Vicodin Addiction

In 2006, U.S. pharmacies filled almost 130 million prescriptions for hydrocodone drugs such as Vicodin. Vicodin works very well for pain relief and is prescribed often, but it is also a potent opiate medication and a very addictive drug.

Vicodin consists of two active medicinal ingredients

  1. Hydrocodone (a semi-synthetic opiate that is derived from codeine and thebaine)
  2. Acetaminophen

Hydrocodone activates opiate receptors in the brain (much like morphine or heroin does) and in doing so causes analgesia (pain relief), euphoria, and cough suppression. Acetaminophen increases the analgesic effects of the hydrocodone, and since acetaminophen in high doses is toxic to the liver the acetaminophen also reduces the likelihood of abuse and diversion.

The regular use of Vicodin will cause a physical dependency, and the regular abuse of the drug (taking it for reasons other than strictly medical) can easily lead to an opiate addiction.

Though a Schedule III drug under the Controlled Substances Act, Vicodin is easier to get than many other opiate medications, such as OxyContin. In 2006, almost 10 percent of high school students in America reported using Vicodin to get high. Vicodin is the most commonly prescribed opiate medication in the United States, so it's not surprising that an enormous number of people also struggle with an addiction to the drug.

Physical Dependence on Vicodin

Physical dependence is not the same as addiction.

  • Using Vicodin daily for more than a couple of weeks as prescribed for the legitimate use of pain relief (and never taking it for other reasons) will not result in addiction, but will result in physical dependency.
  • Abusing the medication over a period of weeks can, by contrast, result in both addiction and physical dependency.

Using Vicodin regularly over a period of weeks results in drug tolerance and the development of structural changes in the brain. The brain comes to need increasingly larger quantities of the medication to achieve the same results, and once the brain has changed structurally, the sudden cessation of use will result in opiate withdrawal symptoms.

People who are physically dependent on Vicodin should never stop taking the medication suddenly, but should rather taper the daily dosage down slowly over a period of weeks or months, under the supervision of a doctor.

Vicodin Addiction

As is the case with all other opiates, the hydrocodone in Vicodin induces a powerful euphoria and a sense of pleasurable well being. People often start off using the medication as prescribed for pain relief, but find that they really enjoy the other effects of the drug and start taking it just a little bit more often or in slightly larger quantities than prescribed.

Taking this or any other medication for any reason other than that for which the drug was prescribed constitutes "drug abuse," and anyone who abuses Vicodin runs a serious risk of an opiate addiction.

Drug abuse becomes addiction once a compulsion to take the medication overpowers internal mechanisms of control over how much and how often the medication is used.

Signs of addiction include the following:

  • Cravings for the medication.
  • The compulsive use of the drug, or compulsive thoughts about getting or taking the medication.
  • An inability to control the use of the medication, taking more of the drug more frequently than planned.
  • Continuing to use the drug even after seeing the harm that the use has caused.

It is frighteningly easy to get addicted to Vicodin. And even though medications that were prescribed by a doctor may feel more "legitimate" and safer than street drugs, your brain hardly knows the difference between opiates from a pharmacy or opiates from the street.
Some behavioral signs of a Vicodin addiction:

  • Doctor shopping – going to more than one doctor for the same condition to get larger amounts of the medication.
  • Lying to your doctor or misleading him or her about your symptoms to get more medication.
  • Ordering medication off the Internet or getting it through other illicit means to supplement the amount your doctor prescribes.
  • Getting into financial trouble to pay for increasing quantities of pills.
  • Hiding the amount you use from friends and family.

Once you have an opiate addiction, you will need professional addiction treatment. Unlike people with a physical dependency, those who are addicted to Vicodin or other opiates cannot usually wean themselves off the drugs without professional help.

Inadequate pain relief can cause someone to mimic many of the psychological and behavioral signs of addiction. While in pain, people might engage in the following behaviors:

  • Take more of the medication for pain relief.
  • Crave the medication for more pain relief.
  • Go to more than one doctor to get enough medication for pain relief.

If you experience inadequate pain relief with your prescribed amount of Vicodin, make sure your doctor is aware of your pain and your need for better analgesia.

The Risks of a Vicodin Addiction

Vicodin can be a very dangerous drug. In 2005, more than 50,000 people went to hospital emergency rooms for acute hydrocodone-related problems -- more than for any other opiate. Although the acetaminophen in the formulation makes the drug harder to abuse, those who do abuse it risk liver damage.

The recommended maximum daily dosage of eight Vicodin pills is often exceeded (sometimes greatly) by people with high opiate tolerances who abuse the medication to get high. Taking large amounts of Vicodin puts a person at increased risk of liver damage.

  • 10 to 15 grams of acetaminophen per day can lead to liver toxicity.
  • 15 to 20 grams of acetaminophen per day can kill.

In addition to risking liver damage, individuals who combine Vicodin with alcohol, other central nervous system depressants, or other opiates increase their risk of a fatal overdose.

Vicodin addicts also risk the following:

  • Financial problems (paying exaggerated prices for illicit Vicodin to supplement prescribed amounts).
  • Legal problems (from illicitly procured opiates or from criminal acts committed to raise money for more drugs).
  • Family problems (due to the behavioral changes associated with opiate addiction).
  • Work problems (Vicodin in high doses decreases cognitive performance).

An opiate addiction can inflict devastation in every aspect of a person's life.

Vicodin Addiction Treatment

You don't have to suffer alone. There is nothing embarrassing or shameful about an addiction to opiates. These drugs are exceedingly potent, and millions of others are struggling or have struggled with opiate addictions.

Vicodin addiction treatment options include the following:

  • Medical detoxification protocols to help you get free from opiates with a minimum of discomfort, followed by addiction treatment classes, therapies, and support group meetings to help you to understand how to live a sober life.
  • Medication management with buprenorphine or methadone. Vicodin addicts can make a switch to buprenorphine (Suboxone) and feel no withdrawal symptoms or intoxication as they learn to live free from Vicodin – eventually tapering down off of the buprenorphine.

To talk about what's best for you, or to learn more about Vicodin addiction treatment options in your area, call the treatment specialists at the National Resource center at 888-471-0430.

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