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Hydrocodone Addiction Treatment

Learn more about hydrocodone addiction symptoms, treatment, and recovery

What is hydrocodone?

Hydrocodone is a semi-synthetic opiate derived from codeine or thebaine. A powerful pain reliever, this opioid is approximately six times more potent than codeine, from which it is derived. Hydrocodone is also used to manage cough in adults.

Although it has valid and important medical uses, hydrocodone is often abused for recreational purposes. It is sold under the brand names Vicodin, Norco, and Lortab. This opioid has been the second most common drug submitted in drug evidence since 2009.

Addiction to hydrocodone is highly prevalent, with Americans consuming 99% of the world’s hydrocodone supply. In 2016, 11.5 million Americans reported misusing prescription opioids in the past year. Hydrocodone often also acts as a gateway drug to stronger narcotics. A study revealed that 80% of heroin users started with prescription opioids. Hydrocodone produces short and long-term effects, and may be fatal if consumed in excess.

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How does hydrocodone work?

Hydrocodone, like other opioid drugs, works by binding to opioid receptors in the brain. This blocks pain reflexes and produces pain-relieving effects. Hydrocodone is often prescribed as a short-acting analgesic, combined with acetaminophen. This combination is intended to prevent substance abuse. However, it often leads to over-prescribing among chronic-pain patients. Because it is relatively easy to access, hydrocodone is often misused by middle-school and high-school-aged children in the US.

It is also available as an oral solution and an extended-release capsule/tablet to relieve long-lasting, severe pain. This extended, long-acting form is believed to be less prone to abuse, although studies remain ongoing.
In pill form, hydrocodone is sometimes crushed into powder and misused by snorting.

Symptoms of hydrocodone addiction

Addiction to hydrocodone (Vicodin, Lortab, etc.) can affect an individual’s physical well-being, mental health, and social behavior. According to the DSM-5, a diagnosis of opioid use disorder includes the repeated occurrence (within a 12 month period) of two or more of the following eleven problems:

  • Giving up or reducing important social, work, or recreational activities
  • Difficulty fulfilling responsibilities at school, home, or work
  • Continued use despite knowing that it is harming physical or psychological health
  • Continued use despite knowing it’s creating social and interpersonal consequences 
  • Spending excessive time obtaining, using, or recovering from using opioids
  • Taking more than intended
  • Having cravings
  • Being unable to stop using or to decrease the amount used
  • Tolerance, which is the need to take larger amounts of opioids to get the desired effect
  • Using opioids in physically dangerous situations
  • Withdrawal symptoms

Treatment for hydrocodone addiction 

Hydrocodone is widely prescribed and widely misused. When a person is ready to get help with their hydrocodone addiction, the gold-standard treatment for opioid addiction is medication-assisted treatment (MAT). The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration defines MAT as “the use of medications, in combination with counseling and behavioral therapies, to provide a “whole-patient” approach to the treatment of substance use disorders.”

The core of MAT is medication that has been FDA-approved to treat opioid use disorder. Buprenorphine and methadone are medications that reduce cravings by stimulating the opioid receptors in the brain. These medications help to stabilize long-term recovery and lower the risk of relapse. Naltrexone is another medication approved by the FDA to treat opioid addiction that operates by binding to and blocking opioid receptors in the brain. Workit Health prescribes buprenorphine in formulations that combine it with naloxone to prevent diversion and misuse (like Suboxone), and also prescribes naltrexone. Workit does not prescribe methadone, which is subject to more stringent regulations and monitoring requirements.

Many people who use opioids want to stop but are afraid of going through withdrawal. To be fair, opioid withdrawal can be a miserable experience. Your healthcare provider can suggest options—prescriptions, over-the-counter medications, and self-care—to help with the discomfort.

Behavioral Therapy
Behavioral health support is an important component of MAT. Counseling techniques like cognitive behavioral therapy can help to navigate addiction. Talk therapy, group counseling, and therapeutic courses can help people in recovery identify and navigate their triggers, set goals, and learn to modify negative attitudes and behaviors.

Some treatment centers and rehab centers provide both options, but many do not support MAT.

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Medication-assisted treatment


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