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Is My Family Member Addicted to Vicodin?

Vicodin is one of the oldest pain relieving medications, having received approval from the Food and Drug Administration in 1943. It is an opiate painkiller (also known as a narcotic), that combines hydrocodone and acetaminophen. Vicodin works on the central nervous system, binding to opioid receptions to suppress pain, while at the same time stimulating the neurotransmitters responsible for mood and feelings. This results in a sense of well-being, combined with the relief of pain – an intense high.

Addiction vs. Dependency

One should understand the difference between addiction and dependence.

Addiction is a psychological issue, the chasing of a high despite consequences. Addiction can occur without physical dependence: drugs like cocaine or methamphetamine have minimal physical withdrawal symptoms. Non-substance addictions such as gambling, sex or internet also have no physical dependence. What is common to all these addictions is the unnatural cravings that prompt the compulsive behaviors.

Dependency refers to a biological need to take the substance because of chemical changes in the body i.e. effects of the drug have hijacked the body’s natural systems so the substance is actually required just to feel “normal.” Physical dependence can occur without addiction; this is the common experience of most chronic pain patients who are able to take their opioid medication as prescribed for pain but don’t develop the uncontrollable compulsion and loss of control. A desire to avoid withdrawal is not addiction.

Vicodin Epidemic

Anyone who takes Vicodin for any reason is at risk for dependence, even if they are not predisposed to substance abuse and addiction. Countless individuals start taking Vicodin to relieve moderate to severe pain and end up dependent, even when following their doctor’s prescription exactly, because Vicodin’s composition has the potential to alter the brain’s neurotransmitters. A tolerance can be built up quite quickly, resulting in the need to take more of the drug to receive the same effect.

Statistics provided by the CDC reveal that drug overdose is the leading cause of accidental death in the United States. Opioid addiction is driving this epidemic, with 18,893 overdose deaths related to prescription pain relievers. 78 Americans die every day from an opioid overdose.

Recognizing the Signs

There are generally five major symptoms of Vicodin addiction:

  1. “Nodding out” is a first symptom of Vicodin addiction. The person may appear to be in a daze, even during a conversation. If confronted on this, they may become irritable and defensive. Generally this includes: poor attention span; fatigue; irritability, snappiness and anxiety; flu-like symptoms
  1. Obsession with Vicodin. They will compulsively take the drug, even when there is not a medical reason to do so, and may take it in various forms. (Vicodin can be crushed and snorted, or added to water and administered intravenously.)
  1. Physical side effects could include paranoia, severe mood swings, passing out, vomiting and nausea. Long-term effects of Vicodin abuse include liver and urinary system complications, liver damage, liver failure and jaundice.
  1. Procuring More Vicodin. As the body builds up tolerance and more of the drug is needed to create the same effects, the person may become obsessed with the need to obtain more. This could show up in “doctor shopping”, buying from overseas online pharmacies, prescription fraud, and pill-mill type medical practices, where a doctor, clinic or pharmacy prescribes or dispenses prescription drugs for non-medical reasons.
  1. Personal problems. Vicodin addicts will have increasing difficulties functioning in daily life. Difficulty at work, problems in personal relationships, inability to cope in general, combined with health issues, all point to addiction/dependency, particularly when the person recognizes that these are consequences of drug use but continue abusing anyway.

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