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Hydrocodone – Vicodin, Lortab and Norco

Hydrocodone is used in numerous drugs along with ingredients like acetaminophen. The drugs are effective at treating pain and coughs, but they can be addictive. Drugs containing hydrocodone like Vicodin, Lortab and Norco have been around for decades, but thousands of people end up in emergency rooms every year after abusing them. Health care professionals can effectively treat hydrocodone addiction.

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    How Hydrocodone Works

    Hydrocodone works by altering how the brain and nervous system react to pain, and by reducing activity in the areas of the brain that cause coughing.


    The U.S. government classifies hydrocodone as a Schedule II controlled substance, and combination drugs containing hydrocodone as Schedule III controlled substances. Schedule II substances have a high potential for abuse that can lead to dependency, and Schedule III substances have less potential for abuse.

    Typical side effects from hydrocodone products include mild dizziness and lightheadedness. However, abuse of the drug can lead to severe side effects like coma, seizure and death. The product’s combination with acetaminophen adds an additional risk of liver damage and liver failure, and long-term use increases the risk of both mental and physical addiction.

    Increase in Abuse

    As use and abuse of drugs like Vicodin, Norco and Lortab increased, so did emergency room visits and deaths by overdose. Emergency room visits from products containing hydrocodone began increasing regularly in the 1990s, eventually reaching more than 104,000 in 2009. Overdose deaths from opioids increased more than four-fold from 1999 to 2011, with drugs containing hydrocodone, oxycodone and morphine causing the most deaths.

    In light of the growth in cases of dependency and addiction, medical researchers began developing ways to help people recover from substance use disorders involving hydrocodone. Now, there are proven treatments available and healthcare facilities like rehabilitation clinics that regularly help people recover.

    Hydrocodone Side Effects

    The most common side effects of hydrocodone are dizziness, drowsiness and anxiety.

    Other possible side effects include:

    • Nausea
    • Vomiting
    • Constipation
    • Headache
    • Mood swings
    • Blurred vision
    • Dry mouth

    Side Effects of Hydrocodone Abuse

    The drug rarely causes extreme side effects when taken as prescribed, but people who abuse products containing hydrocodone can experience life-threatening side effects.

    Like other opioids, people who take hydrocodone eventually build up a tolerance and require higher doses of the drug to achieve the same painkilling effects.

    Side effects of abusing products containing hydrocodone
    Extreme dizziness Vomiting Passing out
    Liver disease Liver failure Slowed breathing
    Seizure Coma Death
    Side effects of abusing products containing hydrocodone
    Extreme dizziness
    Passing out
    Liver disease
    Liver failure
    Slowed breathing

    Long-term Side Effects

    People who take drugs containing hydrocodone for long periods of time are more likely to develop either a mental or physical dependence. These dependencies can lead to long-term side effects, including:

    • Feeling angry
    • Feeling anxious
    • Trouble seeing
    • Trouble with employment
    • Trouble keeping relationships

    A mental dependence occurs when someone taking hydrocodone becomes used to feeling reduced pain. A physical dependence occurs when the brain craves the effects of hydrocodone.

    Hydrocodone Addiction

    Addiction occurs because the brain responds to pleasure by wanting to continue seeking the substance that caused the pleasure.

    Certain nerves in the brain physically change when exposed to hydrocodone for long periods of time or to high doses of the substance.

    Adults younger than 55 and non-Hispanic white people are the most likely to abuse opioids like hydrocodone. However, opioid overdose rates for people older than 55 increased rapidly in the last decade.

    Other factors that contribute to a person’s likelihood to become addicted include a history of substance abuse, including alcohol abuse.

    Battling an addiction can be extremely difficult, because the body craves hydrocodone and goes into withdrawal when it doesn’t get it.

    Treatment for Hydrocodone Addiction

    The first step in treating addiction is recognizing the disease. Many people with a substance use disorder feel embarrassed to admit it or believe recovery is too difficult. However, certified treatment options can bring success.

    Pharmacological treatment options may be used to counteract symptoms of withdrawal. Medications like methadone, naltrexone and buprenorphine can help reduce the effects of stopping hydrocodone.

    Other behavioral treatments, like therapy and support groups, can help patients adjust to life without hydrocodone, prevent relapse and manage relapse if it occurs.

    Rehabilitation centers develop treatment plans specific to each patient’s needs, including providing treatments for other substance use disorders or mental health conditions.

    Hydrocodone’s History

    German pharmaceutical company Knoll developed hydrocodone in the years following World War I. Studies in the U.S. in the 1930s concluded the drug works as both a painkiller and cough suppressant, but is also addictive.

    The U.S. government categorized hydrocodone as a Schedule II drug when it passed the Controlled Substances Act in 1981, and Knoll introduced Vicodin six years later. Lortab was approved by the FDA in 1982, and the generic version of Vicodin became available in 1983.

    Opioid prescriptions rapidly increased when a 1990s study found opioids could effectively treat common causes of pain without leading to addiction, according to NPR. As opioid use increased, more pharmaceutical companies developed various hydrocodone medications like Norco in 1997.

    Companies have come under scrutiny for developing single-entity hydrocodone medications, meaning drugs with hydrocodone that aren’t in combination with another ingredient like acetaminophen.

    pills and water

    The FDA approved the first one, Zohydro ER, in 2013 against the recommendation of an FDA advisory committee. However, the only single entity hydrocodone medications on the market, Zohydro ER and Hydrocodone ER, both come in abuse-deterrent formulations now.

    Abuse-deterrent formulations make it difficult for people to snort or inject them. The new formulations are just one of the steps being taken to reduce prescription drug abuse across the world.

    Other steps include helping people recover from hydrocodone addiction. Rehabilitation centers are equipped to effectively help people recover and return to life without hydrocodone.

    syringe and spoon
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