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Addiction to hydrocodone

Hydrocodone is the generic name for the medications Lortab, Norco, and Vicodin. This is a very powerful narcotic pain medication which has the potential to cause dependence in a patient which may lead to becoming addicted to the product.

Developing tolerance to a drug means that your body gets used to the medication and the effect that is sought after, such as relaxation, euphoria, happiness, calmness, and decreased anxiety doesn't occur anymore. This causes the user to take more of the medication, even in higher doses than prescribed by their doctor.

Dependence on a medication means that when trying to stop using the drug, the body starts to experience withdrawal symptoms.

If a person's drug use start to interfere with their normal daily functioning, causes them to become socially withdrawn, relationships with others start to break down, or the use of the drug leads to trouble with the law then the individual is regarded as addicted to the medication.

There are also physical signs of addiction to hydrocodone and they may include:

  • Shallow or decreased breathing
  • Drowziness
  • Constricted pupils
  • Skin rash 

Immediate side-effects that may be caused by abusing hydrocodone include:

  • Shortness of breath
  • Slowed heartbeat
  • Dry mouth 
  • Blurry vision
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Confusion
  • Anger 
  • Difficulty with concentration
  • Seizures

Long-term side effects may include:

  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Mood swings
  • Hallucinations
  • Acute psychosis
  • Liver damage and jaundice if the hydrocodone medication includes acetaminophen/paracetamol
  • Coma
  • Death

Managing hydrocodone addiction

The first step in managing addiction to hydrocodone is having to detoxify from the drug, but the patient should not stop the drug "cold turkey" style due to possible complications that may be encountered.

The user needs to discontinue the hydrocodone but use medications such as clonidine, buprenorphine, or naltrexone to help ease the symptoms of withdrawal. These medications attach to the receptors in the brain where hydrocodone acts on which fools the body into thinking that the drug is present.

Withdrawal symptoms from hydrocodone discontinuation may occur within a few hours after the last dose was taken and may include:

  • Anxiety
  • Fever
  • Shaking
  • Cold flashes
  • Sweating
  • Diarrhea
  • Muscle and joint pain
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Insomnia

Different people will experience a different durations of withdrawal and the severity of the process will depend on how much hydrocodone was used by the individual and how often it was used. On average though, the symptoms of drug withdrawal last for about a week.

Once the withdrawal period has ended, patients are advised to enter an inpatient rehabilitation programs where the medical detox can take place. The rehab program also offers psychological counseling, psychiatric consultations to address any underlying stressors that may have led to the addiction, and group therapy sessions.

Once the inpatient program has been completed, the process doesn't just end there. In order to prevent relapse, continued counseling and group support are suggested and encouraged. 

It is also suggested that a sponsor is assigned to help, support, and advise the previous addict so that any compulsion to use the addictive drug is addressed and another behaviour is found to help distract the patient from using the drug again.

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