Vicodin Abuse & Treatment

Vicodin consists of two different medications used to treat chronic pain: hydrocodone and acetaminophen.

The opioid, or narcotic, component of Vicodin consists of the synthetic opioid agonist hydrocodone and the other component, acetaminophen, is a nonprescription analgesic found in many drugs like Tylenol. The primary therapeutic use for Vicodin is to treat chronic pain or the pain that individuals experience following surgery.

How Addictive Is Vicodin?

In the past two decades, the powerful addictive nature of prescription opioids like Vicodin has become painfully clear, with millions of people struggling with addiction to these medications.

Vicodin and other prescription opioids not only block pain sensations but also produce a large release of dopamine, which makes the user want to repeat the drug-taking experience. In high doses, Vicodin can produce a euphoric high, which can also motivate users to take it again and again.

Over time, Vicodin users can become tolerant to the drug, meaning they will have to continue increasing their dose to feel the desired effects. They may also become physically dependent on the drug over time, needing to take it simply to avoid withdrawal.

Both tolerance and dependence are signs of addiction but do not constitute addiction in and of themselves. Addiction is a disease characterized by compulsive use of a drug like Vicodin despite awareness of the problems that arise from it.

Vicodin is a DEA Schedule II controlled substance, an indication of its high potential for abuse and dependence.

What Are the Side Effects of Vicodin?

The primary therapeutic effect of Vicodin is pain relief, but as mentioned above, there are other potential side effects. These include:

  • Euphoria
  • Confusion.
  • Loss of appetite
  • Nausea
  • Sedation (e.g., drowsiness, lethargy, decreased reactions, etc.)
  • Vomiting
  • Itchy skin.
  • Lightheadedness.
  • Anxiety.
  • Dysphoric mood.
  • Constipation
  • Slowed respiration.

Vicodin Overdose

Taking too much Vicodin may result in an overdose, which can be deadly. Signs of a Vicodin overdose include:

  • Extremely slow, irregular, or stopped breathing.
  • Tiny pupils.
  • Limp body.
  • Unconsciousness or extreme sleepiness.
  • Slow or erratic heartbeat.
  • Cold, clammy skin
  • A blue tint to the skin, fingernails or lips
  • Choking or rattling sounds.

Vicodin Addiction Treatment

Since Vicodin is an opioid, medical detox is required for those seeking recovery. While medical detox does not constitute treatment on its own, it is often the first step in the recovery process. Most often, physicians prescribe medications to treat the physical and emotional symptoms of withdrawal and then slowly decrease the dosage of that medication over time as the individual adjusts (e.g., a common drug used for this purpose is Suboxone). At the same time, the individual will need to receive therapy to deal with emotional and psychological issues that contributed to Vicodin abuse.

Therapy or counseling can be done on an individual or group basis, and many individuals recovering from abuse or addiction to Vicodin may engage in both group and individual therapy. Many find the use of support groups, such as Narcotics Anonymous, to be extremely useful.

Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) principles are often used to treat individuals who are recovering from abuse or addiction issues. A good starting point is to find a therapist who specializes in addiction treatment. Oftentimes, therapists experienced in CBT are staffed at comprehensive addiction treatment programs.

Most 12-Step and peer-support groups are not led by professionally trained therapists; however, many of the individuals in these groups have extended periods of sobriety and can offer assistance and help to struggling individuals.

There is no “one-size-fits-all” approach to treating addiction. Most individuals in recovery find that they need to explore different options for therapy, 12-Step groups, and other forms of treatment until they find a situation that works for them. Formal addiction treatment, generally in an inpatient format, shows the greatest long-term recovery results for those struggling with Vicodin addiction.

Talking to a Loved One About Vicodin Addiction

Mother having hard convo with daughter

In the same way that professional athletes such as football players cannot see all of the possibilities that occur during the game because of their subjective and limited viewpoint, individuals who abuse drugs or alcohol often become blinded by their addictive behavior and do not freely admit the negative ramifications of their abuse or addiction. Like professional athletes, individuals with an addiction or abuse problem very often need a coach or third party to guide them to see their mistakes, offer potential positive choices, and assist them in understanding and changing their behavior. In addiction, the phenomenon of not realizing or admitting to the negative ramifications of drug abuse is often termed denial.

A family member or close friend that the person respects can talk to the individual, or a group of concerned relatives and friends can do so in an intervention. If it is decided that an intervention will be staged, the group should always include a professional interventionist or family mediator to monitor the interaction with individual. Whether a formal intervention is used or some other method is employed, there are some ground rules to consider when addressing a person who abuses or is addicted to Vicodin. These include:

  • Prepare: Write out what you want to express ahead of time.
  • Try not to be confrontational: Simply accusing or confronting a person with an addiction or abuse issue often turns into an argument that did not solve anything.
  • Communicate concernPoint out behaviors that indicate the person is experiencing negative aspects from drug use.
  • Be understanding: Ask questions and then discuss the person’s responses/views.
  • Point out the results of drug useHighlight negative consequences that have resulted from drug use.
  • Know your limitations: Because many individuals who abuse drugs such as Vicodin also engage in denial, it is important to remember that you are not responsible for changing the person. The best you can do is to provide your loved one with information regarding the situation and suggest that help is needed. The person must initiate the change and be committed to change.
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