Hydrocodone is an opioid that has been synthesized from codeine, a medication derived from the opium poppy. It’s commonly used to treat moderate to severe pain or as a cough suppressant, and it can be found in prescription medications such as Vicodin, Norco, and Lortab. When used for pain relief, it commonly comes in tablets to be taken orally, taking about 20-30 minutes to begin working and lasting for 4-8 hours.
As an opioid, hydrocodone has several side effects, including potential tolerance and addiction. If abused, it can create a significant, pleasurable high. Medications like Vicodin have recently come under stricter regulation due to the sharp increase in reported abuse, addiction, and overdose deaths. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, overdose deaths from prescription opioids quadrupled from 1999 to 2014.
Opioids can cause a sense of euphoria, typically followed by a sense of calm, peace, and happiness. It may have a sedative effect, though many people report increased productivity upon taking drugs like Vicodin. Aside from taking large doses orally, hydrocodone pills can also be abused via crushing them up to be snorted or smoked, or dissolving them into a solution to be injected, causing a faster, more intense high as the drug rushes straight to the brain.
Potential Damage from Hydrocodone
When used properly, hydrocodone can still produce unpleasant or even serious physical side effects. These can include:
- Nausea and vomiting
- Abdominal pain
- Bladder pain
- Difficulty urinating
- Dry mouth
- Itchy skin
- Muscle pain or spasms
- Weight changes
- Swelling of the face or extremities
- Coughing and sneezing
- Labored breathing
- Runny nose and congestion
- Sore throat
- Fatigue or weakness
- Loss of voice
- Chest tightness
If abused, the risk of experiencing side effects like the ones above increases substantially. The main risk of opioids, however, is the fact that they depress the central nervous system, which controls the respiratory system. If the respiratory system becomes too depressed, breathing can slow to the point that not enough oxygen can reach the brain, leading directly to coma, brain damage, and death.
Even if overdose is avoided, long-term opioid abuse can lead to several serious health problems. Depression of several essential organ systems can lead to issues like chronic constipation, colon damage, and increased risk of respiratory infection. There are also ongoing studies on the long-term effects of opioids on the brain and potential brain damage. Some studies have found reduction of white matter, which is directly involved in decision-making, stress management, and behavior regulation.
Additionally, drugs like opioids tend to be hard on the liver and kidneys. This is especially true when it comes to medications that mix hydrocodone with other substances. For example, Vicodin also contains high doses of acetaminophen, which is particularly hard on the liver. Overdoses of Vicodin, in addition to risking brain damage, can cause significant damage to the liver.
There are also dangers associated with smoking, snorting, or injecting hydrocodone pills. Injection is particularly risky as tiny particles from the pills can build up in veins and arteries, including around the brain and heart. This increases the risk of stroke and can weaken the heart. Plus, sharing needles carries the danger of contracting HIV and the hepatitis C virus.
Although hydrocodone can be very helpful in controlling pain, the potential health effects and possibility for addiction mean that it should only be used temporarily. Furthermore, the risks of its long-term effects are significant, so it’s not worth the abuse, no matter how good it might feel in the moment.