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Hydrocodone Withdrawal, Addiction, Side Effects, Alternatives, and Tapering

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Alternative to Meds Editorial Team
Written by Diane Ridaeus
Medically Reviewed by Dr Michael Loes MD

Hydrocodone (Hydrocodone hydrochloride) is an opioid analgesic narcotic medication, primarily prescribed for the treatment of moderate to severe pain. Hydrocodone is categorized as a Schedule II drug due to its high risk of abuse, which may lead to physical and/or psychological dependence and addiction.

Hydrocodone has also become a frequently abused drug sold on the street used for recreational purposes rather than to treat a medical condition.

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Hydrocodone Addiction

Hydrocodone has an elevated risk for addiction, because when you stop taking it, significant withdrawal symptoms occur, that can often lead to drug cravings and repeated use. The following will provide answers to some of the most frequently asked questions about hydrocodone, why the side effects and withdrawals are often harsh, vital information about recovery after addiction to hydrocodone, and many other topics.

Hydrocodone is a member of the opiate drug class and, as is the case with all opioid drugs, obstructs the way neurotransmitters perceive and respond to pain.

There are two primary neurotransmitters that control pain:

  • Endorphins
  • Enkephalins1

endorphins enkephalinsEndorphins and enkephalins are created by the body and these hormones or peptides have a powerful ability to kill pain. For example, in the unfortunate happenstance of a severe injury, the victim could feel no pain due to the increase in the levels of endorphins and enkephalins present. This is how these natural chemicals are so effective at blocking pain. However, these same hormones also produce the sensation of being “high,” a potential precursor to addiction. For instance, a person may become chemically addicted to the rush of strenuous exercise, or the rush of endorphins that can accompany compulsive self-harm, such as “cutting.” 2

Opiate drugs mimic these chemicals. Hydrocodone was manufactured to take the place of these naturally produced chemicals.

When the body is exposed to these kinds of synthetics, such as hydrocodone or other synthetic drugs, the production of the natural chemicals stops which is the body’s natural response. The result is a deficit in our ability to control pain. This deficit is a primary component in the extremely painful withdrawal symptoms that occur when a person begins the process of Hydrocodone tapering or cessation.

What Is Hydrocodone Used for?

Hydrocodone is used to control pain that is moderate to severe. Many compound drugs contain hydrocodone, often compounded with other analgesics, such as Norco and Vicodin. Zohydro ER is an extended release form of hydrocodone. Uses for these various medications have expanded to include certain “off-label” uses, such as for cough, insomnia, anxiety, and depression.

Hydrocodone Alternative Names and Slang

Hydrocodone and drugs containing hydrocodone have developed a significant street presence due to their addictive, euphoric effects. Some of the street or slang names include:

  • Vikes
  • Viko
  • Norco
  • Hydro
  • Waton-387
  • Vickies
  • Idiot Pills
  • 357s
  • Tabs
  • Scratch
  • Lorris
  • Fluff

Hydrocodone Side Effects

Hydrocodone produces pain relief and a temporary sense of joy or euphoria. These effects make the drugs high risk for abuse when used recreationally. Side effects present as:

  • False or unusual joy or euphoria, mood swings, crying, despondency, irritation
  • Drug cravings
  • Dizziness, syncope, lightheaded feeling
  • Fever, chills, cold sweats, perspiration, flushing
  • Difficulty or labored breathing, tightness across the chest
  • Lowered heart rate
  • Mental fog, confusion, impaired thinking
  • Ringing in the ears
  • Pain in abdomen, chest, back, painful urination, headache, muscles
  • Convulsion, shaking, trembling
  • Feet, legs or ankles swelling
  • Numbness or tingling, rashes, hives, itching
  • Cough, runny nose, flu-like symptoms
  • Dry mouth, inability to swallow
  • Tachycardia
  • Nausea, vomiting, heartburn, sour stomach, hiccups
  • Constipation (can be severe requiring medical intervention)
  • Increased thirst
  • Weight loss or weight gain
  • Sunken eyes or facial features
  • Tender painful lymph glands (neck, armpit, groin)
  • Extreme fatigue, drowsiness, tiredness

Hydrocodone Withdrawal Symptoms

Hydrocodone withdrawal symptoms can be extremely hard to get through and are best managed in a medically-supervised facility that supports patients throughout the detox process.

Withdrawal symptoms can present within hours of the last dose taken, and can include:

  • Tachycardia
  • Suicidal thoughts
  • Diarrhea
  • Nausea, vomiting (can lead to dehydration)
  • Insomnia, unusual dreams, interrupted sleep
  • Mood swings, irritability, depression
  • Anxiety, agitation, restlessness, can be severe
  • Cognitive impairment, lack of focus
  • Profuse sweating
  • Hot or cold flushes
  • Aches in muscles, joints, bone pain, headache
  • Runny nose, cough, watering eyes, hoarseness
  • High blood pressure
  • Excessive yawning
  • Restless leg syndrome, uncontrolled leg movements or kicking motions

Discontinuing/Quitting Hydrocodone

Because synthetic opiates shut down the body’s ability to produce natural endorphins for pain control, once a person opts to quit using hydrocodone, a state of deficiency for these chemicals is created resulting in physical pain as well as heightened emotional distress and sensitivity. This state will last until the body can normalize its production of endorphins and enkephalins.

The pain levels, both physical and emotional, can be quite severe and difficult to endure. To help offset some of the challenges, use of short-term bridge medications can ease the withdrawal process, provided and administered in a clinical setting.

Hydrocodone FAQs

Below are some other frequently searched for topics of information relating to hydrocodone and how it works in the body and brain.

Is Hydrocodone an Opioid?

Yes. Hydrocodone is a drug which is synthesized from opium poppies. All drugs derived from opium are opiates or opioids. These terms are interchangeable. These are drugs which bind to the various opioid receptors in the brain and elsewhere in the body.

How Does Hydrocodone Work?

Hydrocodone provides a synthetic version of certain natural chemicals normally produced in the body and brain. The presence of hydrocodone may signal the body to shut down its production of pain-dampening natural chemicals called endorphins and enkephalins. As a result, the body begins to build new pain receptors.

The body is ready-made with this rugged survival mechanism, similar to enhanced radar, so there is a heightened awareness of threats such as incoming pain signals. When the drug is withdrawn, there is a general deficit of endorphins being naturally produced but also, a magnification of pain levels due to the extra pain receptors. These extra pain receptors will atrophy after a period of time, especially with precisely targeted nutritive support, allowing the body a chance to rebalance itself.

Treatment for Hydrocodone Abuse and Addiction

Alternative to Meds Center employs protocols which can ease the withdrawals from drugs such as hydrocodone.

Understanding more about opiates and their effect on the emotional aspects of an individual can help in the recovery process, as well as the physical effects.

Regarding the former, a person with adequate levels of natural endorphins could be described as possibly having a significant ability to withstand situations which are emotionally volatile or challenging. In contrast, where natural endorphins are lacking, such a person may almost feel “too emotional,” much like a tuning fork, now open to the uncomfortable onslaught of every emotion in the room.

It is this sort of vulnerable disposition in low-endorphin individuals that can draw them toward long-term opiate use, in an attempt to blanket these uncomfortable emotional sensitivities.

hydrocodone withdrawalQuite apart from emotional pain, physical pain can take a similar grip, especially in a low endorphin person. There are various methods to counter these problems which may benefit a person who wishes to correct such neurochemical deficiencies.

For example, diet is extremely important during the withdrawal and recovery phases of treatment that can significantly alter length of recovery time and intensity of withdrawal symptoms.

If the diet provides the necessary precursors for their corrective effects on neurochemistry, this is one factor that can aid the process considerably.

getting off hydrocodoneFor instance, the peptides mentioned earlier, such as endorphins, are constructed from amino acids. These can be made amply available through food-grade supplements as well as a diet rich in proteins from meats and dense vegetables. With our orthomolecular-based meal-planning, the needed proteins can also be derived from a vegan diet and can be provided in the program.

If desired, in addition to natural endorphin support, where needed, a short-term use of bridge medications such as Suboxone can be used to ensure the withdrawal process is as mild and tolerable as possible.

More information on the treatments at Alternative to Meds Center for inpatient opiate recovery is given in the opiate alternatives section of this website and we encourage you to become acquainted with all the information provided there. If you would like to receive more information about the program, please contact Alternative to Meds Center with any further questions about how our treatments and protocols may help you or a loved one become free from opiate dependence.

1. Enkephalins Encyclopedia Britannica

2. Zagorsky N “Many Prescription Opioids Go to Adults With Depression, Anxiety” Psychiatry Online, 2017 Aug 17.

This content has been reviewed and approved by a licensed physician.

Dr. Michael Loes, M.D.


Dr. Michael Loes is board-certified in Internal Medicine, Pain Management and Addiction Medicine. He holds a dual license in Homeopathic and Integrative Medicine. He obtained his medical doctorate at the University of Minnesota, Minneapolis, MN, 1978. Dr. Loes performed an externship at the National Institute of Health for Psychopharmacology. Additionally, he is a well-published author including Arthritis: The Doctor’s Cure, The Aspirin Alternative, The Healing Response, and Spirit Driven Health: The Psalmist’s Guide for Recovery. He has been awarded the Minnesota Medical Foundation’s “Excellence in Research” Award.

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Nothing on this Website is intended to be taken as medical advice. The information provided on the website is intended to encourage, not replace, direct patient-health professional relationships. Always consult with your doctor before altering your medications. Adding nutritional supplements may alter the effect of medication. Any medication changes should be done only after proper evaluation and under medical supervision.

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