Treatment for Vicodin Addiction and Signs of Abuse

Vicodin is known generically as hydrocodone bitartrate/acetaminophen. It is a combination of a narcotic pain reliever, hydrocodone, and acetaminophen, a non-narcotic pain reliever. Acetaminophen reduces fevers while hydrocodone influences the way the brain responds to pain. It is a prescription medication and usually take normally in pill form, though it also comes in liquid form.

Some of Vicodin’s reported side effects include:

  • Dizziness
  • Drowsiness
  • Nausea/vomiting
  • Lightheadedness
  • Constipation

Doctors will ask patients about their pain and take prior responses to pain management into account when deciding dosage levels. If Vicodin is used for children, a child’s weight is taken into account for dosage purposes. It is important to begin using this medication when the first signs of pain occur, so it will be more effective. Although Vicodin can be taken with or without food, it is recommended it be taken with food to avoid nausea.

More serious side effects include hallucinations, confusion, agitation and other changes in mood or mental state, pain in the stomach/abdominal area, and complications during urination. It is rare, but some people experience an allergic reaction to Vicodin. Medical help should be sought right away if experiencing difficulty breathing, swelling in the tongue or mouth, or a rash. In rare cases, individuals may also experience seizures, fainting, and difficulty swallowing or breathing. Immediate medical help is required if a patient experiences such symptoms.


Those who experience longer or extreme symptoms due to cancer may also be prescribed other medications in addition to Vicodin to deal with the ailment causing the pain. Always alert your physician about prescriptions, over-the-counter medications, and supplements you may be taking, so they can decide what is best for you. It is also important to discuss one’s medical history and mention any allergies since the medication contains inactive ingredients that could trigger an allergic reaction. According to WebMD, the medication can become habit-forming, and risk of addiction is increased if the patient has a history of previous drug or alcohol abuse.

Alcoholic beverages should be avoided when taking Vicodin, and people who use the medication should not operate heavy machinery, drive, or perform other tasks that require high concentration levels. Mayo Clinic states that Vicodin can increase the effects of alcohol or medicines that cause drowsiness, such as CNS (central nervous system) depressants. Older adults and children may be more sensitive to the effects of the medication. Women who are pregnant or nursing must speak with their physician prior to taking Vicodin since the medication can cause complications in mothers, fetuses, and babies.

How Vicodin Affects the Body

A high dosage of Vicodin over a long period of time can change the way a person’s brain works.

Vicodin is considered a man-made opiate. It helps people feel less pain by interacting with opiate receptors in the brain, and it is a central nervous system (CNS) depressant. It works on endorphin receptors and causes pain relief, sedation, and euphoria, and can even trigger a “high.” It can take up to 1.3hours for Vicodin to become active in the body. Depending on the dose, Vicodin’s effects can last 4-6 hours.

A study by California State University, Long Beach found that Vicodin might affect a person’s sexual urges by decreasing a person’s sex drive. Opiates such as Vicodin cause extreme constriction on the pupils of the eyes, and they cause neurotransmitters to fire at rapid rates,just like they do in times of stress. Many people experience muscle tension in the gastrointestinal tract as a result of Vicodin use. Nausea is frequently experienced as a result.

Vicodin affects the brain and its structure, and this causes visible behavioral changes.

Side effects are normally caused by the erratic way the neurons change. Scans show differences between those who only use Vicodin occasionally and those who use it more frequently.

Narcotics Anonymous states that other bodily systems are affected by Vicodin, including the:

  • LiverVicodin has a high amount of acetaminophen in it. In high dosages and with long-term use, Vicodin could cause liver damage.
  • Intestines and stomachConstipation is a common side effect of opiates such as Vicodin. Taking a larger dose or abusing the medication could cause bigger problems. Long-term Vicodin users could end up depending on laxatives in order to maintain regular bowel movements. There are also risks of injuries to the sphincter or anus in the form of anal fissures (tears in the anus). Some people may also experience narcotic bowel syndrome (NBS). This is a slowing of bowel movements and intestinal functions. Some symptoms include constipation, nausea, vomiting, and bloating.
  • LungsOpiates such as Vicodin can affect breathing patterns and proper lung function. There is increased risk of pneumonia in people who habitually use Vicodin. Some people find ways to smoke or inhale Vicodin, and this increases the likelihood of fluids accumulating in the lungs. For this reason, people who frequently use Vicodin could experience shortness of breath.
  • Kidneys and musclesSome people abuse Vicodin to such a high degree that coma and potentially life-threatening injuries can result. If in a coma, a person could suffer a condition called rhabdomyolysis. This condition occurs when a person is not moving for many hours. Muscle tissue begins to quickly break down because there is too much compression. Chemicals are produced by disintegration due to the compression and released into the bloodstream. Once there, these chemicals begin to affect other organ systems. This condition can cause kidney failure and necessitate dialysis. A person’s heart can also undergo damage, and this can trigger a heart attack. In worst-case scenarios, a person who continually uses Vicodin might require dialysis or even a kidney transplant.

How Addiction Starts

Some people become dependent on Vicodin because of the euphoric feeling it causes that helps people manage pain from ailments. In some cases, those who abuse Vicodin may suffer from mental health disorders, such as:

  • Post-traumatic stress disorders
  • Bipolar disorder
  • Schizophrenia
  • Depression and other mood disorders
  • Conduct disorders

Factors that influence the possibility of addiction include:

  • Brain chemistryOne theory is that people who become addicted to Vicodin do not have enough neurotransmitters that allow a person to experience pleasure. It is possible that people become addicted to Vicodin because they are unable to produce the proper chemicals naturally. Using the medication may be a way to make up for a deficiency in brain chemistry. This attempt at self-medication rarely works and often leads to addiction.
  • EnvironmentPeople who grow up with parents who were addicted to drugs, or in environments that were accepting of drug abuse, might be more susceptible to addiction themselves.
  • GenesThose who have family members with addictions may be predisposed to addiction.

Signs and Symptoms of Addiction

Not everyone responds to Vicodin addiction the same way. There are differing symptoms for short-term and long-term use. Some symptoms to watch out for are:

  • Mood swings
  • Euphoria
  • Anxiety
  • Memory problems
  • Lack of focus
  • Drowsiness
  • Visiting multiple doctors to get multiple Vicodin prescriptions
  • Ringing in the ears
  • Constricted pupils
  • Decreased heart rate
  • Itching sensations
  • Confusion
  • Hallucinations
  • Extreme cravings for more of the medication

Not everyone who becomes addicted to Vicodin set out to get high initially. People often become tolerant to the medication, even when using it legitimately. As a result, they may begin to require bigger doses in order to feel the effects of the medication. Such people may start taking more than prescribed and begin buying Vicodin off the street. Others may start altering how the drug is taken; for example, they may crush the pills and snort or inject (after mixing with water) the resulting powder.

People who inject Vicodin are at an increased risk of contracting HIV and other infectious diseases due to needle-sharing. Infection at the injection site is also a risk.

Behavioral Changes

People who become addicted to Vicodin may start neglecting their regular duties and appearances. A person may become obsessed with maintaining a supply of Vicodin at all times and consistently crave the medication. People may also make excuses for nodding off, claiming they are tired.

More serious signs of addiction include financial issues from procuring the drug through illicit means. It is often difficult to keep up with commitments due to the demands of substance abuse, and people may experience troubles in their personal relationships.


While there is no cure for addiction, recovery is possible with comprehensive treatment. Medical detox is the first phase of opiate addiction treatment. When individuals stop taking opiates, they may experience withdrawal symptoms, such as:

  • Cramps
  • Restlessness
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Aches
  • Chills
  • Pain in the muscles and bones

While withdrawal symptoms are not life-threatening, they can be incredibly uncomfortable. Medical detox can help to alleviate that discomfort and ensure individuals do not relapse to Vicodin use during withdrawal. In some instances, replacement medications, such as methadone and buprenorphine, are used for those in recovery from opiate addiction. Supervising physicians will determine if the use of such medications is appropriate for each individual.

Treatment for Vicodin addiction takes many forms, such as inpatient rehab, outpatient treatment, partial hospitalization programs, intensive outpatient programs, and ongoing aftercare. Various therapies are used in different treatment programs, and particular therapies should be chosen based on the individual’s specific situation and progress in recovery. As with any successful addiction treatment program, treatment should be tailored to each client, ensuring that care is customized to best serve the individual.

When choosing a treatment program, an individual should consider the type of care needed. For example, those suffering from co-occurring conditions, such as a comorbid mental health issue (like depression, anxiety, or a personality disorder) or medical issue, need to ensure that the treatment facility in question is equipped to handle dual-diagnosis cases.

One also needs to consider the location and pricing structure of a potential treatment facility, ensuring it fits best with the potential client’s financial and family situation. Many facilities offer family therapy as part of their offerings; if families wish to partake in this, they should opt for a facility that is closer to the family home to make transportation and therapy involvement more feasible.

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Editorial Staff
Editorial Staff, American Addiction Centers
The editorial staff of Greenhouse Treatment Center is comprised of addiction content experts from American Addiction Centers. Our editors and medical reviewers have over a decade of cumulative experience in medical content editing and have reviewed... Read More