Vicodin Uses, Effects, and Risk for Addiction

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Vicodin has been a well-known medication in the field of pain management since it was first approved for use by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in 1997.1 Vicodin became a very popular medication choice among prescribing professionals due in large part to its efficiency in improving pain levels and quality of life for multiple conditions.2 Vicodin is now one of the most-prescribed drugs on the market.3

Vicodin differs from other narcotics with its combination of two medications in one: hydrocodone and acetaminophen, or more commonly called Tylenol. Vicodin contains a higher amount of acetaminophen than hydrocodone, but hydrocodone is the main element in Vicodin that offers the most pain relief.4

Other medications on the market also contain a combination of acetaminophen with another opioid, such as Norco and Percocet, but the contents of Vicodin are distinct from those two medications.

Vicodin and Other Medications

Vicodin vs. Norco

Vicodin and Norco are very similar medications, so they are often confused for one another. They contain different amounts of acetaminophen, however, with Norco containing a higher amount of acetaminophen and Vicodin containing a lower amount of acetaminophen.5

Vicodin vs. Percocet

Vicodin and Percocet are also very similar in their ingredients, so they are also often confused for one another. The main difference between Vicodin and Percocet is that Percocet contains the opioid oxycodone, while Vicodin contains hydrocodone.6

Vicodin Side Effects

If you or a loved one are considering Vicodin for pain management treatment or if your medical professional has recommended Vicodin, additional information will be beneficial to you before beginning the medication regimen.

As with all medications, Vicodin has side effects. Be assured, though, that Vicodin is generally considered safe to use, or it would not have been approved by the FDA, nor would your medical professional be recommending its use. With this understanding, please know that any potential side effects or risks of the medication can be easily managed with proper medical oversight.

Possible side effects of Vicodin include:

  • Muscle spasms
  • Hearing impairment
  • Reduced dopamine levels
  • Liver failure
  • Increased pain sensitivity

Myoclonus

Literature has shown a connection between the use of Vicodin and opioid-induced myoclonus. When experiencing this side effect, a patient may have a variety of muscle spasms. These muscle spasms are not always severe and can oftentimes be as simple as hiccups or brief diaphragm spasms. Treatment may be available for this side effect.7

Hearing Impairment

Several studies have found an association between the overuse of Vicodin and hearing impairment, sometimes leading to permanent hearing loss.8 If this side effect occurs, it is usually only on one side, but more severe cases may experience hearing loss on both sides. Additionally, if any hearing impairment is experienced, the patient may also experience balance problems.8

Treatment for this hearing loss often includes the discontinuation of Vicodin and administration of prednisone. Occasionally patients did not respond well to prednisone and a cochlear implant was used instead. Unfortunately, some people were unable to recover their hearing.8

Mental Illness

Human and animal studies have also found an association between chronic opioid use and a decreased level of dopamine, leading to reduced efficiency of pain management with opioids. 9 Decreased dopamine levels may also leave the patient at an increased risk for mental illness, such as major depressive disorder.10

Liver Failure

Fulminant hepatic failure, or liver failure, is a well-known side effect with the improper use of acetaminophen. Since Vicodin contains a large amount of acetaminophen, please be sure to always follow the prescription properly.

Always be sure to take only the prescribed amount of Vicodin and to space each dosage properly. If the proper Vicodin dosage is taken, Vicodin is safe and liver damage or failure will most likely not occur.4

Pain Sensitivity

One potential side effect of Vicodin is an increased pain sensitivity, called opioid-induced hyperalgesia (OIH). Since Vicodin is an opioid, OIH is a possible side effect. OIH is a rare phenomenon and most often occurs in those taking opioids at a higher level than prescribed and for longer periods.

When OIH occurs, you will experience heightened sensations of painful stimuli and a decreased efficiency of the prescribed opioid medication. Unfortunately, no known treatment is available for OIH. If possible, the patient will be prescribed another medication and hopes of achieving pain reduction.11

Risk of Addiction

Additional caution is advised for women, as statistics show that women are more likely to be at risk for addiction to prescription opioid medications. This may also be a result of more women seeking pain management techniques than men, especially since women are more susceptible to experiencing chronic pain. 12

Women are also more likely than men to report other medical conditions while taking Vicodin.13 As such, women should perhaps begin their Vicodin use with strong medical oversight, as they appear to be more at risk for developing an addiction.

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Vicodin and Addiction

Vicodin is a Schedule II medication, meaning it has a higher misuse potential than other medications on the market. The potential in Vicodin is due to its hydrocodone component, as hydrocodone is an opioid, and opioids are known to hold addiction risk. In fact, the hydrocodone component of Vicodin is known to be 6 to 8 times more potent than codeine, and it is absorbed and processed through the body at a much more rapid rate, contributing to physical dependence on the drug.4

Vicodin addiction in the United States has become a well-known problem. Research indicates that there are, at minimum, a million people who are currently misusing Vicodin. Statistics also show that among those patients who are properly prescribed opioids, up to 6% of them will still develop a substance use disorder.9 The rate of addiction to Vicodin, in particular, could be attributed to the rate at which Vicodin is prescribed for its effectiveness in treating pain.14

Although it is well-known that some Vicodin misusers initially obtained a prescription legally,3 it is also well-known that those who show the highest rate of addiction to prescription medications are those who do not obtain the medication legally, but instead through illegal drug sales online or from a drug dealer in the community.15 Furthermore, those who show the greatest rate of dependence are also those who do not maintain proper medical oversight while taking the prescription medication.

Knowing this, if you or a loved one are beginning to take Vicodin for pain management, you are in a great position to be an advocate for yourself or your loved one. To begin, you can ensure that yourself or your loved one is obtaining Vicodin through proper channels, such as a medical doctor, a psychiatrist, or another licensed prescribing professional.

Additionally, efforts should be made to ensure the maintenance of proper medical oversight, as years of studies have demonstrated that addiction prevention is far more effective than addiction treatment.3

Maintaining proper medical oversight with continued appointments is a suitable method to begin addiction prevention, as with continued medical oversight the medical professional can assess you or your loved one’s use of Vicodin, by looking for potential signs of developing an opioid use disorder (OUD).

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Opioid Use Disorder

OUD is an addiction to opiates, such as Vicodin. OUD is a chronic, relapsing disorder, that is often influenced by genetic, environmental, and psychosocial factors.9

In addition to medical oversight, it is also advisable that you begin monitoring yourself and/or your loved ones for any indications of a possible OUD.

Signs or symptoms of OUD or a Vicodin addiction may include:9

  • Cravings
  • Compulsive drug-seeking behavior
  • Loss of control over intake
  • Negative emotional state
  • Withdrawal symptoms when access is limited

It is important to note that tolerance and physical dependence are not necessarily indications of OUD, as those are normal physical reactions to opioids.9 If however, other signs or symptoms of an OUD occur, take yourself or your loved ones to your doctor for additional care.

Vicodin Detox and Withdrawal

If you or a loved one are struggling with an addiction to Vicodin, your medical professional will help assist you to come up with a strategy to decrease or stop Vicodin use. This strategy will often include a gradual decrease in the amount of Vicodin used daily until discontinuation is achieved.9

Please be sure to always consult with a medical professional before attempting to quit Vicodin use on your own at home. Healthcare providers use a careful method to ensure that withdrawal symptoms are properly managed and the patient is supported and cared for as they work through their addiction.9

Vicodin Withdrawal Symptoms

Withdrawal from Vicodin can be uncomfortable but is usually not life-threatening. Withdrawal symptoms from Vicodin may include:

  • Altered mental status
  • Irritability
  • Anxiety
  • Changes in body temperature
  • Bone pain
  • Body aches
  • Insomnia
  • Weakness
  • Stomach pain
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea

Doctors are ready and able to help you through the withdrawal process, so please always seek the care you want or need. Medications are approved for use to support those working through Vicodin withdrawal, such as methadone, buprenorphine, lofexidine, and naltrexone. These medications are safe for use during both the withdrawal process and maintenance therapy.9

Ongoing Treatment for Vicodin Addiction

After the Vicodin withdrawal phase is complete and you have moved into the maintenance stage of overcoming OUD, it is always advisable to seek out professional addiction counseling.

Many people who are overcoming OUD receive inadequate treatment because they are uncertain of who to speak with or where to obtain the necessary care. If you or your loved one need support, please feel welcome to call (800) 407-7195(Who Answers?) to begin your recovery process.

Vicodin is an opioid medication that is highly effective at treating most pain conditions. As with any medication, there is a risk of experiencing some side effects and with opioids a risk of addiction. However, if your medical provider has recommended you or a loved one take Vicodin for pain management, then please be assured that Vicodin is a safe medication when used with proper dosage and thoughtful medical oversight.

References

  1. U.S. Food and Drug Administration. (2021). FDA-approved drugs.
  2. O’Connell T.F., Carpenter, P.S., Caballero, N., Putnam, A.J., Steere, J.T., Matz, G.J., & Foecking, E.M. (2014). Increased thermal pain sensitivity in animals exposed to chronic high dose Vicodin but not pure hydrocodone. Pain Physician.17(4):353-7. PMID: 25054394.
  3. Caldwell, W.K., Freedman, B., Settles, L., Thomas, M.M., Camacho, E.T., & Wirkus, S. (2019). The Vicodin abuse problem: A mathematical approach. J Theor Biol, 12(21).
  4. Csete, M., & Brown Sullivan, J. (1993). Vicodin induced fulminant hepatic failure. Anesthesiology, 79(4), 857–860.
  5. Torres, K. C. (2018). Norco vs. Vicodin: Differences, similarities, and which is better for you.
  6. Westphalen, D. (2021, January 29). Vicodin and Percocet: A comparison.
  7. Lauterbach, E.C. (1999). Hiccup and apparent myoclonus after hydrocodone: review of the opiate-related hiccup and myoclonus literature. Clin Neuropharmacol, 22(2):87-92.
  8. Oh, A. K., Ishlyama, A., & Baloh, R. W. (2020). Deafness associated with abuse of hydrocodone/acetaminophen. Clinical/Scientific Notes, 52(12).
  9. Pergolizzi, J. V., Raffa, R. B., & Rosenblatt, M. H. (2020). Opioid withdrawal symptoms, a consequence of chronic opioid use and opioid use disorder: Current understanding and approaches to management. Journal of Clinical Pharmacy and Therapeutics, 45(5), 892–903.
  10. Belujon, P., & Grace, A. A. (2017). Dopamine system dysregulation in major depressive disorders. Int J Neuropsychopharmacol, 20(12), 1036–1046.
  11. Lee, M., Silverman, S.M., Hansen, H., Patel, V.B., & Manchikanti, L. (2011). A comprehensive review of opioid-induced hyperalgesia. Pain Physician, 14(2):145-61.
  12. Goetz, T.G., Becker, J.B., & Mazure, C.M. (2021). Women, opioid use and addiction. FASEB J, 35(2):e21303.
  13. Green, T. C., Grimes Serrano, J. M., Licari, A., Budman, S. H., & Butler, S. F. (2009). Women who abuse prescription opioids: Findings from the Addiction Severity Index-Multimedia Version Connect prescription opioid database. Drug and Alcohol Dependence, 103(1-2), 65–73.
  14. Caldwell, W. K., Freedman, B., Settles, L., Thomas, M. M., Murillo, A., Camacho, E., & Wirkus, S. (2013). Substance abuse via legally prescribed drugs: The case of Vicodin in the United States. arXiv:1308.3673, 1–47.
  15. Forman, R.F., Marlowe, D.B. & McLellan, A.T. (2006). The internet as a source of drugs of abuse. Curr Psychiatry Rep, 8, 377–382.

the Take-Away

Learn more about Vicodin, what it’s used for, its effects, and what the risks of addiction and abuse are if you start using it.