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Hydrocodone Abuse

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About Hydrocodone

Hydrocodone is an opioid analgesic (painkiller) drug – included in the formulation of many narcotic prescription painkillers that are most often prescribed to control moderate to severe pain. As an opiate drug, it is in the same family as morphine and oxycodone; like many other opioid substances, it has a high potential to lead to dependency and addiction if it is abused.

It’s indicated for the management of pain that would not be well controlled with non-steroidal anti-inflammatory or other, non-narcotic analgesic options. Doctors typically prescribe this drug only for patients with severe pain resulting from surgery, various disease processes or injury.

What Drugs Contain Hydrocodone?

Hydrocodone or hydrocodone-containing drugs are sold under many brand names including Vicodin, Lortab and Norco. Many of opioid painkillers are 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 in a manner other than that 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.

Signs and Symptoms

When taken as directed, hydrocodone relieves pain, but it also can cause side effects in users—especially in those abusing this medication by taking it for non-medical purposes. The most common side effects include:

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

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

Signs 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. Oftentimes, people suffering from addiction – or a substance use disorder – have a strong belief that they must have the drug to perform normal daily tasks or even get through the day. Despite the mounting negative consequences to their health, and to their lives in general, they will continue to abuse hydrocodone.

Individuals gripped by hydrocodone dependence and addiction frequently show telltale signs and behaviors indicative of active substance abuse:

  • Exaggerating pain symptoms or lying about injury to receive prescriptions.
  • Requesting frequent refills for the drug.
  • Seeing two or more doctors for additional prescriptions.
  • Social isolation, or spending more 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.
  • Marked mood changes.

Effects of Abusing Hydrocodone

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

People who develop a tolerance 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 place themselves in danger of an overdose.

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.

It’s never too late to ask for help. Reach out at and begin your recovery journey.

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. In most cases, you must stay for a minimum of 28 days—however, many programs offer longer options. As mentioned, many inpatient centers can also provide medically managed detox 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 stubborn opiate addictions, as they allow you to focus completely on your sobriety—freed of the temptations and distractions that might otherwise occur in a home setting.

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

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 more than 82,000 emergency room incidents in 2011 related to non-medical abuse of hydrocodone.

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 rate of prescriptions diverted to the illicit market. The availability of hydrocodone on the black market has skyrocketed as a result.

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 close to 6% of high school seniors had, at some point in their lives, 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 more than 850,000 in 2013.


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

  • The MTF survey found that lifetime abuse of Vicodin was higher among both 10th and 12th graders than non-medical 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 mistakenly 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 the benefit of doctor 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.

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.

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