Hydrocodone Abuse & Addiction

Written by Nicole LaNeve

& Medically Reviewed by Dr. Jessica Pyhtila, PharmD

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Last Updated - 08/09/2023

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Updated 08/09/2023

Hydrocodone is an opioid, which means it treats pain by binding to the brain’s opioid receptors and changing how the body senses and perceives pain. Hydrocodone is a generic name. Prescription versions of hydrocodone include Vicodin, Norco and Lortab. These brand name drugs also include acetaminophen in addition to hydrocodone.

Opioids like hydrocodone are often called narcotics, and these drugs affect the central nervous system.

Along with being a pain reliever, other potential effects that can come with taking hydrocodone include sleepiness, drowsiness, and a sense of relaxation or reduced anxiety. Other potential side effects of hydrocodone include dizziness, fatigue, headache, nausea and vomiting, constipation, itchiness and sleep problems. These are considered mild and relatively common side effects of hydrocodone.

More severe side effects of hydrocodone can include slowed breathing, irregular or slow heartbeat, severe allergic reactions, urine retention and bowel obstruction.

In general, many of the side effects of hydrocodone come from the way that the drug slows down central nervous system functions of the user, such as the respiratory system. When someone takes too much hydrocodone, it can slow their respiration to the point that they slip into a coma or die.

Understanding Hydrocodone Addiction

Hydrocodone is very addictive. In fact, as a Schedule II controlled substance, addiction is considered one of the most dangerous side effects of using hydrocodone. Another risk of hydrocodone is a physical tolerance and dependence that can occur.

With opioids, tolerance refers to the fact that the longer you take the drug, even when prescribed, your body becomes used to its presence and you need larger amounts to achieve the same effect. As you develop a tolerance, you also may become physically dependent on the drug.

If you’re physically dependent on hydrocodone, you may or may not have a psychological addiction but if you stop taking it suddenly, you will experience withdrawal symptoms.

One common question people have about hydrocodone is whether you can become addicted when you take it exactly as prescribed. The answer is yes. Up to 12% of people who take prescription opioids like hydrocodone develop an opioid use disorder. The chance of addiction is somewhat lower if you follow your doctor’s instructions, but it always remains a risk.

Why Is Hydrocodone So Addictive?

When you take hydrocodone, it binds to mu opioid receptors in your central nervous system and triggers your brain’s reward system. This relieves pain but can also create positive feelings, like a sense of euphoria, because your brain is flooded with dopamine. Dopamine is a feel-good brain chemical and your brain’s pleasure and reward centers are stimulated by the use of hydrocodone, particularly at higher doses.

When your brain’s pleasure and reward centers are activated, it wants to repeat whatever it was that stimulated that response, which in this case is taking hydrocodone. Therefore, a compulsive desire to continue seeking out hydrocodone (or drugs like it) starts to build in your brain. While the initial choice to take hydrocodone is just that, a choice, the way your brain reacts becomes a disease where cravings for the drug are out of your control.

Signs of hydrocodone addiction include an obsession or intense preoccupation with taking it and obtaining more of it, as well as withdrawing from things that you were previously interested in in your life. Again, you can become addicted to hydrocodone even when you take it as prescribed.

How Long Does It Take To Get Addicted to Hydrocodone?

It can take different people different amounts of time to develop an addiction to hydrocodone. An addiction is defined as continued use of a substance despite negative consequences, like problems with relationships or sleep. It can take some people longer to reach this point than others.

Some risk factors can increase the chances you become addicted to hydrocodone including your personal and family history of substance abuse, whether you’re taking it with or without a prescription, and whether you take it with other substances, such as alcohol.

People who abuse hydrocodone by crushing the pills and snorting them to achieve a faster and more powerful high are also at risk for addiction.

Hydrocodone Side Effects

Hydrocodone is a powerful narcotic drug. Whether you’re taking it as prescribed by your doctor or you’re abusing the drug, there are some possible symptoms and side effects.

Side effects of hydrocodone can vary depending on the individual, how much of the drug is taken, and whether or not the person is using it for a legitimate reason.

Common hydrocodone side effects can include:

  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Constipation
  • Itching
  • Dry mouth
  • Muscle pain
  • Headache
  • Dizziness
  • Feeling tired or drowsy

Possible severe hydrocodone side effects can include slowed or shallow breathing, confusion, extreme drowsiness, or feeling lightheaded.

The mood-related side effects of opioids like hydrocodone can include euphoria. This refers to the high that often leads people to become addicted to this drug.

Hydrocodone Side Effects in the Long-Term

Hydrocodone, like other opioids, affects the brain of the user in very significant ways. When you take an opioid like hydrocodone, it binds to the opioid receptors in your brain and changes the way your brain senses pain and sends messages. The more exposure your brain has to an opioid, the more likely there are to be long-term side effects.

Both physical dependence and addiction are possible hydrocodone side effects with long-term use.

  • Physical dependence means your body has become so used to the presence of opioids that it has difficulty functioning without them. If you were to stop taking hydrocodone suddenly, you would experience uncomfortable withdrawal symptoms. You can be physically dependent on hydrocodone with or without being addicted.
  • Addiction is one of the most significant and severe long-term side effects of hydrocodone. Because of the ways your brain is changed, the longer you take hydrocodone, the more likely you are to become addicted. Addiction is a disease of the brain that compels you to continue using drugs, even when there are negative consequences.

Hydrocodone Overdose Symptoms

Signs of a hydrocodone overdose are similar to signs of other opioid overdoses.

Symptoms of hydrocodone overdose include:

  • Breathing problems such as slow breathing, breathing that seems labored, shallow breathing, or not breathing at all
  • Someone who has overdosed on opioids like hydrocodone might make snoring or gurgling sounds
  • Low blood pressure
  • Confusion and dizziness
  • Blue tinted lips and fingernails
  • Cold or clammy skin
  • Fatigue
  • Loss of consciousness
  • Pinpoint pupils
  • Muscle spasms
  • Seizures

Hydrocodone is an opioid that’s often paired with acetaminophen in brand name drugs like Vicodin and Norco, so it’s important for people to realize that liver toxicity from the acetaminophen component can also occur.

Drug overdoses can be fatal. If you suspect someone is experiencing an overdose, administer naloxone (Narcan) if you have it available and call 911 immediately. Do NOT be afraid to seek help. If you do not have access to a phone, contact Colorado Poison Center for online assistance.

Signs of Hydrocodone Dependence

Dependence to hydrocodone means that your body is physically dependent on the presence of the drug. With opioids like hydrocodone, many people become dependent on them even when they take them as prescribed for a short period of time.

Often, one of the first warning signs of hydrocodone dependence is when you build a tolerance to the drug. This means that you need higher doses to feel the same effects.

If you are physically dependent to hydrocodone and stop taking it suddenly, you will experience withdrawal symptoms. Hydrocodone withdrawal symptoms can include intense cravings, gastrointestinal problems, sleep disturbances, runny nose, chills, sweating and mood disturbances.

Hydrocodone Addiction Signs

There are several different ways a hydrocodone addiction can begin. Unfortunately, for many people, it can result after taking hydrocodone as prescribed by a doctor. They can still become addicted to this powerful drug.

Some people may become addicted to hydrocodone after taking it recreationally.

The following are some of the hydrocodone addiction warning signs and symptoms to look out for:

  • Someone who has a prescription for hydrocodone, but seems to be taking it more frequently than they’re supposed to or taking larger doses than prescribed
  • Doctor shopping or creating fake symptoms in an attempt to get hydrocodone prescriptions
  • Changes in behavior or mood like someone who seems euphoric at odd times, which alternate with periods of fatigue or depression
  • Someone who wants to stop using hydrocodone but is unable to do so
  • Someone who spends much of their time obtaining the drug or thinking about the next time they will use it
  • Sudden issues or problems that seem out of character for the person, including financially, at school, in their career and with their relationships
  • Someone who keeps using hydrocodone even when there are bad consequences

So what should you do if you recognize symptoms of hydrocodone abuse or hydrocodone addiction in yourself or a loved one?

Opioid addiction can be a difficult addiction to overcome, so it’s important to seek professional help such as at The Recovery Village at Palmer Lake. There are resources available for people in Denver, Boulder, Colorado Springs and statewide in Colorado for hydrocodone addiction treatment.

Hydrocodone Treatment

One of the biggest mistakes that people make when they’re trying to combat a hydrocodone addiction is that instead of exploring professional hydrocodone addiction treatment options, they think they can stop using the drug on their own.

Addiction is a complex disease of the brain, and treatment for hydrocodone addiction needs to address it in a multifaceted way. The most successful treatment for hydrocodone addiction usually includes a stay at a professional rehab center, and a combination of medicine and behavioral interventions, as well as long-term aftercare planning.

Addiction to any substance is viewed as a chronic disease, so the goal with hydrocodone treatment is to provide patients with the tools and resources they need to recover and live a healthy life without relapsing, even if they’re not necessarily “cured.”

Hydrocodone treatment options in Colorado include both inpatient and outpatient programs, as well as medically supervised detox. Following treatment for hydrocodone addiction, patients can usually then go on to live their daily lives but continue attending local support groups or programs like Narcotics Anonymous.

Hydrocodone Rehab in Colorado

If you or someone you love has a problem with hydrocodone addiction, you may want to know what hydrocodone rehab is like and what you can expect in treatment.

It varies for every person, but in general, you can expect that it will begin with the intake process and then a medically supervised detox. Various medications may be given as you detox from hydrocodone to alleviate physical and psychological symptoms of withdrawal, but your treatment team will try to avoid anything that could become habit-forming.

If you’re participating in an inpatient hydrocodone rehab program, you will then start the treatment process. Your days will be very structured and will include a combination of group therapy, individual counseling and in some cases, family counseling. Typically, there are also supplemental activities and therapies, such as nutritional counseling.

Once someone completes inpatient hydrocodone rehab, which lasts on average 28 to 90 days but sometimes longer, they may then move to an outpatient program or a sober living facility.

At our Palmer Lake hydrocodone rehab facility, our focus is always on the person and how to best treat their particular addiction, and the circumstances surrounding it.

Does Insurance Cover Hydrocodone Rehab?

If you are concerned about your or a loved one’s hydrocodone use, it’s best to seek treatment as early as possible. We work with people throughout Colorado and nationwide to help connect them with the right treatment plan for them.

Addiction is viewed by the medical community and most insurance providers as a condition and a chronic disease that is treatable and manageable. Under the Affordable Care Act, insurance will often cover hydrocodone rehab and other addiction treatment services. Insurance, depending on the company and policy, may cover some or all of the costs.

Our intake coordinators at The Recovery Village at Palmer Lake can work with you on insurance verifications and answer any questions you might have about paying for rehab or hydrocodone addiction treatment options.


Drugs.com. “Hydrocodone.” August 1, 2020. Accessed May 10, 2021.

National Institute on Drug Abuse. “Opioid Overdose Crisis.” March 11, 2021. Accessed May 10, 2021.

Drug Enforcement Administration. “Controlled Substances.” April 2, 2021. Accessed May 10, 2021.

American Psychiatric Association. “What Is a Substance Use Disorder?” December 2020. Accessed May 10, 2021.

Foundation for a Drug-Free World. “The Truth About Prescription Drug Abuse.” n.d. Accessed May 10, 2021.

U.S. National Library of Medicine. “Opioid Overdose.” December 24, 2020. Accessed May 10, 2021.

U.S. National Library of Medicine. “Opiate and Opioid Withdrawal.” May 4, 2021. Accessed May 10, 2021.

Raypole, Crystal. “Everything You Need to Know About Psychological Dependence.” Healthline, May 28, 2020. Accessed May 10, 2021.


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