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Hydrocodone is one of the opioid-based prescription painkillers derived from morphine. It is chemically related to oxycodone, heroin, and fentanyl, among other narcotic drugs. Recently, hydrocodone was moved up to Schedule II from Schedule III because it was found to be just as addictive as oxycodone and similar prescription opioid painkillers.
There are several brand-name versions of hydrocodone, including Zohydro and Vicodin, available as both immediate-release and extended-release drugs. However, all versions of hydrocodone medications are potent opioids, which can lead to abuse, dependence, and addiction. When a person abuses these medications, they often experience acute and chronic health problems. Like other narcotics, hydrocodone can cause long-term harm to the body and brain.
Even people who take hydrocodone medications as prescribed may experience side effects. People who abuse hydrocodone, however, are more likely to experience these side effects because they consume much more of the substance, specifically to get high. When a person consistently experiences negative side effects, they are at risk for causing damage to their internal organs.
Common side effects from hydrocodone abuse include:
Less common side effects include throat irritation, heartburn, headaches, irritability and mood swings, tingling in the fingers and toes, and mouth ulcers.
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When a person abuses an opioid drug for years, in large doses, they are likely to develop chronic health problems due to consistent poisoning of the body. Various systems are damaged due to long-term hydrocodone and other opioid abuse.
Versions of hydrocodone containing acetaminophen, such as the brand-name painkiller Vicodin, can cause liver damage. The opioid does not lead to these problems, but consuming more than 4,000 mg of acetaminophen in a day can cause acute or chronic liver injury. Chronic liver damage can lead to cirrhosis or liver failure.
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Signs of an opioid overdose must not be ignored. Call 911 immediately. A person overdosing on hydrocodone or other opioids requires immediate medical attention.
Overdose symptoms include:
Although the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that 91 people die, on average, every day from opioid overdoses, a more recent investigative report found that three out of every four people who overdoses on opioid drugs, including hydrocodone, survive. Many of these people do not seek medical attention to treat their overdose, which may lead to chronic health damage. Reported damage from surviving an opioid overdose includes:
When a person begins to misuse or abuse hydrocodone, they are at risk for developing a tolerance to this opioid, leading them to take more and more to achieve the original intoxication. They will also develop a physical dependence on the drug, triggering withdrawal symptoms if they attempt to stop taking it.
Withdrawing from opioids does not lead to life-threatening symptoms, but the experience can be uncomfortable without help from medical professionals, including therapists. Evidence-based treatment can help individuals to safely detox, avoid relapse, and embrace life in recovery.