall health. Many people with addiction take more hydrocodone than prescribed and may become hyper-focused on using the drug.
Hydrocodone addiction is classified as a substance use disorder (SUD).
SUD is a mental health condition that occurs when a person is unable to control their use of substances like drugs, alcohol, or medications.
People with SUD are intensely focused on using drugs or alcohol, even when they know that continued use of the substance may lead to health issues or problems at work, school, or home.
The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) defines symptoms of hydrocodone addiction as:
- taking more hydrocodone than intended
- wanting to reduce or stop use, but feeling unable to do so
- spending a lot of time getting, using, or recovering from using hydrocodone
- experiencing cravings and urges to use hydrocodone
- recurrent hydrocodone use resulting in failure to fulfill obligations at work, school, or home
- giving up important social, work, or recreational activities because of hydrocodone use
- continued hydrocodone use despite knowing it’s causing physical or psychological problems
- experiencing withdrawal symptoms when not taking hydrocodone
- continued use despite recurrent social or interpersonal problems
- recurrent use in situations where it is physically hazardous
Physical and behavioral symptoms
Hydrocodone misuse can cause physical and behavioral symptoms, including:
- blurred vision
- changes in mood
- dry mouth
- itchy skin
- nausea or vomiting
- pinpoint pupils
- withdrawal from social activities
- shallow breathing
- slower heartbeat
- slurred speech
People of all backgrounds and ages can experience addiction. While research is still ongoing, it’s generally accepted that addiction involves many factors.
According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, up to half of your risk of developing an addiction is genetic. If you have a family member who has experienced addiction, you are more likely to experience it, too.
Experiencing trauma, like abuse or a chaotic home environment, or exposure to stress as a child or adult may lead some people to turn to drugs as a coping mechanism. Peer pressure and lack of social support also increase the risk of addiction.
Mental health conditions
Undiagnosed or untreated mental health conditions like anxiety, depression, and PTSD can increase your risk of addiction. Research suggests that 50% to 75% of those with substance use disorder have a co-occurring mental health condition.
Hydrocodone is typically prescribed for short-term use. Ongoing use of the medication can cause physical dependence, increased tolerance, and an increased risk of addiction.
Hydrocodone addiction may be difficult to overcome, but with the right support, it is possible. There are many treatment options available to help you achieve recovery and remission. It’s best to speak with your doctor, first.
Medically assisted detox
Hydrocodone addiction can cause serious physical and mental withdrawal symptoms. Medically assisted detoxification can help you safely and comfortably detox from the substance. Detox programs use medications for a period of five to seven days while your body withdraws from hydrocodone dependence.
Inpatient rehab for hydrocodone addiction
Inpatient or residential recovery treatment programs require you to live in a rehab facility for a certain number of days. It’s typically anywhere from 15 days to several months, depending on your needs.
These programs provide:
- individual psychotherapy
- group therapy sessions
- family therapy
You will have 24-7 access to medical care and emotional support. This is designed to help you get to the root of your addiction, focus on recovery, and learn healthy coping mechanisms to change your relationship with hydrocodone.
Outpatient program for hydrocodone addiction
Outpatient treatment programs typically require you to attend a treatment center for 10 to 12 hours a week. You can live at home while attending outpatient treatment. These programs provide one-on-one counseling sessions, group therapy, and other activities to help you recover from addiction.
Hydrocodone addiction treatment medications
Oftentimes, maintaining a full recovery requires ongoing medication-assisted therapy to prevent relapse. You may be prescribed medications — such as methadone or buprenorphine — to help you safely and effectively recover from hydrocodone addiction.
The outcome for recovery is generally better when people take medications for opioid use disorder, versus not sticking with them or not taking them at all.
Hydrocodone addiction isn’t a reflection of your character or willpower. It’s an indication that the drug has changed the way your brain experiences pain and pleasure.
Recovering from hydrocodone addiction is possible with the right treatment and support. Some resources to help you in your recovery include:
- Substance Abuse and Mental Health Service Administration (SAMHSA). SAMHSA’s National Helpline is a free, confidential information service for individuals and families facing substance use disorder. Call 800-662-HELP.
- Narcotics Anonymous. This is a 12-step program that provides support and fellowship to people in recovery from drug addiction. Search for a meeting near you on the NA website.
- American Society of Addiction Medicine (ASAM). This is a medical society for professionals in addiction medicine. It’s dedicated to improving addiction care and providing education and support. The ASAM website has a list of patient resources, including how to find an addiction specialist near you.
- SMART Recovery. Find local and online mutual support meetings to support you in your science-based, self-empowered addiction recovery.