What is Vicodin?

What is Vicodin?

Vicodin is a combination drug that includes hydrocodone and acetaminophen, used to treat moderate to severe pain. Hydrocodone is a highly addictive opioid pain reliever, and acetaminophen is commonly found in the over-the-counter drug, Tylenol. Vicodin relieves pain by blocking pain signals to the nervous system.

Effects of Vicodin

Opioids affect the brain by attaching to receptors within the central nervous system. By blocking these receptors, opioids prevent pain signals from reaching the brain. Vicodin also causes various other effects on the brain and body, including:

  • Drowsiness
  • Confusion
  • Nausea
  • Constipation
  • Depressed respiration
  • Feelings of euphoria

In addition to dulling pain, hydrocodone can lead to many side effects. The National Library of Medicine lists the following side effects of hydrocodone:

  • Vomiting
  • Dizziness
  • Lightheadedness
  • Difficulty thinking
  • Anxiety
  • Mood swings
  • Dry throat
  • Difficulty urinating
  • Rash
  • Itching
  • Narrowed pupils

An overdose of Vicodin can be extremely dangerous, leading to serious health complications and even death. Overdose is more likely if a user has existing medical or mental health issues, if the user mixes Vicodin with other substances of abuse, or if the user alters Vicodin from its original form (e.g., crushing the pills and snorting or injecting the resulting powder). Symptoms of overdose include:

  • Shallow or stopped breathing
  • Slow or stopped heartbeat
  • Cold or bluish skin
  • Excessive tiredness
  • Loss of consciousness
  • Seizures
  • Death

Overdose is a medical emergency. Prompt medical treatment is needed to prevent life-altering and life-ending complications.


Withdrawal occurs when the body has become physically dependent on a drug and requires the substance in order to function normally. Reducing or stopping drug use will trigger a withdrawal syndrome as the substance begins to leave the body. Withdrawal is a natural process; however, those who are addicted to opiates should seek medical help with the process. This ensures the safety and comfort of the individual, making relapse during detox less likely.Withdrawal from Vicodin can be very uncomfortable, but is not life-threatening.

Early symptoms of withdrawal include:

  • Agitation and anxiety
  • Muscle aches
  • Runny eyes and nose
  • Insomnia
  • Sweating

Later symptoms of withdrawal include:

  • Abdominal cramping
  • Diarrhea
  • Dilated pupils
  • Goosebumps
  • Nausea and vomiting

Withdrawal typically begins within a day of the last drug exposure. The bulk of physical withdrawal symptoms pass within 5-10 days; however, in some cases, psychological symptoms of withdrawal continue for weeks or months.

Medical detox involves 24-hour supervision, ensuring clients don’t return to Vicodin use simply to make the withdrawal symptoms disappear. Sometimes, medications are prescribed to address specific withdrawal symptoms or opioid treatment medications, such as buprenorphine or methadone, may be used as part of a maintenance medication therapy program.

Vicodin Addiction Treatment

The euphoria caused by Vicodin tempts some people to abuse the drug. These people may take higher doses than prescribed, crush the pills to snort or inject the powder, or mix Vicodin with alcohol or other drugs. Abusing Vicodin in any way greatly increases the chance of serious complications, including overdose.

Since Vicodin is an opiate, addiction typically includes physical dependence on the drug. Physical dependence occurs when the body adapts to the frequent presence of the drug, and then requires the drug in order to function normally. Once dependence occurs, withdrawal will begin whenever use of Vicodin is decreased or stopped.

Treatment for Vicodin addiction often includes a combination of behavioral therapy and medication-based care. While any treatment for addiction can be helpful, the most effective approach tends to incorporate both pharmacological and therapeutic approaches. Common medications used to treat Vicodin addiction include naltrexone, methadone, and buprenorphine.

Some medications, called agonists, block the effects of opioids like Vicodin, which helps to prevent relapse. The most common opioid antagonist is naltrexone.

This drug is not as frequently used as other medications because it is often not well tolerated, causing unpleasant side effects. This treatment also frequently has problems with adherence; many people do not take the medication as prescribed. A new, long-lasting, injectable form of the drug has been released, known as Evizio, which may make the drug more effective in the future.

Methadone and buprenorphine are opioid agonists, meaning they mimic some of the effects of opioid drugs. Methadone is the most commonly used medication to treat opioid addiction. Because methadone can be addictive in its own right, it is highly regulated and only available in licensed methadone clinics. Buprenorphine has less abuse potential, so it is available more readily than methadone and can be dispensed directly from a doctor’s office to be taken at home.

Medications used to treat Vicodin addiction are typically combined with behavioral therapy. Therapy can take place in an inpatient or outpatient setting. Because opioids like Vicodin are extremely addictive, relapse is common.

Chances of relapse during the recovery process can be lowered if the individual is in inpatient treatment, because these programs provide 24-hour supervision. Outpatient treatment can also be effective, particularly if the individual has a strong support system outside of treatment. Outpatient programs also tend to be more affordable.

Though relapse is common, it is not a sign that treatment has failed. Instead, relapse is a sign that treatment needs to be adjusted in some way, and in some instances, this may simply mean a return to treatment. Oftentimes, a relapse can serve as a tool to build a firmer foundation in recovery, addressing issues that were previously not apparent.

Many different types of therapy have been shown to be effective in the treatment of opioid addiction. Some of the most common are Contingency Management, community reinforcement, 12-Step facilitation, and family therapy. Each of these methods uses a different approach to treat addiction, but all of them are capable of assisting people suffering from addiction in improving overall quality of life and preventing future relapse.

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