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What Is Hydrocodone? Side-Effects, Withdrawal Symptoms, & Risk Of Overdose

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Last Medical Reviewer On: August 25, 2023
Updated On: Aug 25, 2023
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Written by:

Amanda Stevens, B.S.

Medical Review by:

Dr. Po Chang Hsu MD, MS

What Is Hydrocodone? Side-Effects, Withdrawal Symptoms, & Risk Of Overdose
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    What you will learn
    • Hydrocodone is an opiate substances that is highly addictive.
    • Applications for hydrocodone include a cough, chronic pain, back pain, and nerve pain.
    • Side effects include insomnia, dry mouth, headache, lower extremity swelling, fatigue, stomach pain, uncontrollable shaking, muscle tightening, painful and frequent urination, and ringing in the ears.
    • Hydrocodone withdrawal symptoms include trouble sleeping, anxiety, restlessness, depression, muscle aches, sweating, nausea and abdominal cramps, vomiting, irritability, and mood swings, among others.

    Hydrocodone is a semi-synthetic opioid that is commonly used to treat moderate to moderately severe pain and as a cough suppressant. It is a Schedule II controlled substance.

    The use of hydrocodone comes with a wide range of side effects. Due to the drug’s effects, there is a higher chance of abuse or addiction, which may result in withdrawal symptoms and overdose.

    What Is Hydrocodone?

    In 2013, there were 136.7 million prescriptions[1] dispensed that contained hydrocodone in the United States alone. In 2016, that number dropped to 93.7 million, and in 2017, it decreased further to 83.6 million. These numbers are largely due to the efforts to decrease the opioid epidemic in the states.

    Because this medication is relatively easy to come by, it is accessible to members of all age groups, ethnicities, and economic statuses. It is also viewed as a safe drug to take since it is often prescribed by medical professionals, which can increase the chances of abuse.

    Hydrocodone can be found in various forms, including capsules, tablets, and liquid forms when found in the illicit drug market. Tablets that contain both hydrocodone and acetaminophen are the most commonly found form.

    While hydrocodone may be one of the more commonly abused opioids on the market, they are not typically produced in non-pharmaceutical labs. Diverted forms of hydrocodone are the types of this drug that end up being abused the most.

    This is done through means of fraudulent prescriptions, doctor shopping, altered prescriptions, fake prescription call-ins, pharmacists and physicians diverting the drug, and even drug theft.

    Brand Names For Hydrocodone

    Brand names of hydrocodone are commonly recognized prescription drugs. These include Lortab®, Lorcet-HD®, Hycodan®, Vicoprofen®. Generic brand names of hydrocodone[2] with acetaminophen include Co-Gesic® and Vicodin®.

    What Is Hydrocodone Used For?

    Hydrocodone is used for a variety of different conditions and ailments. It is just as effective, if not more effective, for cough suppression as codeine. For pain relief, it is equal to the power of morphine.

    Hydrocodone For Pain

    Following surgery or for moderate to severe chronic pain, hydrocodone may be prescribed. It blocks the pain receptors in the brain and allows the person taking it to feel relief from pain. When patients overuse the medication for the pain, it may increase their tolerance and cause problems with addiction. This is especially the case with prolonged use of hydrocodone.

    Hydrocodone For Cough

    Hydrocodone is a known medication that helps with cough suppression. This can be used in patients 6 years of age or older and works directly with the area of the brain that helps reduce the urge to cough. It will typically take 1 to 2 hours to see improvement in the respiratory system once the medication has been taken.

    Hydrocodone For Back Pain

    Back pain is a common problem that can cause patients to have trouble performing normal tasks or working. When hydrocodone is used for back pain, it will allow relief and help with the ability to function properly throughout the day. Since a lot of back pain is classified as chronic, some patients that are prescribed hydrocodone will become physically dependent on its effects.

    Hydrocodone For Nerve Pain

    Hydrocodone and tramadol are common drugs used to treat nerve pain. Tramadol is typically used when the pain threshold is milder. When there is moderate to severe nerve pain, hydrocodone will often be prescribed. Hydrocodone will change the way the nervous system and the brain respond to the pain.

    Hydrocodone Side Effects

    As with any prescription drug, there are hydrocodone side effects. If someone experiences any severe side effects from taking the drug, they should notify their doctor.

    Side effects from hydrocodone include:

    • Difficulty falling asleep or sleeping through the night
    • Dry mouth
    • Headache
    • Ankle, foot, or leg swelling
    • Tiredness and fatigue
    • Stomach pain
    • Uncontrollable shaking in one part of the body
    • Muscle tightening
    • Painful, difficult, or frequent urination
    • Ringing in the ears

    Aside from normal or common side effects of hydrocodone, there are some side effects that can be serious and dangerous. If any of these serious side effects occur, medical attention should be sought immediately:

    • Hives or itching
    • Inability to achieve or keep an erection or decreased sexual desire
    • Dizziness, nausea, weakness, loss of appetite, or vomiting
    • Fever
    • Sweating or shivering
    • Loss of coordination
    • Hallucinations, which are hearing voices or seeing things that are not there
    • Swelling in the throat, lips, eyes, tongue, or face
    • Difficulty breathing or swallowing
    • Confusion
    • Twitching of the muscles or severe stiffness
    • Diarrhea
    • Fast or changes in heartbeat
    • Hoarseness

    Is hydrocodone addictive?

    Yes, hydrocodone is a very addictive drug. 16,706 people died in 2021[3] from an overdose that involved prescription opioids. Hydrocodone dependency and addiction played a big part in that number.

    When the body becomes dependent on the drug, it will need hydrocodone just to feel normal. Once it results in a habit-forming relationship, it becomes an addiction. This happens because the pain receptors in the brain are blocked or weakened, which makes the euphoria and feel-good sensations of taking hydrocodone so desired.

    While hydrocodone typically comes in pill form, those who abuse the drug may crush the pill up to inject or snort the substance for a better high. The problem usually begins with patients misusing the prescription pills they received from a healthcare provider. This typically results in taking more of the drug than intended or taking them in off-prescription routes.

    Once the tolerance of the drug has increased in the body’s system, more of the drug will be needed to gain the same effect. When less of the drug is then taken, most will begin to feel symptoms of withdrawal.

    Withdrawal Symptoms Of Hydrocodone


    Since hydrocodone use varies from person to person, the severity of the withdrawal symptoms also varies. It is dependent on how much is taken and how often and that person’s individual health.

    Since hydrocodone suppresses the central nervous system and brain, certain dangerous effects can happen if someone stops taking it ‘cold turkey.’ The heart rate, respiration, blood pressure, and body temperature may increase quickly.

    There are a lot of different reactions the body and mind will have when hydrocodone is stopped. The specific withdrawal symptoms of hydrocodone are:

    • Trouble sleeping
    • Anxiety
    • Restlessness
    • Depression
    • Muscle aches
    • Sweating
    • Nausea and abdominal cramps
    • Runny nose
    • Vomiting
    • Irritability
    • Mood swings
    • Excessive tearing
    • Goosebumps and chills
    • Agitation
    • Fatigue
    • High blood pressure
    • Night sweats
    • Yawning
    • Irregular heart rate
    • Headache
    • Thoughts of suicide
    • Increase craving for the drug
    • Excessive tearing

    Due to the dangerous detox process, it is critical that being under the care of a licensed medical professional is done while the drug leaves the system.

    Long-Term Effects of Hydrocodone Use

    Long-term use of hydrocodone may result in detrimental effects on the mind and body. When this drug is abused for a long period of time, some users will notice anxiety, depression, insomnia, or effects on thought and mood patterns. Physically, it can result in damage to the kidneys and liver, which is difficult to treat and reverse.

    Risks Of Hydrocodone Overdose

    An overdose of hydrocodone may occur when someone takes more than is recommended by a physician. They may also intentionally take a higher dose to achieve a high or accidentally mistake hydrocodone for a different medication.

    When hydrocodone is mixed with alcohol or other drugs, the risk of overdose increases. This is because the effects of the drug are amplified when other substances are taken with it.

    Overdose Symptoms

    Hydrocodone overdose symptoms range in what part of the body has been affected and the severity of them. It is essential to look for help when any of the following signs are noticed:

    • Shortness of breath or respiratory failure
    • Purple or blue skin discoloration
    • Vomiting, diarrhea, or other digestive problems
    • Incoherent behaviors or thoughts
    • Sleepiness
    • Seizure
    • Low blood pressure
    • Pinpoint pupils
    • Muscle spasms
    • Dizziness

    Treatment For Hydrocodone Dependence

    Hydrocodone treatment can be a complex journey. It is best to be under the care of a treatment team as the detox and recovery program begins. This can be accomplished through detox and outpatient programs. These programs will help you learn how to detox from hydrocodone safely.

    Treatment usually involves a combination of individual therapy, group therapy, behavioral interventions, and, in some cases, medication intervention. An individualized plan for aftercare recovery will help you or a loved one stay on the path of sobriety and healing.

    Frequently Asked Questions About Hydrocodone

    Is Hydrocodone an opioid?
    Is Hydrocodone safe?
    Can you mix Hydrocodone with other drugs?

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