What Is Vicodin?
A potent narcotic that has gained notoriety both for its addictive properties and its over-prescription across the country, Vicodin is an opiate with painkilling and sedative properties. Unfortunately, while Vicodin can present effective, short-term pain management for many individuals under a physician’s care, its effect on the brain often leads to chemical dependency.
Why Is Vicodin Addictive?
As Vicodin enters the blood stream, it serves to block opiate receptors situated throughout the body and brain, causing it to effectively alleviate aches, soreness and pain. Additionally, Vicodin acts on neurotransmitters – specialized chemical messengers that naturally occur in the brain. In particular, Vicodin causes the release of dopamine and GABA, both associated with pleasure and calm.
During a Vicodin high, these brain chemicals become released at unnatural levels, resulting in the euphoria associated with Vicodin usage. Over time, users build natural tolerance to the drug, necessitating higher dosages in order to achieve its euphoric effects. With long enough duration, Vicodin addiction alters the brain’s chemical production levels, causing users to feel sharp cravings when the painkiller is fully metabolized and exits the system. Negative reinforcement also serves to underscore the addiction, as the body adjusts to the absence of the drug with severe withdrawal responses. Psychological addiction to Vicodin further becomes reinforced by the drug’s ability to eliminate pain, as the body associates relief and pleasure with the physical act of ingestion. All four forces – tolerance, behavioral conditioning, brain chemistry shifts and withdrawal symptoms – combine to create a strong and persistent addiction to Vicodin.
History of Vicodin
In 1920, Vicodin’s active compound, hydrocodone, premiered as a painkiller, created by a German pharmaceutical corporation, known as Knoll. Within 15 years, the United States Bureau of Social Hygiene finds that tolerance naturally builds with hydrocodone use, as the government introduces the first evidence of the opiate’s addictive properties. By the early 1970s, the United States lists hydrocodone in its purest form as a Schedule II drug – but the hydrocodone compound remained in Schedule III status, allowing it relatively loose regulation.
By the late 1970s, Knoll released branded Vicodin on the market, containing 5 mg of hydrocodone in combination with 500 mg of acetaminophen. By the early 1980s, Vicodin costs descended, as generic versions of the drug debuted. Rising concerns about Vicodin’s addictive properties – and potential for liver damage due to common levels of acetaminophen content – cause the government to take notice, and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) made recommendations for sterner warnings on the drug in recent years.
Vicodin’s euphoric properties have allowed the prescribed drug to claim an underground market, giving way to resulting street names. Street slang for Vicodin includes the shortened nickname “vikes,” as well as “hydro” (a reference to the drug’s acetaminophen compound, hydrocodone). Some Vicodin street terms reference the drug’s manufacturing process, such as “Norco” – a reference to a branded version of the painkiller with higher codeine content – and “Watson 387,” an allusion to pill imprinting found on generic versions of the drug.
Signs and Symptoms of an Addiction to Vicodin
Physical symptoms of Vicodin addiction can include diarrhea, dehydration, profuse vomiting and electrolyte imbalances. Vicodin can cause users to feel nauseated and dizzy, and motor skills can become slowed due to the drug’s opiate properties and overall sedative effect. Other symptoms of addiction can include constipation, dehydration and accompanying excessive thirst, constricted pupils and lethargy. Many users experience skin problems, due to loss of moisture in the body, causing itchy, dry, or even cracked and peeling skin.
Psychological symptoms of Vicodin addiction can span both emotional and cognitive aspects. In particular, an addiction to Vicodin can lead to compromised short-term memory, and some users may also experience attention deficits as a result of long-term drug use. Emotionally, Vicodin can cause a rollercoaster of feelings and moods, quickly snapping the user between euphoria, despondency, irritability and outright anger. Vicodin addicts also may experience sensory hallucinations in some cases.
Other telltale signs of Vicodin use can be found in drug paraphernalia used to achieve a high. Most often ingested in pill form, white tablets bearing the imprints “Vicodin,” “M357,” “5161,” “M360,” “Norco913” or “Watson 387” indicate the presence of the drug. While countless brands of hydrocodone exist, most similarly involve a pharmaceutical company brand or initial, followed by a designated number. Empty prescription bottles for hydrocodone – particularly those that are unlabeled or issued to another party – can also be indicative of Vicodin abuse. Because forged prescriptions are often used to facilitate Vicodin, stolen prescription drug pads can also suggest Vicodin abuse. Other means of obtaining Vicodin often includes the use of foreign internet pharmacies – many of which charge exorbitant prices due to demand for the opiate – so unaccounted-for credit card charges to overseas pharmacies may also indicate drug abuse is present. Pill cutters and mortar and pestles may also be used to chop or crush the pills before ingestion.
Due to Vicodin’s inclusion of acetaminophen, ongoing addiction and usage can lead to serious liver problems, including eventual toxicity and complete liver failure. Other long-term health concerns associated with Vicodin addiction include arrhythmia (irregular heartbeat), respiratory infections and dermatological problems. Vicodin addiction can also lead to ongoing dry mouth, as the oral tissues become chronically dehydrated, resulting in cavities and gum disease. Additionally, untreated addiction can cause sensory problems, such as slowed motor skills and hearing impairment.
According to the National Institutes of Health, signs of Vicodin overdose include severe lethargy and tiredness, respiratory problems and constricted pupils. In some cases of Vicodin overdose, loss of consciousness may occur, causing users to be unable to be roused. One health liability of overdose is aspiration – the ingestion of foreign substances such as vomit into the lungs – a consequence of excessive intake, nausea and subsequent loss of consciousness. Respiratory depression is also a telltale sign of a serious Vicodin overdose, accompanied by shallow breathing or respiratory arrest. Emergency medical attention should be urgently sought for anyone suspected of overdosing on Vicodin or generic versions of hydrocodone.
Despite governmental and media attention spotlighting the addictive nature of Vicodin abuse, illicit use persists throughout the country. Vicodin remains one of the most popularly prescribed analgesic drugs in the nation, with escalating rates of illegal usage, strong addiction potential and health emergencies rising from its abuse. Here are just a few of the eye-opening facts and statistics about Vicodin abuse and addiction in America.
- The number of Vicodin prescriptions written by medical professionals in the United States in 2008 totaled more than 136 million.
- The 2008 University of Michigan Monitoring the Future Study found that 10 percent of seniors in high school had tried Vicodin at least once.
- ER visits that were Vicodin-involved numbered in excess of 42,000 in 2004 nationally.
- Within the last decade, nonmedical use of Vicodin has risen 400 percent.
- There were an excess of 24,000 cases of Vicodin-related calls to the Poison Control in 2007, including 23 Vicodin-related deaths, according to the American Association of Poison Control Centers (AAPCC).
- Statistics show that Vicodin addicts across the country number in excess of two million people.
- According to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH), over 22,000 people across the country have used Vicodin nonmedically.
Withdrawal Signs and Symptoms
When Vicodin use suddenly ceases, the body reacts with physical withdrawal symptoms. As an opiate, Vicodin can cause withdrawal symptoms ranging from dangerously high fevers to muscle cramping. Additionally, in some cases, addicted individuals will experience nasal problems, such as uncontrollable sneezing and a constantly running nose. Other physical signs of withdrawal include muscle spasms, perspiration, abdominal cramps and diarrhea (often a consequence of the digestive system regaining natural function). In severe cases, withdrawal signs may even include tremors and seizures, as well as severe and persistent dehydration. Some addicted individuals also experience goosebumps and chills as the body adjusts to sobriety.
Psychologically, withdrawal from Vicodin can be challenging. Mood swings, anxiety and paranoia are all too often the norm during withdrawal, and severe depression can escalate to suicidal tendencies. Other psychological symptoms of Vicodin withdrawal can include irritability, rapidly shifting moods and delusions.
The Need for Rehab
When abuse has escalated to addiction, professional intervention is generally required in order to stop use. Vicodin’s opiate properties give way to intense withdrawal symptoms and cravings, often requiring medical supervision and ongoing therapeutic guidance to successfully manage. Additionally, the psychological component of Vicodin addiction – often reinforced through repeated dosages – requires professional therapy to resolve. Individuals may find that secondary reasons for developing addiction – such as trauma survival, negative self beliefs or co-occurring mental health disorders – may have driven them to Vicodin use in the first place. In these cases, group therapy, individualized clinical therapy and dual-diagnosis sessions may be needed in order to reach successful sobriety.
Before addiction recovery is complete, most drug treatment programs will offer some form of transitional guidance. Some drug rehabilitation centers will offer aftercare planning, in order to prepare the individual for environmental, social, career and relationship issues he or she may face as they move into sobriety. For some individuals, extended stays at sober living homes may be recommended before they transition back into a home environment after addiction rehab. Aftercare specialists can also assist clients with referrals to physicians, therapists and other practitioners who may prove useful in their active recovery from addiction. Twelve-step meeting lists are often located and provided to each patient in areas convenient to their residences. In some cases, aftercare will also involve the creation of on-site alumni events, follow-up calls, and alumni outreaches such as newsletters and online or phone support.
Making the choice to enter a prescription drug treatment program can be a life-changing experience after Vicodin addiction. Several effective formats for addiction treatment exist, each with multiple, distinct benefits.
Residential addiction recovery programs offer holistic, 360-degree treatment plans in a dedicated and prolonged residential setting. With an average prescription drug treatment stay of 30 days or more, residential programs offer a powerful mix of professional detoxification services, ongoing therapies, fitness guidance, nutrition and life skills training. In some cases,where co-occurring disorders coincide with prescription drug addiction, residential addiction programs are often best equipped to simultaneously provide effective psychological and medical therapies. In fact, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), prescription drug addiction treated with combination therapy of necessary medications and behavioral therapy can offer the strongest chances of recovery from prescription drug addiction.
Outpatient Recovery Centers
Outpatient rehab centers generally provide patients with lower levels of therapy with significantly lowered time investments. Most addiction recovery centers require that enrollees first achieve total sobriety – for a period ranging from a few days to two weeks – before entering treatment. Drug testing is regularly performed to ensure against Vicodin usage, and group counseling generally is the major form of treatment offered. Other forms of rehabilitation that take place in outpatient centers may include addiction education, group therapy and family counseling. Outpatient recovery programs generally are chosen due to their low price tag, hours-a-week time investment, and the ease with which individuals can continue working while in recovery. As a result, outpatient programs are best suited to those with urgent child care needs, limited resources and lower-intensity prescription drug addictions.
Detoxification facilities tend to be dedicated programs of short duration where Vicodin addicts can break the physical addiction to the opiate. Often run – or contracted by – the city or county government, detox facilities provide a safe (if stark) setting for detoxification. Some hospitals also provide detox services, ensuring vital sign monitoring, hydration and minimization of withdrawal symptoms. Most dedicated detoxification programs, however, do not offer continued therapy in prescription drug addiction cessation.
12-Step Peer Support Groups for Vicodin Addiction
Though most Vicodin-addicted individuals require full-scale, holistic treatment in order to successfully overcome addiction, some individuals find adequate support in meetings centering around the 12-step traditions. With a focus on personal responsibility, powerlessness in the face of drug addiction, making amends and an emphasis on sobriety “one day at a time,” 12-step groups provide anonymous formats in which Vicodin addicts can share – and listen to – stories of addiction. Many residential drug treatment facilities are built on the 12-step model, holding meetings and encouraging meeting membership after graduation from rehab.
Breaking Free From Vicodin Addiction
At Axis, we provide the guidance, expertise and dedication to help you or a loved one live a life of sobriety, even after years of Vicodin addiction. Our prescription drug rehabilitation program offers on-site detoxification, compassionate therapy and holistic treatments to help your mind, body and spirit heal on the deepest levels. Call us today to speak to one of our trained addiction intake counselors and make the first steps towards the new and exciting sober life ahead of you.