Vicodin Abuse

Estimated reading time: 30 minute(s)

The United States continues to be stuck in the middle of an ongoing prescription drug abuse epidemic. As per the statistics shared by the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), the number of prescriptions for certain drugs, such as Vicodin, has markedly increased from around 76 million in 1991 to more than 207 million in 2013. 

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Considered the largest consumer of prescription painkillers in the world, the U.S. has been suffering from severe consequences due to this epidemic, with millions of people struggling with drug addictions. Vicodin is among the most popular prescription painkillers, and despite being labeled as a schedule II drug, it is widely available across the company. Because of its potential to cause addiction and damage health, the DEA tightened its restrictions to protect citizens from Vicodin abuse. Despite all measures, the number of people dependent on this drug is very high. 

Fortunately, it is not too late for anyone to seek help, as there are ways to overcome the addiction at any point in life.

An Overview of Vicodin as a Prescription Painkiller

In 2006, experts in America prescribed Vicodin more than 112 million times, and by 2011, this number had reportedly increased to more than 131 million. So what is Vicodin, and why is it so popular among Americans?

Vicodin is a prescription medication that includes a synthetic opiate called hydrocodone and acetaminophen, another painkiller. Both painkillers act together to manage pain and stimulate the pleasure center of the brain, triggering the release of dopamine that leads to euphoria. Hydrocodone is the main ingredient behind this euphoric feeling and can easily cause individuals using Vicodin to have a knack for abusing it.

Almost all people with a prescription for Vicodin manage a pain-related condition. Most of them use it for the required duration in the way it is meant to be used and stop using it when the course of treatment is over. Others, however, become habitual of the euphoria it causes and the feelings of happiness they experience after taking it and may start abusing it for the wrong reasons. While Vicodin comes in the form of pills to be taken through the mouth, people who become addicted to it may crush it and snort the powder, chew it, or dissolve the tablets in water and inject it in veins for faster and higher benefits.

Why do People Abuse Vicodin? Causes and Risk Factors

In most cases of Vicodin abuse, there is no single root cause to identify. Instead, the addiction is due to a combination of factors that work together to cause dependence. Some of the most common reasons why people end up developing an addiction to Vicodin include the following:


People who have a first-degree relative, such as a parent or sibling, struggling with addiction are at a much higher risk of acquiring an addiction to Vicodin or other medications. However, it is important to remember that this risk factor may not be a definitive indicator of whether someone will develop an addiction or not. Instead, it acts as a contributing factor for most of them.

Brain Chemistry

Because opiates, such as Vicodin, can stimulate the brain’s pleasure center and trigger a surge of dopamine in the brain, all those who use it experience unabashed happiness. This is a very important and tempting factor for people who were born with fewer dopamine receptors in the brain, as the medication can give them an artificial boost of happiness and pleasure.


As Vicodin is responsible for triggering happy feelings by flooding the brain with a neurotransmitter called dopamine, people with anxiety, depression, and other mental health disorders may try to self-medicate themselves with this medication. The aim is to overcome the symptoms of sadness, gloom, and sorrow and gain better emotional regulation.


People who have grown up in homes where the environment is chaotic and cluttered are at a higher risk of developing an addiction in the later stages of life. This risk multiplies if they witness a guardian or parent using drugs or alcohol in front of them, thereby reducing the stigma of drug use for them. Early exposure and use of drugs can also increase the risk of developing Vicodin abuse later in life.

What does Vicodin Do to You: The Short and Long-term Side Effects

Every illicit substance has negative consequences on health, and Vicodin is no exception. The side effects associated with this medication can be classified into short-term and long-term. The short-term side effects include the ones that individual experiences immediately after taking a high dose of Vicodin and may include the following: 

  • Drowsiness
  • Depression
  • Muscle pain
  • Aches and cramps
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Depressed heart rate
  • Constipation
  • Decreased breathing rate
  • Lightheadedness
  • Dizziness

Long-term use of Vicodin can also lead to multiple troubling side effects, which may persist for months, even after an individual stops using it, and impair overall health. Following are the Vicodin side effects in people who have been abusing it for a long time:

  • The high level of acetaminophen included in Vicodin can damage the liver. In time, the medication scars the organ causes liver dysfunction, and eventually leads to irreversible liver failure
  • Vicodin can slow down the respiratory reflex while increasing the risk of respiratory infections and other lung issues
  • People abusing Vicodin for a long time may experience difficulty urinating which increases the risk of experiencing urinary tract infection. When left untreated, urinary infections can ascend up to reach the kidneys, causing kidney damage that can become life-threatening.
  • Vicodin also affects gastrointestinal function, leading to chronic constipation and other severe health conditions like permanent damage to the intestinal tract.
  • Other miscellaneous long-term Vicodin abuse effects may include cardiovascular damage, hearing loss, and reproductive issues.

What are the Signs of Vicodin Abuse?

Spotting Vicodin addiction in a person can be extremely hard and challenging. Some people develop a dependence on their prescription medications soon after using them and may not realize it until they try to stop the use. Dependence can gradually lead to addiction, a condition characterized by strong, compulsive urges to use the drug despite experiencing negative consequences.

The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, fifth edition (DSM-5), has outlined certain symptoms of addiction sufferers. As per its guidelines, it is important to meet at least two or more of the corresponding criteria within one year. Meeting four to five of the criteria signifies a moderate addiction, whereas people with six or more of them are said to be struggling with a severe substance use disorder. The diagnostic criteria used for spotting Vicodin addiction include the following:

  • Taking Vicodin in progressively more significant amounts for longer than it has been prescribed
  • Spending a lot of time acquiring, using, or recovering from the effects of Vicodin
  • Experiencing intense cravings and urges to use Vicodin
  • Developing withdrawal symptoms when you stop using Vicodin
  • Needing an increasing amount of Vicodin to experience the same level of pleasure or euphoria
  • Withdrawing from important recreational, occupational, and social activities to use Vicodin
  • Continuing to abuse Vicodin even if it is visibly causing problems in personal life and relationships
  • Inability to fulfill responsibilities at home, work, or school due to excessive Vicodin use
  • Constantly engaging in Vicodin use, even when it is putting you in danger

Treating Vicodin Addiction: What an Addiction Treatment Program Looks Like?

Fortunately, many rehabilitation centers have worked across the U.S. to help people fight Vicodin abuse. These rehabs provide the support and structure a person needs to combat substance use disorders, like Vicodin abuse, tailored to an individual’s needs. The programming can occur at different levels of care, and patients are free to choose from them depending on their situation. These levels of care include:

  • Outpatient programs
  • Residential or inpatient programs
  • Intensive outpatient programs
  • Partial hospitalization programs

More recently, many drug rehabs have started offering virtual addiction treatment to people unwilling or unable to attend therapy in person. Regardless of the level of care a person chooses, they may have access to the following evidence-based therapies:

Medication-Assisted Therapy

Medication-assisted therapy can be valuable to a Vicodin addiction treatment plan as it aims to minimize the discomfort associated with withdrawals while reducing drug cravings. While experts use plenty of drugs as a part of this program, the two most common ones include naltrexone and buprenorphine.


Medication-assisted therapy is more effective when combined with psychotherapy, like dialectical behavioral therapy (DBT) and cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). These therapies help patients discover what triggers them to use Vicodin and support them in learning strategies using which they can combat and get rid of them.


Many rehabs provide individual and group counseling sessions where patients can work with therapists and other patients to explore the psychological aspect of addiction. Group therapy is also a good way to form peer support groups.


Is Vicodin addictive?

Vicodin was classified as a schedule II-controlled substance by the DEA in 2014. Before that, it was in the Schedule III category. The reclassification occurred due to its strong abuse potential. Any use of this drug that goes against the directions of a healthcare professional or without a prescription is considered an addiction.

Can Vicodin cause withdrawals?

People who have developed tolerance or addiction to Vicodin are very likely to experience withdrawal symptoms the moment they stop using the drug all of a sudden. The withdrawal experience can be particularly uncomfortable and may even cause significant damage to the body. Some of these withdrawal effects may include:

  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Depression and anxiety
  • Strong drug cravings
  • Pain in bone and muscles
  • Restlessness
  • Suicidal thoughts and behaviors
  • Chills and fever

Fortunately, managing these withdrawal side effects is possible by joining a medically-supervised detox program where experts use medicines to control them.

How severe are the withdrawal side effects due to Vicodin use?

The severity of the withdrawal side effects due to Vicodin use can vary depending on factors like: 

  • How long has a person been using the drug
  • How much Vicodin they have been taking
  • If they have any underlying physical or mental health condition

Can people overdose on Vicodin?

Yes, it is possible to overdose on Vicodin, especially for people who are addicted to it. Some common symptoms of an overdose may include the following:

  • Vomiting
  • Trouble breathing
  • Pinprick pupils
  • Nausea
  • Stomach spasms
  • Seizures
  • Drowsiness
  • Weak pulse
  • Constipation
  • Low blood pressure
  • Slow or labored breathing
  • Lips and fingertips turning blue
  • Coma
  • Shallow breathing

Can people with Vicodin abuse suffer from co-occurring disorders?

Many people who develop Vicodin addiction are also suffering from underlying co-occurring disorders, such as:

  • Depressive disorder
  • Panic disorder
  • Anxiety disorder
  • Schizophrenia
  • Alcoholism
  • Bipolar disorder
  • Stimulant abuse
  • Benzodiazepine abuse

It is important to identify and address these issues alongside treating Vicodin addiction to achieve long-term recovery.

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