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Hydrocodone Abuse

  1. Table of ContentsPrint
  2. About Hydrocodone
  3. Hydrocodone and Teens
  4. Signs and Symptoms
  5. Effects of Abusing Hydrocodone
  6. Treatment for Hydrocodone Addiction
  7. Resources, Articles and More Information


About Hydrocodone

What Is Hydrocodone?

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Hydrocodone is an opioid analgesic (painkiller) drug that is most often prescribed to control moderate to severe pain that cannot be controlled with other medications. As an opiate, it is in the same family as morphine and oxycodone, and, like all opiates, it has a high potential to cause dependence and addiction if it is abused.

Doctors prescribe this drug only for patients with severe pain due to disease or injury.

What Drugs Contain Hydrocodone?

Hydrocodone or hydrocodone-containing drugs are sold under many brand names including Vicodin, Lortab, Hycomine, and Norco. Many of these drugs contain a combination of hydrocodone and acetaminophen, a drug that when abused can cause severe liver damage.

How Do I know if I’m Abusing Hydrocodone?

Abuse occurs whenever you use the medication other than as recommended by a doctor. If you take a larger dose of hydrocodone than prescribed, take it for a longer period than recommended, or take it more often throughout the day than directed, you are abusing hydrocodone.

How Many People Abuse Hydrocodone? 

According to the DEA, hydrocodone is the most commonly prescribed (and the most abused) opioid drug in the United States, and the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) reports that the US consumes nearly 100% of the world’s supply of this drug. The following key statistics illustrate the extent of hydrocodone abuse:

  • According to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health and Health (NSDUH), 4 million people over the age of 12 reported using hydrocodone for nonmedical purposes in 2013.
  • Over 29,000 hydrocodone-related exposures and 36 deaths were reported in the U.S. in 2012, according to the American Association of Poison Control Centers.
  • The Drug Abuse Warning Network (DAWN) estimated that there were over 82,000 emergency room incidents in 2011 related to nonmedical abuse of hydrocodone.

Did You Know?

The number of prescriptions for hydrocodone written in the United States has increased dramatically in the last 25 years. This increase in prescriptions has, in turn, increased the availability of hydrocodone on the black market.

Hydrocodone Abuse Quiz question 1

Hydrocodone Abuse Quiz question 2

Hydrocodone and Teens

Hydrocodone abuse facts are sobering enough, but you might be surprised at the number of teens and young adults abusing hydrocodone-containing drugs like Vicodin, Norco, and Lortab. The 2014 Monitoring the Future (MTF) Survey quizzed junior high and high school students about their drug abuse. The survey found that about 6% of high school seniors had ever used a narcotic without a prescription. The NSDUH put the number of teens aged 12 to 17 who had ever abused any hydrocodone-containing product at over 850,000 in 2013.


Although teen abuse of narcotics in general has declined since 2009, hydrocodone abuse remains high relative to other opiates. In fact:

  • The MTF survey found that lifetime abuse of Vicodin was higher among both 10th and 12th graders than nonmedical use of OxyContin (oxycodone).
  • The NSDUH data also show about twice as many teens aged 12 to 17 have abused any hydrocodone-containing prescription compared to oxycodone-containing drugs.

It is possible that prominent negative media coverage of oxycodone abuse has given a false impression that hydrocodone is less dangerous than other narcotics. Also, the average price of black-market Vicodin, $5 to $25 per pill in 2011 according to CNN, is significantly lower than OxyContin, which cost $50 to $80 per pill, giving cash-strapped teens an incentive to buy hydrocodone-containing medications.

Finally, prescription medications of all varieties can be tempting to adolescents who may view them as safer than street drugs because doctors direct millions of patients to take them every year. Teens may not fully appreciate the addictive and dangerous properties of these pills, especially when taken without a doctor’s supervision.

As with all drugs, education is the best way to prevent abuse, and steps you can take to warn your teen about the perils of hydrocodone include:

  • Discussing the possible consequences of abusing any drug, prescription or otherwise. Teens may not appreciate the addictive potential and dangerous effects of prescription drugs, so ensure they receive drug abuse information on pills as well as street drugs.
  • Take note of changes in your teen’s social circle or behavior. Sudden alterations in habits, friends, or attitude may be red flags for substance abuse.
  • Keep close tabs on the levels of hydrocodone and other dangerous medications in your home. If you have been prescribed Vicodin or other narcotic analgesics, be aware of how many doses are left and ensure that such drugs are not easily accessible to younger household members, if possible.

Hydrocodone Abuse Quiz question 3

Signs and Symptoms

When taken as directed, hydrocodone relieves pain, but it also causes side effects in users, especially in those abusing this medication by taking it for nonmedical purposes.


The most common side effects include:

  • Euphoria.
  • Confusion.
  • Nausea.
  • Vomiting.
  • Constipation.
  • Dizziness.
  • Drowsiness.

Hydrocodone Abuse Quiz question 4

Effects of Abusing Hydrocodone

If someone abusing hydrocodone continues taking the medication long enough, the person’s body and brain change in the way it responds to the drug, a process called tolerance.

People who develop a dependence on hydrocodone need to take larger doses of the drug, or take it more often, to experience the same positive effects.

In seeking a greater “high,” or in an effort to overcome the effects of tolerance, abusers may take such large doses of hydrocodone that they suffer from an overdose.

Symptoms of overdose may include the following:

  • Slowed breathing.
  • Sleepiness.
  • Muscle weakness.
  • Slowed heartbeat.
  • Cold or clammy skin.
  • Coma.
  • Death.

To learn more about the side effects of hydrocodone, visit our page, The Effects of Hydrocodone Use.

The Development of Addiction

Abusers can eventually reach the point of addiction, a condition in which users suffer physical effects if they stop taking the drug suddenly. Mentally, people suffering from addiction have a strong belief that they must have the drug to perform normal daily tasks or even get through the day and will continue using despite negative consequences to their health or lives.

Addiction can even occur in patients who take the drug as prescribed by a doctor if they are not carefully monitored.

Hydrocodone dependence and addiction can cause multiple symptoms including:

  • Requesting frequent refills for the drug.
  • Seeing two or more doctors for additional prescriptions.
  • Spending time away from other people.
  • Going through money quickly.
  • Focusing more on obtaining and using hydrocodone than taking part in formerly enjoyable or valued activities.
  • Sudden changes in social activities.
  • Mood swings.

Hydrocodone Abuse Quiz question 5

Treatment for Hydrocodone Addiction


Although rarely life threatening, opiate withdrawal symptoms for those who are dependent on hydrocodone can be extremely painful and unpleasant.

Checking into a rehab center that offers medically supervised detox can allow you to detox while knowing your safety during the process is ensured and that your symptoms will be managed.

Outpatient treatment centers provide counseling and other services to clients on a daily basis, and those who attend the program spend a few hours at the treatment center before going home, going to work or staying with loved ones.

Outpatient centers are best for those who can successfully navigate the freedom of such a program.

For those who need more help, there are inpatient treatment centers. With this type of program, you live at the facility until the program ends. You must stay for a minimum of 28 days, and some programs offer longer options. Inpatient centers can also provide support for those experiencing opiate withdrawal symptoms when they stop taking the hydrocodone. Inpatient rehab programs are the preferred method of treatment for many people struggling with an opiate addiction, as it allows you to focus completely on your sobriety.

Finally, there are peer recovery organizations, including SMART Recovery, LifeRing Secular Recovery, and various 12-step groups. In these programs, people who share the disease of addiction offer each other their experience and mutual support in recovery.

To learn more about how treatment can restore your health and happiness, call 1-888-747-7155 and speak to a treatment support specialist.

Resources, Articles and More Information

Read the following articles for more information on the dangers of hydrocodone:

Also, visit our Forum to join the conversation about opiate addiction.

Hydrocodone Abuse Quiz question 6

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