Vicodin is an opioid painkiller that contains a combination of acetaminophen and hydrocodone.
Anyone who takes Vicodin for any reason is at risk for developing an addiction. But those especially at risk for addiction include those with a family history of addiction or those who take the drug for the sole purpose of getting ‘high’. Addiction is a psychological drive and compulsion to take Vicodin despite the personal consequences it may cause. Dependency, on the other hand, is a biological tolerance to the drug. A person – especially those taking Vicodin for medical reasons – can be dependent, but not addicted. But it is very common for someone with a hydrocodone addiction to also be dependent.
Physical Dependence to Vicodin
Vicodin dependency is not a matter of choice. It often develops accidentally and without intention. Frequently, patients become physically dependent on hydrocodone even after taking the medication as prescribed by a doctor. Dosages are often increased to compensate for pain and a growing tolerance to the drug over time. As a result, most find that they need an increasingly larger dose to achieve the same euphoric sensations they once achieved with lower dosages. Eventually, the high is no longer available with Vicodin even using the largest dosages. Instead, a person may find that he or she is left physically dependent on the drug just to feel normal.
Continual use can lead to alterations to neurotransmitters in the central nervous system, making the brain and body chemically dependent on the drug in order to function normally. Eventually, the need for Vicodin begins to influence one’s physical well-being, behaviors, emotions, and morality.
Signs of Vicodin addiction or dependency include taking more medication than prescribed, taking Vicodin illegally, mixing Vicodin with other substances, or continuing to use the medication when it is no longer medically necessary.
Anyone with a physical dependence on Vicodin will experience withdrawal symptoms after discontinuing it or lowering its dose. People with mild dependency will generally experience the mildest withdrawal symptoms, whereas those with long term dependencies on high dosages will experience the most severe withdrawal symptoms.
Some of the most common withdrawal symptoms include nausea, vomiting, hallucinations, shivering, insomnia, pain, abnormal heart rate, diarrhea, and anxiety.
It is important that anyone going through Vicodin withdrawal avoid doing so alone. Withdrawal usually begins within 1 to 3 days of last use, and it can last days or weeks. When symptoms are intense, it can be tempting to return to opiate use to alleviate discomfort. Support and assistance from a medical professional or drug withdrawal specialist can help lead to a successful detox.
Physical, Mental and Emotional Effects of Vicodin
Physically, Vicodin works via the central nervous system. When it binds to opioid receptors, the medication suppresses sensations of pain. At the same time, the neurotransmitters that are responsible for mood and feelings are stimulated to begin firing at rapid rates, resulting in an improved sense of well-being. It is this concurrent numbing of pain and euphoric state that makes Vicodin such a popular recreational drug.
Long-Term Effects of Vicodin
People who chronically abuse Vicodin may begin to experience some long-term physical and mental effects, as well as develop a dependency on the medication. Vicodin has been shown to cause serious medical issues, including:
- Liver and urinary system complications
- Liver damage
- Liver failure
In addition to the intended effects of Vicodin, this medication may also cause some unwanted side effects, whether it is used as prescribed or abused recreationally. It is normal for Vicodin to cause:
- Skin irritation
- Dry throat
- Narrowed pupils
- Abnormal mood changes
- Secretive behavior
- Lying, stealing
Anyone experiencing side effects that persist or become severe should seek medical attention. In rare cases, Vicodin has been shown to cause respiratory suppression and chest tightness.
Immediate medical attention is necessary for anyone who has taken high dosages of hydrocodone and subsequently experienced shallow breathing, loss of consciousness, a slow pulse, or seizures.
Social Effects of Vicodin
Vicodin is a brand formulation of hydrocodone, which is a pain-alleviating semi-synthetic opioid. It is one of the oldest prescribed pain medications in the U.S., having been approved by the Food and Drug Administration for use in 1943. Since that time, The New York Times reports that the United States has grown to be the largest consumer of hydrocodone around the globe. Approximately 99 percent of total hydrocodone use occurs in the U.S.
Why Vicodin is Prescribed
How Vicodin Works
The medication works by binding to opioid receptors in the central nervous system, providing an analgesic effect similar to that which is provided by morphine. In many cases, Vicodin can provide symptomatic relief for as long as 8 hours after taking it, although the effects can wear off in as little as 4 hours.
Vicodin has made it possible for millions of people to manage acute pain caused by injuries and certain health conditions. It is intended to be used on an as-needed basis and only according to the dosing instructions provided by the prescribing doctor. When taken as directed, Vicodin can make a person much more comfortable following:
- Major surgery
- Dental procedure
- Car accident injury
- Other short-term, but severe, pain
Vicodin abuse and addiction has become so prevalent today that the effects and costs extend far beyond the addict and their immediate family.
Effects of Addiction on Society
According to NCADD (National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence), the estimated financial cost to society of drug abuse exceeds $190 billion:
- $130 billion in lost productivity
- $20 billion in healthcare costs
- $40 billion in legal costs including efforts to stem the flow of drugs
Beyond the financial cost is the cost to individuals, families and society due to illness, etc.:
- Spread of infectious diseases such as HIV/AIDS and hepatitis C
- Deaths due to overdose or other complications from drug use
- Effects on unborn children of pregnant drug users
- Impact on the family, crime and homelessness
The best option for anyone struggling with Vicodin addiction is to seek treatment in an inpatient long-term rehabilitation program. In this type of environment, the addict is protected from the negative influences of the outside world and can focus on learning the skills needed for maintaining a drug-free lifestyle.
Recreational Use of Vicodin
The illegal recreational use of prescription medications has steadily risen in the U.S. over the past two decades. Statistics provided by the CDC reveal that “drug overdose is the leading cause of accidental death in the United States, with 47,055 lethal drug overdoses in 2014. Opioid addiction is driving this epidemic, with 18,893 overdose deaths related to prescription pain relievers, and 10,574 overdose deaths related to heroin in 2014.”
Many people abuse Vicodin because it is easy to attain, whether from a friend, parent, dealer, or their own doctor. In fact, USA Today Reports that hydrocodone has become the most widely prescribed drug in the United States, with an estimated 131 million prescriptions written for the medication every year. To ensure there is a steady flow of the drug, some will obtain multiple prescriptions by seeing several doctors independently of each other and picking up the prescriptions at multiple pharmacies – some of which offer a 30-day supply of generic Vicodin for as little as $4 without health insurance.
Individuals use Vicodin either for its pain numbing effects, or more frequently, to achieve the ‘high’ they get while the substance is in their systems. Because Vicodin is an opioid, it produces a sense of euphoria when taken. In high doses, a Vicodin high can be quite intense, providing a tremendous sense of perceived well-being. Though it is produced and prescribed in tablet form, Vicodin pills may also be crushed to either snort, smoke, or inject them.
Because tolerance to hydrocodone develops rather quickly with continued use, Vicodin is commonly combined with other opioids or substances to achieve a better high. Opioids interact synergistically with other drugs to enhance the effects. Unfortunately, this type of poly-drug use is very dangerous and is responsible for many emergency room visits and deaths each year.
According to the CDC, “of the 21.5 million Americans 12 or older that had a substance use disorder in 2014, (2015 statistics are still being compiled) 1.9 million had a substance use disorder involving prescription pain relievers.”
Reclassifying the Drug
Due to its dangers and high risk for addiction and dependency, the Drug Enforcement Agency has asked the FDA to reclassify hydrocodone (Vicodin) from its current Schedule III classification to Schedule II. Doing so would make a hydrocodone prescription available only through a physician – not a nurse or physician assistant. Furthermore, hydrocodone would no longer be refillable up to 5 times. Instead, patients would only be allowed a single prescription at a time with enough medication to last up to 90 days.