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Hydrocodone Addiction and Abuse

Known by brand names Vicodin, Norco and Lortab, hydrocodone is a powerful painkiller with a high potential for abuse and addiction.

Understanding Hydrocodone

hydrocodone pillHydrocodone is the powerful main ingredient in narcotic painkillers for moderate to severe pain. It is often administered orally to treat short-term dental and injury-related pain.

People who use hydrocodone over a long period of time or in larger doses may start showing symptoms of hydrocodone addiction.

Hydrocodone is considered an “opioid,” or a semi-synthetic opiate. It’s similar to drugs like morphine, codeine and oxycodone.

Hydrcodone relieves pain by binding pain receptors (opioid receptors) in the central nervous system. This weakens the signal for pain in the brain and can produce feelings of elation.

How Hydrocodone Is Used

Hydrocodone is combined with acetaminophen (the active ingredient in Tylenol) or ibuprofen in brand names such as Vicodin, Norco and Lortab. The Food and Drug Administration has also approved a pure hydrocodone product known as Zohydro.

Those abusing hydrocodone may crush up their pills and snort or inject the contents. In 2014, lawmakers recognized the increasing dangers of abuse and addiction of hydrocodone combination products such as Vicodin and changed them from a Schedule III to Schedule II controlled substance.

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Hydrocodone Brand Names

There are several versions of hydrocodone marketed in the United States. Those with an addiction to hydrocodone likely have a specific brand they prefer. This could be based on many reasons that are both practical and psychological.

Vicodin (5mg, 7.5mg, 10mg/300mg)

Vicodin pillEach Vicodin tablet has 300 mg of acetaminophen and comes in three different dosage levels of hydrocodone—5 mg, 7.5 mg and 10 mg. It is generally prescribed for one tablet taken every 4 to 6 hours, though addicts may take much higher doses.

Vicodin once had a high amount of acetaminophen in its pills, but an FDA change in 2011 required all prescription painkillers to reduce their acetaminophen content. High doses of acetaminophen have been known to cause liver damage. Previous formulations included 500 to 750 mg of acetaminophen.

Up to 131 million Americans were, oftentimes unnecessarily, prescribed Vicodin in 2011.

Norco (7mg, 10mg/325mg)

Norco pillNorco is most often prescribed in two strengths: either 7.5 mg or 10 mg of hydrocodone combined with 325 mg of acetaminophen.

Prior to the FDA requiring lower levels of acetaminophen in hydrocodone medications, Norco had the least amount of acetaminophen in it. Some addicts chose Norco in an effort to avoid the increased risks of consuming too much acetaminophen. Currently, it has the highest amount of acetaminophen allowed.

In 2012, almost 2 million people tried opioids like Norco recreationally for the first time.

Lortab (5mg, 7.5mg, 10mg/325mg)

Lortab pillLortab is a prescription drug that combines hydrocodone with acetaminophen. The addition of acetaminophen increases the pain relieving effects of the drug.

Even those with a legitimate prescription may be abusing Lortab by taking more than recommended. Taking more than the prescribed dose of Lortab increases the risk of dependency.

The highest percentage of non-medical Lortab use are 18-25 year olds.

Zohydro (10mg, 15mg, 20mg, 30mg, 40mg, 50mg)

zohydroThe first purely hydrocodone product approved by the FDA, Zohydro is only prescribed for severe pain. Because hydrocodone can be addictive, use of Zohydro is carefully monitored and regulated.

When Zohydro was approved, there was some backlash over its abuse potential. Because it has no acetaminophen, addicted people could turn to this powerful painkiller to reduce the risk of liver damage.

New users, whether medical or recreational, can easily become addicted to this pure substance.

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Hydrocodone Effects and Abuse

Hydrocodone abuse can be difficult to recognize. Someone who has a legitimate hydrocodone prescription, but uses it outside of a doctor’s recommendation, is abusing it.

Abuse can be taking more pills than prescribed, continuing to take them beyond their prescribed timeframe or taking them in a way other than how they were intended (such as snorting or injecting them). Many people abuse hydrocodone products for the “high” that comes from them.

Some of the immediate effects of hydrocodone abuse include:

  • Relaxation
  • Decreased anxiety
  • Euphoria
  • Calmness
  • Happiness

High doses of hydrocodone can create these effects more quickly. However, they can also lead to overdose.

Overdosing on hydrocodone can cause drowsiness, confusion and nausea. The most dangerous side effect of hydrocodone is depressed or stopped breathing.

Addiction to Hydrocodone


Hydrocodone interferes with the brain’s pain receptors and the brain’s limbic system, collectively known as the brain reward system. Frequent hydrocodone abuse not only reprograms the brain for addiction but also causes a physical dependence on the substance.

Once someone is physically dependent on hydrocodone, they need it to prevent withdrawal symptoms such as muscle aches and nausea.

As their tolerance builds, people addicted to hydrocodone need higher doses to keep withdrawal symptoms at bay.

Addiction is diagnosed on a spectrum from mild to severe. Some signs of hydrocodone addiction include taking more than intending to and prioritizing drug use over personal or professional responsibilities. Addictions to hydrocodone, Vicodin, Norco and Lortab can spiral out of control quickly.

Get help for a hydrocodone addiction now.

Hydrocodone and Other Drugs

Abusing hydrocodone alongside other drugs can increase the likelihood of negative effects or overdose. Mixing hydrocodone with alcohol can be especially dangerous, as both substances are central nervous system depressants. In some cases, combined hydrocodone and alcohol abuse can lead to respiratory failure.

Hydrocodone’s painkilling properties make it similar to heroin, which is often cheaper and more accessible. All too often, people who have developed a dependence on hydrocodone while prescribed to it turn to heroin as a substitute afterward.

Hydrocodone Abuse Statistics

Prescription opioids such as hydrocodone are the fourth most common addiction in the U.S., accounting for approximately 1.8 million addicts.

20%abused prescriptions

About 20% of those abusing opioids like hydrocodone received the drug with a prescription.

2million first-timers

In 2012, almost 2 million people tried opioids recreationally for the first time.

46%medical emergencies

Prescription opioids are the most common substance involved in drug-related medical emergencies. In 2013, 46% of drug-related medical emergencies involved opioids.

Treating a Hydrocodone Addiction

Hydrocodone powerfully addictive. Medical detox and a professional treatment program makes it easier to break this addiction. If you or someone you care about is struggling to get out from under the pull of these drugs, let us help you break free.

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Sources & Author Last Edited: November 25, 2015

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