Overview – What are the Dangers of Using Too Much Vicodin?
- 1. Addiction (Long term use leading to dependence).
- 2. Adverse Health Effects (symptoms of use).
- 3. Overdose (Death).
Vicodin is a strong prescription painkiller that combines a narcotic, hydrocodone, with a nonnarcotic, acetaminophen. This medication is typically prescribed for short-term moderate to severe pain, often after surgery or to relieve pain from a temporary injury. Hydrocodone and acetaminophen both address the brain’s processing of pain, and acetaminophen also lowers fever.
How Do People Become Addicted to Vicodin?
Because Vicodin contains hydrocodone, which is an opioid medication synthesized from morphine, it can be addictive. Opioid drugs like hydrocodone and oxycodone can be abused to create a drowsy high that is similar to the high experienced with heroin use.
The first report on hydrocodone addiction was published in 1961, although the prescription opioid epidemic did not begin until painkiller prescriptions skyrocketed after 1999, according to the Centers for Disease Control. Overdose deaths related to painkiller addiction have quadrupled since that time, alongside the number of opioid prescriptions. In 2014, there were an average of 52 deaths per day due to prescription painkiller overdoses.
Vicodin can be particularly dangerous, not only because of the opioid component, but also due to acetaminophen, which can lead to liver toxicity in very high doses.
Who Abuses Vicodin?
Because Vicodin is used to treat post-surgical or post-injury pain in a wide variety of people, opioid abuse has started to affect every age group, gender, and socioeconomic class. In fact, heroin addiction and abuse are common after people become addicted to prescription opioids, and then cannot afford or acquire their prescription painkiller of choice anymore. According to the CDC, between 2002 and 2013, heroin addiction and abuse increased in the 18-25 age group. Non-Hispanic white individuals make up one of the fastest-growing groups of heroin abusers, in large part due to prior addiction to prescription opioid painkillers like Vicodin.
Although the problem of prescription painkiller abuse spans all economic and ethnic groups, due to prescribing practices, it is sometimes viewed as a “white collar problem” because it has affected more middle-income, white American adults than other drug addiction epidemics. Due to their addictive properties, the Drug Enforcement Administration moved hydrocodone-based drugs like Vicodin from a Schedule III to Schedule II classification, in order to better track prescriptions and combat addiction issues.
Symptoms of Vicodin Addiction
If a person becomes addicted to Vicodin, they may exhibit various symptoms, such as:
- Drowsiness or sedation
- Pinpoint pupils
- Slowed breathing
- Nausea or vomiting
- Flushed skin
- Slurred speech or impaired physical coordination
- Confusion or poor judgment
- Lowered inhibitions
- Lying about drug use
- Stealing pills or forging prescriptions
- Anger or irritability when questioned about Vicodin use
People who become addicted to prescription painkillers like Vicodin can quickly develop a physical tolerance to the drug, so they are likely to begin taking more of the medication than prescribed in order to feel the same effects. This can lead to an overdose, which puts the individual at risk of death and other serious health complications.
The CDC reports that more people died from drug overdoses in 2014 than any previous year on record. Between 2000 and 2014, nearly 500,000 individuals died from drug overdoses, including from prescription opioids like Vicodin. In 2013, overdose deaths from opioid painkillers represented 44 percent of all prescription overdose deaths. Most of these were unintentional overdoses.
- Muscle twitches
- Dilated pupils
- Stomach or intestinal spasms
- Extreme confusion or delirium
- Loss of consciousness
- Labored breathing
- Depressed or stopped breathing
- Bluish skin, particularly around the lips or under the fingernails
- Low blood pressure
- Weak pulse
Because Vicodin contains acetaminophen, there may be symptoms of overdose specific to that medication as well. Acetaminophen overdose symptoms include:
- Abdominal pain
- Nausea or vomiting
Treatment for Vicodin Addiction or Abuse
Addiction to opioid painkillers like Vicodin is not a matter of personal weakness or willpower. Addiction is a disease of the brain that is triggered by a somewhat unpredictable combination of genetic and environmental factors. Anyone can struggle with a Vicodin addiction, but full recovery is always possible. It is, however, important to get help as soon as possible. Since overdoses related to Vicodin and other painkillers are on the rise, treatment can literally save a life. Fortunately, there are many ways to help people struggling with a Vicodin addiction.
When a person enters a rehabilitation program for Vicodin addiction, the first step is to detox from the medication. This involves going through withdrawal. As an opiate, medical detox is always necessary for Vicodin withdrawal. A “cold turkey” detox will involve various withdrawal symptoms that need to be monitored by medical professions. Symptoms include::
- Extreme irritability
- Increased breathing rate
- Uncontrollable yawning
- Cold or flu-like symptoms
- Muscle aches and pains
- Stomach cramping
- Increased sweating
- Overall feeling of malaise
Depending on how long the person has abused Vicodin, and how large their regular doses were, withdrawal symptoms may dissipate in three days to two weeks. Because the body has become dependent on Vicodin to feel normal, it is thrown into a state of imbalance without the presence of the drug. As a result, withdrawal symptoms can feel very intense, which is why medical detox is needed. Without professional medical help, it is likely that individuals attempting to detox from Vicodin will give in to the intense cravings for the drug and relapse.
Medications Used in Opiate Addiction Treatment
There are several prescription medications used to help people struggling with an opioid addiction during the withdrawal and ongoing recovery process. These have been shown to be effective in helping people who abuse Vicodin, OxyContin, heroin, and other opiate drugs.
- Buprenorphine: The FDA approved this partial opioid agonist in 2002. This prescription medication works similarly to methadone, but it does not require the same sort of oversight in clinics, and it has less potential for abuse. Buprenorphine can, instead, be prescribed to patients working in both inpatient and outpatient rehabilitation programs, with a physician’s oversight to taper doses until the individual has been successfully weaned off all opioids. Buprenorphine binds to the opioid receptors in the brain for longer than other opioid drugs, which helps to ease withdrawal symptoms and satisfy cravings without creating a “high.”
- Suboxone: This medication is a combination of buprenorphine and naloxone, which is designed to lower the potential for abuse. When ingested as prescribed, Suboxone’s buprenorphine component works on the brain to ease withdrawal symptoms and cravings; however, when crushed or abused in ways not as prescribed in order to get high, naloxone binds to the opioid receptors in the brain instead, stopping the uptake of all other opioids and sending the individual into withdrawal. Thus, it discourages abuse of the medication.
- Naltrexone: This opioid antagonist stops opiates like Vicodin from binding to the brain’s receptors. This medication is typically not used until after a person has successfully detoxed from their addiction. It is used instead as a method to help maintain sobriety by preventing opioid drugs taken during a relapse from having an effect.
- Clonidine: Although this medication was developed to treat high blood pressure, it is often prescribed for people detoxing from an opioid addiction to help ease the fight-or-flight response in the brain. This medication may ease certain symptoms of withdrawal, such as sweating, restlessness, and anxiety.
When a person enters a rehabilitation program, they will have access to a medical professional who can prescribe these medications and help the person through withdrawal. The person will also get psychological and social support throughout withdrawal and ongoing recovery. Individual and group therapy in combination with medication will help the person work through issues related to their substance abuse. In addition, therapists will help individuals devise healthy ways to manage triggers in life that prompt them to want to use substances of abuse.
Get Help for Vicodin Addiction and Abuse
Although lawmakers and medical professionals are increasingly aware of the opioid abuse epidemic, there has been little change in painkiller prescribing practices.
More people every year are prescribed painkillers to treat legitimate pain after surgery or an injury, but they then struggle with an addiction to this medication. Vicodin is one of the most commonly prescribed opioid painkillers, which means its potential for abuse is substantial in the US.
Addiction is not a life sentence, though it is a chronic disease. Complete recovery is possible with the right kind of comprehensive treatment. Most often, individuals in recovery need to maintain some level of ongoing aftercare for the rest of their lives; however, this level of care generally becomes less intense over time.