Hydrocodone is an opioid painkiller that is used to treat moderate-to-severe pain. It’s very similar to other opioid painkillers such as oxycodone and morphine and is sold under brands like Norco, Lortab, and Vicodin. Because it is an opioid, it can lead to dependence and addiction, especially if it is misused or abused.
If you’re not sure if you’re misusing or abusing hydrocodone, the following are indicators:
- You take more of the medicine than the doctor prescribed (a higher dosage)
- You take it more frequently through the day than prescribed
- You keep taking it even though your pain has subsided
- You take it solely because you like the way it makes you feel
What are Hydrocodone Withdrawal Symptoms?
Once you become dependent on or addicted to hydrocodone, you are likely to experience withdrawal symptoms when you stop taking it. Some of the symptoms will be quite tolerable, while others may be more intense, causing some discomfort. Generally, most people report that they feel like they have a bad case of the flu. Symptoms can last a few days to several weeks, depending on various factors like:
- Severity of the addiction
- Frequency taken
- Method of ingestion (pill form, snorting, injecting)
- Overall health condition
- Support environment
- Polydrug use
- History of addiction or relapse
- Taper schedule
Common hydrocodone withdrawal symptoms include:
- Body aches
- Runny nose
- Watery eyes
- Mood swings
- Increased heart rate
- Increased blood pressure
- Heart Palpitations
What are the Stages of Hydrocodone Withdrawal Timeline?
There are various stages that one goes through when coming off any opioid. With hydrocodone, you’ll go through early, acute, and late withdrawal stages. In general, the following are stages you can expect to go through when detoxing from hydrocodone:
Early Withdrawal – Days 1-2: The first withdrawal symptoms you may begin experiencing might feel much like you’re coming down with the flu. You could start feeling symptoms within the first 12 hours from your last dose. Some report feeling body aches, chills, sweating, agitation, and nausea. The degree depends largely on how much hydrocodone you were taking.
Acute Withdrawal – Days 3-5: During days three through five, your symptoms tend to peak or reach their highest level. It’s typically reported as the most uncomfortable part of the detox process. You might experience more intense symptoms, including vomiting, diarrhea, shaking, muscle aches, feeling as if you have pain deep in your bones, fever, stomach cramping, fatigue, irritability, insomnia, and more.
Your taper or reduction schedule can affect the severity of symptoms as well. Generally, a physician will have you gradually reduce your intake of hydrocodone. This helps curb some withdrawal symptoms, as it’s less of a shock to the body.
Late Withdrawal – Days 6-10: Once you near the end of your first week, many symptoms may have subsided. You’ll begin feeling better each day. However, some psychological symptoms may linger on, such as anxiety or depression. You may also still contend with cravings. It’ll be essential to continue with addiction recovery treatment to give you the best chance of avoiding a relapse.
Symptoms can linger on for a week for people who heavily use hydrocodone. The length of time for detox will also vary depending on taper schedules.
Medications for Hydrocodone Withdrawal
Abrupt cessation of opioids like hydrocodone can be met with uncomfortable withdrawal symptoms that are often unpleasant. If someone develops a dependence that leads to addiction, their physician may first attempt to taper the doses to minimize the withdrawals slowly. Other medications can assist in this process and reduce cravings, as well as withdrawal symptoms.
- Buprenorphine: A partial opioid agonist that activates opioid receptors, it can stop withdrawal symptoms from increasing in intensity. As a longer-acting partial agonist, the medication has less abuse potential than many of the abused opioids used to treat dependence. Buprenorphine has ceiling effects, and if someone does try to abuse the drug, it is not likely to cause intoxication.
- Suboxone: Opioid antagonists are meant to block other opioids from binding to and activating the opioid receptors in our brain. It results in making them ineffective, and someone who consumes hydrocodone will not experience a high. Naloxone works as a deterrent for abuse, but can also bring about rapid withdrawal symptoms if it is triggered. Naloxone commonly remains inactive in the combination of buprenorphine products, unless the drugs are tampered with or injected.
- Methadone: As a long-acting opioid, methadone is a drug that will be substituted for drugs like hydrocodone. It is dispensed in federally regulated clinics once a day, and methadone can remain in the system for up to 30 hours. It allows withdrawal symptoms to remain at a minimum. Unfortunately, it carries a higher risk of being abused, which means usage should be monitored.
- Naltrexone: Naltrexone is an opioid antagonist, and it blocks opioid receptors sites. The drug is used after the initial stages of detox have finished. Naltrexone helps prevent relapse and will deter individuals from future opioid abuse.
Why Should I Detox?
To get free from a hydrocodone addiction, you’re going to have to go through a detox process. This means that your body will go through some changes as it gets used to not having the pain medication. The brain gets used to the pain pills, so when they are absent, it produces withdrawal effects, such as are mentioned above.
The good news is that withdrawal doesn’t last forever, and once you’re through it, you’ll be well on your way to long-lasting freedom from hydrocodone addiction.
Keep in mind that you should never quit taking hydrocodone cold turkey or abruptly, as this can cause serious problems. Rather, a gradual taper or reduction should occur, preferably under the care of a physician or addiction specialist. When you wean off the drug, you’ll likely have an easier time detoxing. At the same time, your health care provider may prescribe you additional medications to help ease some of your withdrawal symptoms, such as methadone, buprenorphine, naltrexone, or clonidine.
What is the Next Treatment Step?
Detox is simply the first step toward freedom from opioid addiction. During the detox process and afterward, it’ll benefit you to have as much professional support as you can. This can help you get through the withdrawal symptoms and learn how to contend with cravings if and when they come. There are various treatment modalities to choose from when it comes to extending your addiction treatment.
For long-term freedom from pain pill addiction, checking into a rehab facility under the care of addiction specialists may be your best choice. At a residential rehab, you can undergo detox and then transition right into a treatment program that suits your needs. You’ll have access to a physician, a psychiatrist, and substance abuse experts around-the-clock.
You may receive individual and group counseling, which can help you if you’re struggling with any emotional or mental health issues. You’ll also learn valuable tools and techniques for combating cravings. Living at a treatment center can be beneficial, as you get to take time to solely focus on you and your recovery without any home environment distractions or triggers. This is a great option if your home life isn’t a supportive environment that can help you achieve your recovery goals.
Outpatient Or Intensive Outpatient Programs (IOP)
If you can’t reside at a treatment center, an outpatient or intensive outpatient program may be your best choice. You’ll still be getting excellent addiction treatment, but you’ll still be able to live at home. This is a great option for those who need a flexible treatment schedule so they can still tend to family or work obligations.
Sometimes people will attend a residential rehab center for a period and then transfer into a lower level of care, such as outpatient or IOP. You’ll be able to discuss your best route for success with an addiction specialist before committing to any program.