Vicodin Addiction

Vicodin contains the powerful opioid pain reliever, hydrocodone, and a less potent analgesic, acetaminophen. Doctors prescribe Vicodin to relieve moderate to severe pain and to soothe a cough. Acetaminophen relieves mild pain and reduces fever.

Pharmacologists extract hydrocodone and other opioids from the poppy plant. Hydrocodone acts directly on the nervous system to change the way your brain interprets pain; the pain relief provided by Vicodin is similar to that of morphine.

Physicians prescribe hydrocodone frequently than any other medication; in 2010, pharmacists filled more than 139 million prescriptions for products containing hydrocodone. There are more than 200 products containing hydrocodone, including Vicodin. Hydrocodone is available only by prescription, and only in combination with other products. Vicodin contains acetaminophen, which is not associated with abuse or addiction.

Recreational users target Vicodin because hydrocodone produces a pleasant, euphoric sensation. Chronic hydrocodone use may cause physical dependence or addiction in some people.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, or CDC, notes that one in 20 Americans over the age of 12 years used a prescription opioid in 2010 non-medically. To use a substance non-medically means the individual too the drug to get high or to treat a condition for which it was not prescribed. Non-medical use of opioids increases the risk for physical dependence, addiction and overdose.

Vicodin addiction and prescription drug abuse is increasing in the United States. More people are now addicted to prescription drugs like Vicodin than to heroin. The National Institute on Drug Abuse, or NIDA, estimates there were 1.9 million Americans who are addicted to prescription opioid pain relievers in 2010; in comparison, the institute estimates there are 329,000 heroin addicts in the United States. Except for marijuana, young Americans abuse prescription painkillers such as Vicodin more than any other type of drug.

The hydrocodone component of Vicodin is associated with more drug abuse than any other drug. The Drug Enforcement Agency, or DEA, classifies substances according to their relative potential for abuse. Because Vicodin contains less than 15 mg of hydrocodone, the DEA classifies it as a Schedule III narcotic, meaning it carries a moderate risk for abuse, dependence and addiction.

The Definition of Addiction

Vicodin addiction is a neurological disease that disrupts the function of your brain's reward, motivation and memory circuits. Dysfunction in these circuits causes certain behavioral characteristics that are the hallmark of addiction, such as craving or drug-seeking behavior.

Vicodin addiction is primary disease, meaning it arises on its own and not as part of another condition. Vicodin addiction is a chronic condition, requiring long-term professional treatment to restore the neurological function and the behavioral aspects of addiction. As with other chronic conditions, cycles of remission and relapse should be anticipated.

Without proper treatment, Vicodin addiction may lead to disability or premature death. Vicodin addiction causes physical, emotional, psychological and collateral damage that not only affects the addicted individual, but his family and community as a whole.

Addiction versus Dependence

It is tempting to use the words addiction and dependence interchangeably but these are two distinct and independent conditions. While many use the terms addiction and dependence interchangeably, these two conditions are separate and quite different from one another. Anyone who uses high doses of Vicodin or uses this medication for a long time may become addicted to it or dependent on it, or both.

A doctor will diagnose you as being physically dependent on Vicodin if you experience flu-like withdrawal symptoms when you stop taking this medication. She may diagnose you as having a Vicodin addiction if you exhibit certain behaviors when your supply runs low.


When you ingest drugs, alcohol or other foreign substances, your body alters its own chemistry to maintain a safe chemical balance. Chronic use of some substances, such as Vicodin, causes these alterations to become more permanent. Your body begins to depend on having a certain level of Vicodin in your system to feel "normal." When you let opioid levels drop, your body struggles to maintain chemical stability. You feel this battle through unpleasant withdrawal symptoms.

Doctors call this the detoxification process. Detoxification causes withdrawal symptoms, such as:

  • Abdominal Cramps
  • Anorexia
  • Anxiety
  • Chills Alternating with Hot Flashes
  • Depression
  • Diarrhea
  • Dilated Pupils
  • Goose Bumps
  • Increased Heart Rate and Blood Pressure
  • Insomnia
  • Irritability
  • Muscle Aches
  • Nausea
  • Nervousness
  • Restlessness
  • Runny Nose
  • Salivation
  • Severe Sneezing
  • Sweating
  • Tremor
  • Vomiting
  • Watery Eyes
  • Weakness
  • Yawning


Vicodin addiction is a neurological disease that affects the way your brain functions, causing a change in the way you think, behave and feel.
Doctors look for specific behavioral characteristics when considering whether you are addicted to Vicodin. Some of these behaviors include:

  • An Inability to Consistently Abstain from Vicodin Use
  • Other Behavioral Control Problems
  • Cravings for Vicodin
  • An Inability to Recognize Significant Problems with One's Own Behaviors and Interpersonal Relationships
  • Inappropriate Emotional Response

You can be addicted to a substance but not physically dependent upon it, and vice versa. For instance, if you forget to take an antihypertensive, your blood pressure will rise but you would not crave the drug or engage in drug-seeking behavior. In comparison, a cocaine addict will crave this drug when her supplies run low, but she will not experience the typical flu-like symptoms associated with opioid withdrawal.

Drug seeking activity

Drug-seeking activity is the hallmark characteristic of Vicodin addiction. When drug-seeking, you might present phony prescriptions at pharmacies or alter the prescription to get more Vicodin in each bottle. You might also pretend to lose your written prescription in an attempt to get multiple copies.

Another drug-seeking behavior is to put in an emergency telephone call to a physician and say you are too sick to come in person. You might arrive at the doctor's office as he is closing, pressuring him to write a prescription without an exam so the nurses and office staff can go home. Another form of drug-seeking is "doctor shopping," or visiting various physicians.

Some people get Vicodin free from the medicine cabinets of friends and family while others purchase opioids on the black market. The DEA refer to these types of activities as "diversion" because it diverts therapeutic drugs from their original purpose.

Addiction: What Family Members Should Know

It is important that family members know that Vicodin addiction is a neurological disease, not a choice or an indication of poor moral character. Vicodin addiction is not necessarily a sign that someone has been engaging in criminal activity; it is possible to become addicted to opioids after long-term use as prescribed by a doctor.

Family members should know they share the risk for addiction. While nobody is born an addict, researchers believe that genetics may make an individual more vulnerable to substance abuse problems such as Vicodin addiction. This susceptibility may be the result of interaction between multiple genes. Genetic predisposition means family members share an increased risk for addiction.

Environmental Factors and Stress

While genetics play an important role in the development of addiction, environmental factors are a strong influence. Stress within the home or workplace, such as arguments, violence, financial instability or substance abuse, increases the risk that genetically vulnerable individuals will develop addictions.

Some individuals are hypersensitive to stress, and this hypersensitivity may be passed from parent to child. Other people have poor coping mechanisms, dealing with stress by drinking or getting high. Children often learn how to cope with stress by watching a parent; a child may inherit poor coping mechanisms and mimic the parent's substance abuse when under stress later in life.

Addiction counselors help the family develop skills to overcome hypersensitivity to stress and learn healthy coping mechanisms to use in stressful situations. Family counseling can also reduce the collateral damage inflicted by Vicodin addiction.

Collateral Damage

Vicodin addiction may cause collateral damage that can endanger the addicted individual and the entire family. Collateral damage includes infectious diseases and other physical illnesses, decreased income, loss of a job, separation, divorce, removal of children from the home, prison time or death.

Substance abuse is associated with infectious diseases such as HIV/AIDS, hepatitis B and C, tuberculosis and more. Prolonged substance abuse may cause poor nutrition, infection, exposure to the elements or death.

Vicodin addiction invites the criminal element into your home. Doctor shopping works for only a short time before the doctors and pharmacies recognize you and refuse to refill your bogus prescriptions, forcing you to steal drugs or buy them from drug dealers. In the early stage of addiction, you probably kept your family at a safe distance from drug dealers but as your disease progresses, you drop your defenses and invite criminals into your home.

Family members should know that it is dangerous and illegal to keep Vicodin in your home without a prescription. Illegal possession of a controlled substance makes your home vulnerable to police raids; keeping recreational drugs in the house increases the risk for burglary.

Children living with an addicted individual are at special danger for accidently discovering and consuming a stash of drugs. Take your child to the hospital immediately if you think she has consumed Vicodin.

Addiction: What Parents Should Know

Parents should know that prescription drug abuse and addiction is on the rise among teenagers and young adults. Because prescription drugs are widely available and recommended by doctors, young people mistake prescription drugs as being harmless.

Parents should keep in mind that a child's addiction does not mean they have done a poor job of childrearing or that your child will grow up to be a criminal. Addiction is a neurological disease, even in children.

Kids go through phases, becoming interested in something suddenly and then abandoning it just as fast. This can make spotting the signs of addiction difficult.

Parents should look for warning signs of addiction, including a child who:

  • Has an unusual loss of interest in things that once were important
  • Suffers a drop in academic, athletic or work performance
  • Lost motivation or energy
  • Finds ways to sneak off
  • Money issues too advanced for a child his age

Caring for a Family Member with an Addiction

As with any neurological or chronic illness, the family plays a critical role in treatment. Recovery from Vicodin addiction requires intense rehabilitation and therapy that takes time away from an individual's work and social life. The family unit can work as a team to encourage the addicted individual to seek and participate in treatment.

Each family member can participate in recovery in age-appropriate ways, such as taking over daily chores so the addicted individual can attend meetings. A grandparent could prepare meals, for example, while a young child does light housework and an older child with a driver's license runs simple errands. Vicodin addiction is a negative experience but participating in recovery efforts can have a positive effect on everyone involved.

It is common for a family member to discover the treatment center the addicted individual eventually chooses. The treatment and recovery experience works best when the addicted person feels physically, emotionally and spiritually safe in his own home. Family members should remember Vicodin addiction is a neurological disease and avoid blaming the person for her illness.

It is okay for members of the family to talk about Vicodin addiction, even if the addicted individual forbids the discussion. The family should plan group meetings to discuss treatment options and progress. The addicted individual does not have to participate in these meetings and may even become upset when he learns about these communications. It is vital that everyone is allowed to speak about their feelings and experiences openly, as Vicodin addiction affects each person in the household equally.

Keep in mind that it is possible to arrest the progression of addiction at any time - it is never too early or too late to intervene. Do not allow your loved one to hit rock bottom, as this might include divorce, loss of child custody, homelessness, disease, jail time or death. Treatment can reverse much of the collateral damage inflicted by Vicodin addiction.

Caring for a family member with a Vicodin addiction requires a little tough love. Recovery can only begin when the individual recognizes the consequences of addiction. It is tempting to shield your loved one from the problems his addiction causes, but this only enables him to continue his drug abuse.

Signs of Addiction

Vicodin addiction makes changes to the nervous system on a cellular level. These changes alter the way a person behaves, thinks and feels; these changes can be subtle or obvious to friends, family or co-workers.
Signs of Vicodin addiction include:

  • Abnormal, Illegal or Anti-Social Actions
  • Arguments or Violent Outbursts
  • Child Neglect
  • Excessive Opioid Prescriptions for Self and/or Family
  • Frequent Emotional Crisis
  • Legal Trouble
  • Neglect of Social Commitments
  • Prioritizing Activities Involving Hydrocodone or Vicodin
  • Separation or Divorce
  • Unexplained Absences from Home
  • Unpredictable Behavior such as Inappropriate Spending
  • Withdrawal from Relationships, Family or Friends

Behavioral, Cognitive and Emotional Changes


An addicted person uses Vicodin excessively or engages in addictive behaviors more often and at higher doses than he intends. Even while he is getting high, the addicted individual may voice a desire to quit or control his behavior. He will likely try to overcome his addiction several times but seem unable or truly unwilling to quit forever.

A Vicodin addict loses an excessive amount of time looking for drugs, getting high, or recovering from drug use. This has a significant negative impact on his relationships and job performance. He continues to use Vicodin, despite acknowledging the problems addiction causes.

As time passes, the behavioral repertoire of the Vicodin addict narrows and he loses interest in things that used to bring him joy, like playing with his kids or interacting with his wife. Soon, he only participates in activities that result in getting high.


Vicodin addiction causes preoccupation with substance use; the addicted individual only thinks about getting high. Vicodin addiction alters his evaluations of the relative benefits and risks associated with drug abuse so that he believes all the good things he knows about Vicodin and discounts all the negative features of opioids.

A Vicodin addict blames other people and events for his problems, rather than realizing most of his troubles are predictable consequences of addiction.


Physicians prescribe Vicodin to relieve physical pain; some people use Vicodin to dull emotional pain or feel euphoria. Using Vicodin for a long time, however, increases emotional pain and anxiety, and actually causes the emotional opposite of euphoria, dysphoria.

Vicodin also increases sensitivity to stress, making things seem more stressful to the addict than to others.

Vicodin addiction muddies the emotional waters, making it difficult to identify or express feelings. Some Vicodin addicts have trouble distinguishing between feelings and bodily sensations.

Symptoms of Addiction

The neurological changes associated with Vicodin addiction causes certain symptoms that are the hallmark of addiction. Doctors look for these symptoms when considering a Vicodin addiction diagnosis.

Physical Symptoms

Physical symptoms of drug addiction include:

  • Unexplained Weight Gain or Weight Loss
  • A Change in Sleep Patterns
  • Deteriorating Physical Appearance - Looks Sickly
  • Nagging Cough
  • Diminished Hygiene Care
  • Body or Clothing May Have an Unusual Odor
  • Bloodshot Eyes with Large or Small Pupils
  • Tremors
  • Slurred Speech

Psychological Symptoms

Psychological symptoms of addiction to opioids include:

  • Inability to Abstain Consistently
  • Impairment in Behavioral Control
  • Cravings for Drugs or Intense Reward Experiences
  • Diminished Capacity to Recognize Significant Personal or Relationship Problems
  • Dysfunctional Emotional Response

Gender Differences

According to the 2010 National Survey on Drug Use and Health, males were twice as likely to abuse illegal drugs like heroin, cocaine or marijuana as compared with women. In the 2010 survey, only 5.9 percent of females admitted to using illicit drugs, whereas 11.6 percent of males confessed to illegal drug use.

While fewer women abuse illicit substances, they are more likely to abuse prescription drugs, such as Vicodin. Males are less likely to combine prescription drugs like opioids with alcohol, marijuana or other opioids as compared to females.

Men and women engage in drug abuse differently. Men get high in large groups, while women are solitary drug abusers. Females who use drugs tend to be loners, whereas addicted men have wide social circles. This could be because men feel comfortable getting high while women face strong social stigmas against drug use and addiction.

Men and women start abusing drugs for different reasons. Men start out getting high, while women often begin opioids addiction after using prescription medication.

Cause of Gender Differences

Vicodin addiction affects men and women of all races, economic and educational levels. While it is true that anyone can become addicted to Vicodin, scientific studies suggest there are gender differences when it comes to substance abuse, dependence and addiction.

Addiction to Vicodin or other drugs may have its roots in early childhood for women. Addicted females often come from homes where one or more relatives struggled with substance abuse problems or addictions. Addicted women often say they carried too much domestic responsibility as a child or experienced a turbulent childhood home environment

Women with addictions are frequently in relationships with a partner who also has a substance abuse problem. This makes it hard for a woman to quit Vicodin, as she may feel like she is abandoning her partner. Furthermore, it is extremely difficult to stop using Vicodin when there is an abundance of drugs in the home.

Addicted females often say they have lower expectations for their lives because addicted women tend to have less education, fewer marketable skills and less job experience than males. 

Women face additional barriers to recovery, such as being able to afford quality treatment or finding someone to care for children while she participates in treatment.

Treatment Options

When left untreated or undertreated, addiction can cause disability or premature death. Every year, about 15,000 Americans die from prescription painkiller overdose. The physical, emotional, social, economic and criminal consequences of addiction affect millions more. Prompt and professional treatment reduces the collateral damage Vicodin causes in your life.

The National Institute on Drug Abuse reports more than 23 million people in the United States over the age of 12-years needed treatment for alcohol or substance abuse in 2010; of these, only about 11 percent received treatment at a specialty facility where staff members are trained to treat substance abuse problems. The others received treatment in mental health facilities or general hospitals.

Treatment for Vicodin addiction has two parts: detoxification and rehabilitation.

Detoxification is the medical process of decreasing your body's Vicodin levels. Detoxification causes intense withdrawal symptoms that can last five or more days. You can undergo the detoxification process at home, in a hospital or at a specialized clinic.

Rehabilitation focuses on the cognitive and behavioral aspects of your Vicodin addiction. Rehabilitation typically includes behavior modification and counseling to help the individual learn how to live without opioids. Rehabilitation is available in many formats including outpatient, short-term facility or long-term residential program.


Self-detoxification happens at home, without anti-withdrawal drugs or the help of specially trained medical personnel. Self-detoxification is sometimes called "going cold turkey," referencing the pale, bumpy, cold and clammy appearance of your skin during self-detoxification, resembling a plucked turkey.

Detoxification results in symptoms such as vomiting, diarrhea, muscle aches, anxiety and insomnia. Your withdrawal symptoms can cause complications such as aspiration, which involves vomiting then inhaling stomach contents into the lungs. Another complication is dehydration resulting from severe diarrhea and vomiting.

The primary complication is relapse. Without proper medical intervention, you are likely to relapse several times. Each relapse increases your risk for toxic overdose. The detoxification process lowers your tolerance to hydrocodone, which means your body is more susceptible to the effects of Vicodin. You can overdose on a smaller dose of Vicodin than you used to take before you experienced withdrawal symptoms.

Some people use homemade treatment plans that incorporate medicine to ease withdrawal symptoms. One such remedy is The Thomas Recipe, which calls for Xanax or another drug to calm anxiety and help with sleep, plus Imodium to slow diarrhea. Vitamins and supplements ease muscle aches and body pain. The Thomas Recipe eases withdrawal symptoms somewhat but without professional help, you are still at risk for complications such as aspiration, dehydration, relapse or overdose.


Toxic Vicodin overdose can result in death. If you think you or someone you know has taken too much Vicodin, go to the nearest emergency department or call for an ambulance, whichever is faster. For immediate help, contact your local poison control center at 1-800-222-1222.

Overdose symptoms include:

  • Extreme Drowsiness
  • Pinpoint Pupils
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Confusion
  • Ringing in the Ears
  • Cold, Clammy Skin
  • Muscle Weakness
  • Fainting
  • Weak Pulse
  • Slow Heart Rate
  • Coma
  • Blue Lips
  • Shallow Breathing or No Breathing

While you are in the emergency department, doctors will administer naloxone and other medications to lower your body's level of hydrocodone. Nurses will establish an airway to help you breathe and monitor for complications. Doctors and nurses will perform CPR and other life-saving measures as necessary.

Drug Replacement Therapy

If you are not suffering from toxic overdose, you may be able to participate in Drug Replacement Therapy, or DRT. During DRT, physicians prescribe methadone, Subutex or other medications that mimic the effects of Vicodin without getting you high. DRT allows you to participate in rehabilitation before you attempt detoxification.

After some amount of rehabilitation and behavior modification, you will wean yourself from the replacement drug. If you are like other addicts, you may have trouble quitting the DRT medication. Harvard Medical School says 25 percent of methadone patients eventually quit the DRT medication while another 25 percent continues to take the drug forever. The other 50 percent go on and off methadone for the rest of their lives.

DRT is just one kind of Medication-assisted treatment, or MAT. Other types of MAT include standard detoxification and rapid detox. Rehabilitation specialists recognize the importance of MAT in the treatment of Vicodin addiction because MAT:

  • Improves Survival
  • Increase Retention in Treatment
  • Decreases Illicit Opioid Use
  • Decreases The Risk for Hepatitis and HIV
  • Decreases Criminal Activities
  • Increases Employment
  • Improves Birth Outcomes for Pregnant Women Battling Addiction

Standard Detoxification and Rapid Detox

Standard detoxification requires an inpatient stay lasting for several days. While you are in the hospital, doctors will administer that induce detoxification and still more drugs to reduce the ensuing withdrawal symptoms. Medical personnel monitor your condition and deal with complications as they arise. While standard detoxification procedures reduce the duration and intensity of your withdrawal symptoms somewhat, the patient must still endure lengthy psychological effects of detoxification that can make him feel incapable or unworthy of recovery.

Rapid detox is the most humane and efficient form of detoxification available. During rapid detox, board certified anesthesiologists administer anesthesia and sedatives alongside the usual anti-withdrawal drugs. You will rest in a comfortable "twilight sleep" during the detoxification process, unaware of the uncomfortable and demoralizing withdrawal symptoms. You are ready for meaningful rehabilitation in a few hours rather than in a few days.


Detoxification is only one aspect of recovery from Vicodin addiction and, by itself, does little to change chronic drug abuse. Recovery from your addiction to Vicodin requires you participate in extensive rehabilitation including behavior modification designed to restore neurological function destroyed by addiction. Your treatment plan will probably include individual, family and group counseling to help you work through social issues.

Vicodin addiction affects each person differently. Many people suffer from social problems or mental disorders that can prevent recovery from Vicodin addiction. As a result, no one treatment is right for everyone. Treatment must address all aspects of your addiction and not just focus on your drug abuse.

Treatment must be readily available to encourage participation and completion. You must remain in treatment long enough to restore neurological function. Your counselor will monitor your progress and modify your treatment plan accordingly. She might require regular drug testing, as relapses are common in cases of addiction. You may have to submit to testing for HIV/AIDS, hepatitis B and C, tuberculosis and other infectious diseases associated with drug use. Your counselor may provide special education that helps you lower your risk for contracting or spreading an infectious disease.

Treatment does not need to be voluntary to be effective. According to NIDA, individuals under legal coercion tend to remain in treatment longer than and do better than those not under pressure.