FAQ » Opiates/Prescription Drugs » Hydrocodone


Hydrocodone is an opiate painkiller that’s prescribed for the moderate to severe pain that accompanies certain injuries and surgeries. It’s derived from morphine, which occurs naturally in some varieties of the poppy plant, and its effects include euphoria followed by a period of drowsiness and depressed respiratory and heart rate.

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, around 2.1 million Americans are addicted to or abuse opiate painkillers, including hydrocodone. Other prescription opiates include oxycodone, morphine and codeine.

Hydrocodone is Highly Addictive

Like all opiate painkillers and the illegal opiate drug heroin, hydrocodone can cause a number of problems if it’s abused or taken for recreation or other than as directed by a physician. Addiction and dependence are serious concerns when hydrocodone is abused. This is because opiates promote the release of large amounts of the feel-good neurotransmitter dopamine, which is associated with the pleasure and memory centers of the brain.

As an individual continues to abuse it, strong associations are made between the drug and the pleasure it produces. The function of certain brain chemicals is altered, and you may begin to compulsively seek out the drug despite the problems it’s causing in your life. This is an important sign that an addiction has developed.

At the same time, since opiates produce a high level of tolerance very quickly, it takes increasingly larger amounts of hydrocodone to get the desired effects. This is known as developing a tolerance, and it occurs due to changes in the function of brain chemicals in an attempt to compensate for the presence of the drug.

At some point, brain function may shift so that it operates more “normally” when the drug is in the system than when it’s not. Once this physical dependence has developed, withdrawal symptoms will set in when the drug is withheld from the body.

Hydrocodone is Dangerous

In addition to the risk of addiction and dependence, hydrocodone and other opiates carry a high risk of overdose. Opiates depress heart and respiratory function, and an overdose can occur quickly and unexpectedly, causing breathing and heartbeat to stop. According to the American Society of Addiction Medicine, 18,893 people died of an accidental overdose of prescription opiate painkillers in 2014. This is nearly quadruple the number of similar deaths in 2001.

In response to a continuing increase in accidental overdose deaths, the Food and Drug Administration recently approved a prescription treatment for opiate overdose. Known as Evzio, this treatment is a handheld auto injector of naloxone hydrochloride, which reverses the effects of the opiate to restore respiratory and heart function and buy more time until paramedics arrive. You can request a prescription for the device from your physician if you or a loved one are at risk of an opiate overdose from heroin or prescription painkillers.

Hydrocodone Addiction Can Be Treated

If you or a loved one are addicted to or dependent on hydrocodone or another prescription opiate painkiller, quitting can be extremely difficult without professional help. The most successful treatment for opiate addiction is a combination of medication and intensive therapy.

Through a high-quality treatment program, people living with opiate addiction can learn new ways of thinking about the drug and about addiction. The various issues that underlie the addiction are explored, and missing skills are developed to help you cope with stress and other triggers.

With professional help, many individuals addicted to hydrocodone and other opiates repair their self-esteem, find purpose in life and dramatically improve their quality of life and sense of well-being. There is always hope for recovery, and the sooner you make the choice to seek help, the better the chances of successful long-term sobriety.