Vicodin is a commonly prescribed medication for moderate to severe pain. It’s a mix of acetaminophen, a mild painkiller found in Tylenol, and hydrocodone, a powerful opioid. This produces a unique set of side effects that can cause long-term health problems in individuals who abuse the drug for an extended period of time. The opioid in Vicodin also gives it a significant addiction potential. Once a person is addicted, it can be difficult to stop taking the drug in spite of the unpleasant side effects and potential for long-term damage.
The initial effects of Vicodin, aside from a reduction of pain, tend to include feelings of relaxation and calm. If abused, it can create a feeling of euphoria. It also works as a cough suppressant. However, it can also produce a number of troubling side effects, including:
- Nausea and vomiting
- Impaired judgment
- Dry mouth
- Blurred vision
- Mood changes
- Difficulty urinating
Most of these side effects will pass soon after the drug leaves the system. However, there are several possible long-term and even permanent health issues that can arise from chronic abuse of Vicodin.
Long-term Effects of Vicodin Abuse
It’s also important to understand how opioids affect the central nervous system. As depressants, all opioids slow essential functions like heartbeat, the respiratory system, and the gastrointestinal system. Vicodin overdose can be very dangerous because if the nervous system becomes overly depressed, an individual can end up breathing so slowly and shallowly that not enough oxygen can get to the brain. This can lead to coma, brain damage, and death.
At the same time, the high level of acetaminophen in Vicodin produces a separate risk. Acetaminophen is notoriously hard on the liver, and an overdose can strike a hard blow to this very important organ. Even if an overdose never happens, over time, Vicodin abuse can cause damage to the liver that eventually becomes irreversible scarring. This results in liver dysfunction, and eventually, liver failure.
Additionally, the slowing of gastrointestinal function results in chronic constipation that can lead to serious health conditions and permanent damage to the intestinal tract. Someone who is often not breathing as deeply as they should also opens themselves up to respiratory infections and serious lung problems. Plus, difficulty urinating can lead to urinary tract infections. If these are left untreated, they can progress to kidney infections, which are very dangerous conditions that can end in death.
All of these health problems can become serious to the point that a person’s life might never be the same after developing them. Unfortunately, many people view prescription drugs as being safe simply because they are given by a doctor. In fact, the addictive nature of Vicodin has caused the US Food and Drug Administration to recommend that it be taken off the market in the US, and doctors have recently been more reluctant to prescribe it due to both restrictions and its reputation. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, around 2.1 million Americans suffered from a substance use disorder related to prescription opioids like Vicodin in 2012.
Luckily, there are a growing number of addiction treatment centers across the country that deal with addiction to Vicodin and similar prescription medications. To avoid long-term damage to the body, anyone who suspects they have developed an addiction to Vicodin, whether the medication is prescribed to them or not, should consult an addiction expert or other medical professional for advice.