ARTICLE OVERVIEW: The opioid blend of hydrocodone and acetaminophen known as Vicodin is one of the most addictive pharmaceutical drugs on the market. You can expect to develop a physical dependence to hydrocodone within a couple weeks of regular use. Additionally, many users experience a strong mental craving for the drug. The following article reviews definitions of addiction and offers a step-by-step process of how to treat it.
Table of Contents:
- How People Become Addicted
- How Does the Brain Change?
- Signs of a Problem
- Am I Addicted
- Five Stages of Treatment
- Your Questions
How People Become Addicted
Addiction is a very confusing process. Most people don’t know that it’s a combination of chemical changes in the brain and behaviors that reinforce those changes. Especially when the drug is being prescribed by a medical professional. So, how does an opioid drug like Vicodin affect the brain to become addicted?
The psychoactive ingredient in Vicodin is hydrocodone, a drug used to address acute or chronic pain. When someone, let’s say, has a root canal done, they’re going to naturally experience a large amount of pain. And Vicodin reduces the perception of this pain immensely. However, most who take the drug are unaware of what’s happening in their brains.
The reason Vicodin produces pain relief is due to the fact that opioid drugs block out pain receptors to the brain.
Furthermore, man-made opiate drugs like Vicodin have two properties which also fuel addiction. First, painkillers release a large amount of dopamine (a natural euphoric chemical) into the brain. Second, these drugs affect the reward center strongly. An opioid drug can trigger a connection between euphoria (pleasure) and drug use. A pattern begins to emerge:
- Use Vicodin.
- Feel good.
So, people become addicted to Vicodin because it is an effective pain reliever and because it is very effective at getting you high. Physical and psychological need become habit. With dopamine and the reward center being fueled through Vicodin, you can begin to see how some people become so easily addicted.
How Does the Brain Change?
The reason Vicodin is hard to stop taking after a certain period of time is because of how it triggers changes within the brain. When you take Vicodin for more than a couple weeks at a time, you can also experience drug dependence or tolerance.
Dependence is the brain’s way of adapting to survive. Vicodin is a depressant. The brain adapts to hydrocodone by “speeding up” certain functions and processes. Otherwise, respiration and heart rate can slow to cause death. But, take away the Vicodin and it takes time for the “sped up” processes to even out. This is called withdrawal. Symptoms are evidence of dependence and occur when the drug either stops entering the body or is taken at a smaller dose.
Psychical tolerance is not completely understood at the moment. However, experts know that after some time of taking Vicodin, doses become less effective. In other words, the body becomes “tolerant” of Vicodin effects. So, at some time, people who take Vicodin daily will need more of the drug to achieve initial therapeutic results. The need to take more of the drug can lead to extreme, dangerously high dosing, overdose, and death.
It should be noted that there’s a distinct difference between a Vicodin dependence and addiction. A dependence is when the body adapts to continue to function with the drug in the system. An addiction occurs when you need a drug to cope with life. Centered in the brain, addiction occurs when you continue to use Vicodin, even when it is causing you harm to your health, your work, or your family. It is a mental compulsion to seek a drug.
But inevitably, the two work together.
Signs of a Problem
If you’re taking Vicodin for the pure sake of getting “high”, you most likely have a problem. Problems also arise when you take Vicodin other than prescribed. Also, if you’re combining Vicodin with alcohol or other drugs, you’re misusing it. Ask yourself, “Do I…”:
- Take more of the drug than recommended in one dosage.
- Take more doses than prescribed within a day.
- Use Vicodin to get high or to relieve mental health.
- Combine the Vicodin with alcohol or other drugs.
People who use the drug recreationally don’t always take it in its pill form. Some crush the pill into a powdery substance in order to either snort the powder or smoke it through a pipe. Or, some people go as far as to inject it in order to get make the drug go straight to the blood system. These are all signs that you have a problem.
When looking deeper into if you have an addiction to Vicodin, you can always assess yourself using what’s known as the FOUR C’s. You may have a drug problem if you experience the following:
- Unable to CONTROL your drug use.
- No matter the negative consequences, you CONTINUE to use.
- CRAVINGS have appeared.
- You feel COMPULSION to use.
If you really want to find out whether or not you have an addiction, you can always seek out a professional opinion in order to get a proper diagnosis. Most assessment tools are based on self-reporting…so you need to be honest in order to get an accurate picture. You can seek a diagnosis by scheduling an appointment with:
- Your family doctor
- An addiction medicine specialist (also an M.D.)
- A psychiatrist
- A psychologist
- A licensed clinical social worker
The online tool NIDA’s Quick Addiction Assessment offers you the ability to discover the core of your problem and how to treat it. However, it is always recommended that you consult a medical professional in person to diagnose and address addiction.
Am I Addicted to Vicodin?
Since Vicodin is a prescription pain medication, it’s fairly difficult to tell whether you’re addicted, or not. Plus, we’re really good at lying to ourselves. Still, most prescriptions are only meant to last a few weeks – when acute pain is at its highest – and not meant to be taken for a long period of time. So, how can you tell if you’ve developed an addiction to Vicodin or not?
If you are addicted, you’ll present at least one of the following symptoms:
- Continued non-medical use of Vicodin.
- The necessity of Vicodin for the body and brain to feel normal.
- Seeking out multiple doctors to fill your Vicodin prescription.
- Craving Vicodin or obsessively thinking about it.
- Going through illegal means to obtain Vicodin.
- Feeling strong withdrawal symptoms when you stop using Vicodin.
- Using Vicodin as a means of running from emotional problems.
- Using Vicodin as a means of running from withdrawal symptoms.
- Letting Vicodin affect your personal and professional relationships.
- Letting Vicodin interfere with your responsibilities.
If you are facing a problem…know that you are not alone!
Addiction is a medical condition. And you can get the help that you need.
The 5 Stages of Treatment
Addiction is treated in inpatient and outpatient programs. The following steps may differ for you depending on your needs or your situation. What’s listed is what’s generally experienced by many people in most rehabs.
STAGE 1: Assessment
When you first enter a treatment facility, staff will assess you using evidence-based addiction screening tools. This will include a physical and mental assessment as well as a urine-based drug test. The process takes around 1 to 3 hours and you can expect the following:
- Interview questions
- A family history
- A medical history
With the information retrieved from this assessment, doctors and treatment staff will be able to suggest a plan JUST FOR YOU. Customized treatment is at the core of a reputable rehab. There is no one-size-fits-all program that will work for everyone. So, the extra time you take to explain the nature of your addiction at the beginning is super important!
STAGE 2: Detox
The detox process is best managed in an inpatient detox clinic. As your body fully withdraws from the chemicals in Vicodin, you can expect extremely uncomfortable symptoms. People generally begin experiencing withdrawal around from 4 to 12 hours after their last dose. By 72 hours, the withdrawal symptoms peak and from there, gradually go down for the next 72 hours.
STAGE 3: Medications
Medication assisted treatment is very helpful when treating Vicodin addiction (see below). Medicines like buprenorphine, methadone, and naltrexone can help you live a chemically balanced life. They are most effective when combined with talk therapy. You can expect to receive medications during detox and then slowly easing off medications over the following months. Many people take medications for at least 6 months.
STAGE 4: Psychotherapy
Talk therapy is at the core of addiction treatment. It is the “meat and potatoes”. During and after rehab, you can expect either one or multiple forms of therapy to last for about a year. The main goal of psychotherapy is to uncover and resolve past trauma wounds that get in the way of your happiness. You’ll also learn new behaviors to help you in dealing with life that’ll prevent relapse.
STAGE 5: Aftercare
Aftercare is defined as the treatments and changes you make in the first year after you leave a treatment center. Most people continue counseling for months to years after initial care. Or you may enter a sober living home. Most people also attend a support group attendance to make new friends and help stay drug-free.
These medications treat withdrawal symptoms and can be used in longer-term maintenance programs.
Methadone: In terms of long term support, Methadone has been found to be the most effective at helping people lead productive lives since the 1970’s. The medicine delays withdrawal and cuts cravings. Usually, people who take Methadone slowly ease off the medication over a period of time, slowly and without stress.
Buprenorphine: This medicine can also be used over a long period of time to support people staying off Vicodin. It occupies the same receptors in the brain that cause you to feel high, but blocks those effects. It also has a ceiling effect, which means that even if you take more buprenorphine, you CANNOT get high. It’s known to also ease withdrawal symptoms and, on occasions, it’s shortened the withdrawal process.
Naltrexone: This medicine is used to address drug cravings. It helps lower cravings so that you can focus on the deeper work of emotional and mental recovery.
Consult your doctor if you have concerns about any medication or have preferences on which one you think might increase success.
Most people who have tried to quit on their own (but can’t) can benefit from a rehab. But should it be inpatient or outpatient? The only way to find out what is best for you is by consulting a medical professional. Still, there are some general guidelines.
An inpatient rehabilitation program is recommended when:
- Your drug use has gone on for a long period and/or you take high doses.
- Your drug use is coinciding with other mental health concerns (i.e. anxiety, depression, etc.)
- You’ll benefit from being supervised by medical professionals 24/7.
- A calm, supportive environment can change the welfare of your recovery.
An outpatient rehabilitation program is suggested when:
- Your drug use isn’t as severe.
- Your home environment is already supportive.
- You have other responsibilities to attend to (i.e. work or school)
Depending on your levels of addiction to Vicodin, you can expect to enter treatment anywhere from a month to six months. And even still, some people decide to continue to go for years.
The reason for this longevity of time is, again, dependent on how long and how much you’ve been using. If you’ve been an opioid abuser for years now, you’ve developed strong habits that correlate your behavior to the drug. Therefore, you’re going to need time and patience in order to beat these habits and develop new coping mechanisms and proper conduct.
With that in mind, don’t be afraid to consider staying longer. In fact, research has found that those who stay in rehab for more than 90 days are more likely to successfully recover. This is because those individuals are not only surrounding themselves more in a drug free environment but also putting more effort into their overall treatment.
People who have the most success recovering from a Vicodin addiction undergo both a medication treatment and psychotherapy. This is because talk therapy addresses psychological dependence. Even after physical withdrawals are completed, an individual may still feel minor compulsions or consider their old habits. That’s because the chemical structure of the brain takes a bit more time to reconstruct than that of the body’s.
Psychotherapy treatments will not only help you identify what makes you want more Vicodin, but will also address also the behavioral patterns of use. With this identification, you’ll hold the ability to change your psychological structure for the better sake of your recovery.
The most common psychotherapies include:
- Family therapy
- Group therapy
- Individual counseling
- Relapse prevention
Still, there are hundreds of psychotherapy treatments out there to choose from. And which one’s you’ll find most effective depends on what you’ll need for a proper recovery.
More than 18,000 specialized rehab facilities provide detox, counseling, medication, and services to people diagnosed with substance use disorders in the U.S. So, what can you expect in terms of cost? Here’s a breakdown of the most common services related to treatment.
Detox: The average cost of detox reported in the medical journal, Health Services Research varied greatly from $6-12K; final cost depends on your length of stay in a detox center, the use of prescription medication(s), as well as the number of doctor consultations, testing, and procedures.
Psychotherapy: Counseling ranges from almost free to $150 or more per hour.
Outpatient treatment: Residential rehab costs from $50-$135 per day for outpatient treatment.
Inpatient treatment: On average, treatment costs from $235-700 per day for inpatient treatment.
Medications: The average cost for 1 full year of methadone maintenance treatment is approximately $6,550, or $545 per month. Retail cost of buprenorphine varies by formula and ranges from $3,100-$6,700 annually, or $260-560 per month. Naltrexone is the most expensive of the medications, at $14,100 per year, or $1175 monthly.
As a general rule, inpatient treatment is more expensive than outpatient because of the intensive counseling and therapy sessions, as well as 24-7 care. Further, outpatient treatment does not require additional staffing or overhead costs. More research on estimates of the cost of addiction treatment and the cost of treating addiction here.
One of the biggest problems with Vicodin is that it’s becoming more widely available to the public.
With ease of availability, more and more Americans struggle with dependency and trying other opiate drugs, such as heroin.
So know that you are not alone!
We also understand that you may have a personal question to ask.
If you have any further questions or concerns, please, leave them in the comment section below. We’ll be sure to get back to you in a timely manner with a personal response. Also, if you’ve undergone the process of treating Vicodin and have any advice we didn’t mention here, we welcome you to share.
Reference sources: MedlinePlus: Hydrocodone
MedlinePlus: Hydrocodone Combination Products
All of the information on this page has been reviewed and verified by a licensed medical professional.