Hydrocodone Withdrawal Symptoms
Hydrocodone is a prescription opioid agonist typically used to treat moderate to severe pain, often after surgery. However, the medication is also misused and abused. In 2017, over 6 million Americans aged 12 and older misused hydrocodone. Misuse and abuse can increase the risk of opioid addiction or opioid dependence. When someone becomes dependent on or addicted, they experience withdrawal symptoms if they stop taking it.
What Is Hydrocodone Withdrawal?
Hydrocodone withdrawal is the brain’s and body’s reaction to the lack of the drug after a person has formed a dependence on it.
Hydrocodone is a powerful, addictive prescription opioid for treating moderate to severe pain. Most people know it by its brand names Vicodin, Norco, Lortab, and Lorcet. It’s the most commonly abused prescription opioid currently on the market.
While prescriptions of the drugs have decreased significantly over the past several years, the number of people abusing hydrocodone has not. And abuse of it can lead to an opioid use disorder, such as opioid addiction or physical dependence.
A person may experience withdrawal symptoms soon after their last dose if they have formed an opiate addiction or dependence on the drug.
This condition is also called hydrocodone withdrawal syndrome.
What Causes Withdrawal?
Opioids, such as hydrocodone, codeine, and oxycodone (OxyContin), attach themselves to opioid receptors in the brain.
This attachment causes an increase in the endorphins released into the body. Endorphins are what block pain and cause feelings of pleasure and euphoria. Over time, your brain and body become dependent on those extra endorphins to function normally.
As opioid dependence grows, you begin to experience withdrawal symptoms whenever the hydrocodone wears off.
Common Withdrawal Symptoms
Hydrocodone withdrawal symptoms can vary based on a variety of factors. These include the severity of the substance abuse, the length of time you have been taking the drug, and the amount you have been taking.
Some of the more common opiate withdrawal symptoms include:
- Dilated pupils
- Mood swings
- Inability to feel pleasure
- Muscle aches
- Intense cravings
- Changes in appetite
- Flu-like symptoms including fever, chills, and runny nose
- High blood pressure
- Irregular heart rate
- Suicidal thoughts
The Hydrocodone Withdrawal Timeline
Symptoms can begin as soon as six to eight hours after the last dose was taken. Symptoms will typically peak between the 30- and 72-hour mark. The entire withdrawal process can last up to two weeks.
Some people can experience lingering side effects for months after withdrawing from hydrocodone. These lingering effects are known as post-acute withdrawal syndrome (PAWS) or protracted withdrawal.
Fortunately, PAWS withdrawal symptoms are typically less severe than peak withdrawal symptoms.
How to Safely Withdraw From Hydrocodone
For people who take opioids such as hydrocodone for less than two weeks, experiencing withdrawal symptoms is rare. However, people with an addiction or dependence need to be careful when stopping their use of hydrocodone.
If you want to stop taking hydrocodone, talk to your primary care physician or a treatment professional. Based on your situation, they might recommend tapering or a medical detox program to ensure the weaning process happens safely.
The Tapering Method
Withdrawal from hydrocodone is potentially life-threatening if you stop taking it “cold turkey.”
To safely get off hydrocodone, your primary healthcare provider might suggest a tapering regime. Tapering allows you to reduce the use it over a designated period of time until you are off the substance entirely.
While tapering, you will likely have regular in-person or virtual check-ins with your doctor to ensure everything is going smoothly and there are no severe medical issues. You may also regularly meet with a mental health professional to address the psychological effects of weaning off hydrocodone.
In some cases, your physician or therapist might prescribe medications to help with the physical or psychological effects of tapering.
The safest way to withdraw is through a medical detox program. Detoxing is when all harmful substances leave the body to start the healing process.
Just like tapering, detoxing should also occur under proper medical supervision. Unlike tapering, detoxification is typically done at a hospital, a specialized detox center, or a treatment center that provides detox programs.
During the detox process, you will likely be prescribed medications to help you deal with drug cravings and alleviate other withdrawal symptoms and side effects.
Medications that are FDA-approved for hydrocodone detox include:
- Naltrexone (Vivitrol)
- Buprenorphine (Suboxone)
- Methadone (Methadose)
- Naloxone (Narcan, which also treats opioid overdose)
Over-the-counter medications might also be used for the physical symptoms, including:
- Non-opioid painkillers (Tylenol, Advil, Aleve)
- Antihistamines (Benadryl)
- Anti-nausea medications (Pepto-Bismol)
- Anti-diarrhea medications (Imodium, Loperamide)
- Nutritional supplements (chamomile, valerian root)
Follow-Up Treatment for Hydrocodone Addiction
Having withdrawal symptoms is usually a sign of opioid dependence or addiction. Treating hydrocodone is possible, and detoxing from the medication is only the start.
After detox, you may enter either an inpatient rehab program or an outpatient program to address your addiction.
Inpatient Treatment for Opioid Addiction
Inpatient treatment offers an intensive approach, usually necessary for opioid use disorder. You can access support groups, counseling, behavioral therapy, and relapse prevention care in inpatient rehab.
Outpatient Treatment for Opioid Addiction
If your opiate addiction is less severe, outpatient treatment may suffice. This type of treatment offers many of the same approaches as inpatient care without the overnight stay requirement.
- Outpatient rehab programs are available in a variety of intensity levels.
- Partial hospitalization programs are held for several hours per day and a few days per week, while intensive outpatient treatment takes place a couple of hours per day for a couple of days per week.
Aftercare for Opioid Addiction Recovery
Finally, aftercare may help you stay on the path of addiction recovery long after your initial treatment program has ended. There are various types of continuing care for addiction, but some include individual counseling sessions, group therapy sessions, and Narcotics Anonymous meetings.
Get Help for Someone Facing Hydrocodone Withdrawal
If you or a loved one are facing withdrawal, know you can safely detox in a drug addiction treatment program.
For help with a substance use disorder, call the SAMHSA helpline at 1-800-662-4357 or visit their online program locator to find addiction treatment options and support in your area.
Hydrocodone Withdrawal FAQs
What is hydrocodone withdrawal?
Hydrocodone withdrawal is the body’s and brain’s reaction to hydrocodone leaving the body after you have developed an opiate dependence.
Withdrawal symptoms occur due to the lack of hydrocodone in your system.
How long does it take for hydrocodone to get out of your system?
The amount of time any drug remains in your system depends on its half-life. The half-life of hydrocodone is 3.8 hours, which means half of a standard dose will leave your system after this amount of time.
Though hydrocodone withdrawal symptoms may linger for days or weeks, the drug will be out of your system in a matter of hours.
This time frame can be affected by the amount of hydrocodone a person takes. And people who abuse hydrocodone often take it in higher doses than are typically prescribed.
What are the symptoms of hydrocodone withdrawal?
Hydrocodone withdrawal symptoms can vary based on multiple factors, including the severity of the dependency, the length of time hydrocodone has been taken, and the dosage.
Symptoms of hydrocodone withdrawal include cravings, mood swings, insomnia, nausea, flu-like symptoms, body aches, and high blood pressure, among others.
Is hydrocodone withdrawal treatable?
Yes, hydrocodone withdrawal is treatable.
Before stopping the use of hydrocodone, it’s essential to consult with a physician or addiction treatment professional. They will likely recommend either medical detox or a tapering program.