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Vicodin is an opiate painkiller used to treat moderate to severe pain. A trade name for a combination of hydrocodone and acetaminophen, Vicodin works by binding to opioid receptors in the body to ease the perception of pain and produce a sense of well-being. These pleasurable effects make Vicodin a commonly abused prescription drug.

The Scope of Vicodin Abuse in the U.S.

Prescription drug abuse is defined as using a prescription medication for non-medical purposes or taking a medication in a way other than as prescribed. Prescription opioid abuse carries societal costs of over $72 billion annually. The number of prescriptions for opiate painkillers like Vicodin have increased from roughly 76 million in 1991 to nearly 207 million in 2013. The United States accounts for almost 100 percent of the world’s consumption of hydrocodone.

The Health Risks of Abusing Vicodin

Vicodin is a safe and effective pain reliever when used as prescribed, but when it’s abused, it has a high potential for overdose, addiction and dependency.

The risk of addiction and dependency is also greatly increased for those who abuse Vicodin. Opiates produce a high level of tolerance relatively quickly, which means that the brain changes the way it functions in order to compensate for the presence of the drug in the body. As a result, ever higher doses are needed to achieve the same effects.

Over time, this can lead to dependence, which occurs when brain function shifts so that it operates more normally when Vicodin is in the system than when it’s not. When the drug is withheld from the body, withdrawal symptoms result as the brain’s way of telling you it needs the drug to function properly.

The Difference Between Addiction and Dependence

Addiction and dependence are not the same thing. While you can be addicted to drugs without being dependent on it and vice versa, opiate addiction and dependence usually co-occur.

Addiction is characterized by the inability to stop using a drug even though it’s causing negative consequences for health, finances or relationships. If you’re addicted to a drug, you’re probably unable to stop using it even though you may want to or you may have tried.

Addiction is a complex brain disease that affects thoughts and behaviors, and successful recovery typically requires professional intervention.

The Dangers of Vicodin Overdose

Accidental opiate overdose deaths have quadrupled since 1999, and as a result, a handheld naloxone injector, known as Evzio, has been approved by the FDA for personal use. If you or someone you love abuses Vicodin, having this device on hand and injecting the naloxone into a muscle can reverse an opiate overdose and restore respiratory function until medical personnel arrive.

Symptoms of a Vicodin overdose include:

  • Depressed respiration
  • Cessation of breathing
  • Low blood pressure
  • Weak pulse
  • Seizures
  • Coma
  • Death

Detoxing from Vicodin

Detox is the first step in treating Vicodin addiction and dependence. Medical detox through a high-quality treatment program involves physician-administered medications that are used as needed to alleviate the intense withdrawal symptoms.

Symptoms of withdrawal include:

  • Severe cravings
  • Abdominal cramps
  • Diarrhea
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Hot and cold sweats
  • Muscle aches

These flu-like symptoms can be very uncomfortable, and most people who try to detox without medical assistance will turn back to drugs very quickly in order to stop the withdrawal symptoms.

Long-term maintenance with medications like methadone, buprenorphine and naltrexone, which are safer and less addictive than Vicodin and other opiates, can stave off cravings and other withdrawal symptoms for several months or longer to enable those with an opiate addiction to focus on reclaiming their lives while slowly weaning them from the drug.

Treating Vicodin Addiction and Dependence

While detox takes care of the physical dependence on Vicodin, it doesn’t address the far more complex psychological issues surrounding a drug addiction. Treating an addiction to opiates typically requires various traditional and alternative therapies that address these underlying issues and help those with an addiction learn to identify and change self-destructive ways of thinking and behaving.

Recovering from a Vicodin addiction isn’t easy, but with professional help through a chemical dependency treatment program and a high level of support at home and in the community, it’s highly possible to recover for the long-term. Doing so will help you regain control over your life, restore your health and enable you to find happiness and pleasure in a life of sobriety.

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Know Your Pills: The Risks and Effects of Vicodin
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