Signs Of Hydrocodone Use

Hydrocodone (also known by the brand names Vicodin, Norco, and Lortab) is a powerful prescription opioid medication that is prescribed to treat pain and suppress cough.

Opioids like hydrocodone produce a euphoric effect by activating the opioid receptors in the brain. The sedative effect of hydrocodone makes it highly desirable for many people and contributes to misuse and addiction. Hydrocodone addiction is clinically referred to as an opioid use disorder (OUD).

According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 5th edition (DSM-5), to meet the criteria for OUD, a person must have experienced a problematic pattern of opioid use that results in clinically dysfunctional impairment. This is evidenced by meeting at least two of the following criteria below within a 12-month timeframe:

  • Opioids are taken in larger amounts or for a longer period than initially intended
  • There is a desire to reduce opioid use
  • Time is spent trying to obtain, use, and recover from opioid use
  • Opioid use has hindered life obligations at work, home, or school
  • Opioid use continues despite experiencing personal or professional problems
  • Disinterest in occupational, recreational, or social activities results from opioid use
  • Opioid use has created or exacerbated psychological or physical problems
  • Opioid tolerance has developed
  • Withdrawal symptoms develop after cessation of taking opioids

An OUD is categorized as mild if two to three of the above-mentioned criteria are met. If four to five criteria are met, the OUD is categorized as moderate, and if six or more are met, a severe OUD diagnosis is deemed appropriate.

Paid Advertising. We receive advertising fees from purchases through BetterHelp links.

Online Addiction Counseling

Get professional help from an online addiction and mental health counselor from BetterHelp.

Get Matched
Begin Therapy
  • Personalized Matching Process
  • Easy Online Scheduling
  • 30,000+ Licensed Therapists


Signs Of Hydrocodone Addiction

If you think someone you know may be struggling with an addiction to hydrocodone, there are physical and behavioral signs you can look for.

Common behavioral signs of a hydrocodone use problem include:

  • Social isolation from friends and family
  • A change in friend group
  • A decline in personal hygiene
  • Mood swings
  • Financial problems
  • Missing important obligations at work, with friends, and with family
  • Irregular sleep patterns, including sleeping at odd times throughout the day
  • Increase or decrease in appetite
  • Changes in personality or attitude
  • A decline in work or school performance

Behavioral changes can also accompany physical signs of hydrocodone misuse, such as:

  • Dilated pupils
  • Decreased breathing rate
  • Drowsiness
  • Feelings of fatigue and loss of energy
  • Flu-like symptoms, including vomiting, nausea, and sweating

It is important to know both the behavioral and physical symptoms of hydrocodone addiction so that you can seek appropriate treatment for yourself or a loved one.

What To Do If You Or Someone You Care About Is Struggling With Hydrocodone Addiction

If a loved one is struggling with hydrocodone addiction, a good starting point is to identify a safe place and an appropriate time to speak with them and encourage them to seek treatment. This can be a time for you to mention your concerns but also listen to them without judgment as they share their addiction struggles. Most importantly, remind them that addiction is a treatable disorder.

Side Effects Of Short And Long-Term Abuse

Hydrocodone interacts with the brain’s reward system, which reinforces continued use by allowing the body to adjust to the drug’s presence and, in a short time, come to depend on it. Continued abuse of hydrocodone can cause short and long-term damage to the user’s body and mental health.

Often, chronic health problems develop because the individual cannot feel pain signals that let them know when they are experiencing illness or injury. Many times, the individual will not become aware of health issues until they detox. Some health concerns include:

Respiratory Damage

Using large amounts of hydrocodone long-term reduces an individual’s breathing rate, which in turn reduces how much oxygen their body takes in. This can cause damage to various organ systems, including the brain. It can also increase the risk of sudden death for individuals who suffer from sleep apnea or lung diseases. People who crush and smoke hydrocodone can also damage their lungs by smoking the harsh chemicals.

Endocrine System Damage

Chronic, heavy use of hydrocodone decreases hormone levels in the body. Some of these hormones include estrogen and testosterone, which can lead to fertility damage, making it more difficult to conceive. Low hormone levels can also result in increased risk of depression, anxiety, chronic fatigue syndrome, osteoporosis due to loss of muscle mass, and increased risk of bone fractures. A study found that hormone levels in women who were addicted to hydrocodone were between 30 to 70% lower in estrogen levels than normal.

Hyperalgesia (Increased Pain Responses)

Individuals with hydrocodone use disorders are at high risk of damaging opioid receptors in the brain, which affect how the brain manages responses to pain. Numerous studies have reported that individuals who have a history of long-term opioid use are much more likely to experience intense pain. After years of opioid abuse, many people have a heightened sensitivity to pain. This results in needing longer periods of time to recover from an injury or surgery and experiencing intense cravings to use hydrocodone to relieve chronic pain.

Brain Damage

Significant abuse of hydrocodone can alter how chemicals are released and absorbed in the brain, especially mood-regulating neurotransmitters (such as serotonin and dopamine). Taking high doses of hydrocodone for long periods of time can cause large doses of feel-good neurotransmitters to flood the brain. Over time, this will change the structures associated with emotional control, rational thinking, memory, and learning.

Long-term oxygen deprivation will also result in damage to brain structures. Some damage is reversible but may take years to adjust. Some symptoms, however, may not be completely reversible. There is also risk of irreversible brain damage due to lack of blood flow after an overdose from hydrocodone due to respiratory failure. Strokes, for instance, fall in this category.

Liver Damage

Variants of hydrocodone containing acetaminophen also pose a high-risk of liver damage or failure. Studies show that consuming more than 4,000 mg of acetaminophen in one day can cause acute or chronic liver injury – including cirrhosis and possibly liver failure. For this reason, the Food And Drug Administration (FDA) reduced the acceptable level of acetaminophen to no more than 325 mg in hydrocodone-based medications. Prior to these new regulations, hydrocodone once contained more than double that amount.

Take Back Your Life From Hydrocodone Addiction

It is important to note that anyone can develop a hydrocodone addiction, and the risks of addiction can be severe. Fortunately, help is available if you or someone you love is struggling with a hydrocodone addiction. Substance abuse treatment programs can help you put an end to your addiction and learn the skills necessary to sustain sobriety.

If you are struggling with hydrocodone addiction, reach out to a treatment provider today. Together, you can explore treatment options that can help you put an end to your addiction.