Opioid abuse and addiction have been widespread phenomena in the United States and are perceived in different ways depending on a variety of factors. They have now acquired the status of an epidemic and have become public health crises. Misuse of opioids can take a toll on our health care infrastructure, our communities, and those closest to us.
Still, however, many people do not fully understand the crisis, often pointing to heroin or illegal opioids as the primary contributors. But heroin is not the only opioid drug. In fact, prescription drugs pose a much more significant problem.
Prescription painkillers often contain opioids and are prescribed for chronic or acute pain. A person prescribed Vicodin, for example, can very easily misuse their legally prescribed medication. This may result in their dependence or addiction to them. Most opioid abuse and addiction cases began with a prescription for managing pain due to injury or recurring health issue. Furthermore, not many people are aware that mixing painkillers such as Vicodin with alcohol can result in an overdose and even loss of life.
Although recovery from opioid abuse or addiction is always possible, one must take great care in what they know about substances such as Vicodin with the goal being continuing to heal from addiction and live a full and healthy life.
What Is Vicodin?
Vicodin is a pharmaceutical drug and is an analgesic, a term that just means a drug used to relieve pain. The composite mixture of hydrocodone and acetaminophen was first introduced in the United States in 1978 and remains one of the most commonly prescribed painkillers.
Aimed at addressing pain relief, Vicodin can be easily misused because of the euphoric feelings it produces in its user. Because of the hydrocodone in its mixture, Vicodin is classified as an opioid drug and has a high propensity for dependence, abuse, and addiction.
Remember, however, that Vicodin is only one brand of opioid analgesics. Same or similar mixtures of hydrocodone and acetaminophen are also found in other painkillers, such as:
How Does Vicodin Work?
The hydrocodone used in Vicodin makes it an opioid, and further classifies it as a depressant. Depressants cause the central nervous system (CNS) to slow down, including the parts of the nervous system that functions to send signals across the spinal cord and brain. In short, it regulates all the major systems of the body including breathing, heart rate, and brain functions.
When a person takes Vicodin, the opioid found in the drug slows down the functions of the brain and results in slower breathing and slower heart rate. These changes will be felt as sensations of calm or drowsiness. But if the CNS slows down brain and other bodily functions too much, this can result in overdose and other dangerous health repercussions.
Vicodin can become even more dangerous when combined with other CNS depressants, such as alcohol or other painkillers. These dangers highlight why Vicodin or other opioid painkillers should only be prescribed as short-term solutions instead of consistent dependences.
What Are the Side Effects of Vicodin?
Common side effects of the opioid drug Vicodin can include:
If a person experiences strange thoughts, much slower heartbeat, fainting, or confusion, they should consult their doctor immediately.
Are there Risks of Mixing Alcohol with Vicodin?
Mixing alcohol with any opioid painkiller such as Vicodin is very dangerous. Since alcohol and Vicodin both slow the CNS down, if it gets to the point where the brain fails to tell the body to breathe, it can lead to death. The mixture can also cause severe respiratory distress and other dangerous health risks, and may include symptoms such as:
- Heavy breathing
- Skin color change, usually blue around the mouth and fingertips
- Cool or clammy skin with sweating
- Wheezing, or constricted air passages
- Extreme sedation, confusion, and drowsiness
- Severe liver damage
- Recurring stress to lungs that can cause long-term damage
What Does Vicodin Abuse, Addiction, and Withdrawal Look Like?
Vicodin and other opioid-based prescription drugs are highly addictive in part because of their potent composition. Opioids have a significant effect on an individual’s neurochemistry, especially with their ability to relieve pain, calm the nervous system, and cause euphoria. But painkillers that are prescribed are sometimes more dangerous because they are prescribed by a doctor or healthcare provider, which causes users to forget about the risks.
Because painkillers are prescribed for pain, the indications that a person has begun to abuse or become addicted to their prescription drugs are not easy to spot. At the beginning, someone may notice their tolerance has increased and they find that they need more of the prescription drug to achieve the desired effects.
Moreover, if someone has developed a physical dependence or addiction, they may experience withdrawal symptoms when they try to quit or their prescription has run out. Symptoms can be flu-like, and may include:
- Muscle tension
- Body aches
Further Indications of Vicodin Addiction
While a person may experience flu-like symptoms during a withdrawal period which may be easily identified, there are other signs that one can look for in order to identify a dependence on or addiction to prescription painkillers such as Vicodin.
Often those addicted to opioid drugs will become isolated and withdrawn from family, friends, and community relationships. If they do come to an event or activity, a person may seem sedated, sleepy, nodding off, or confused. They may also engage in something known as “doctor shopping” where they jump from doctor to doctor to guarantee having an ongoing prescription to the prescribed medication they’re addicted to, such as Vicodin.
The friends and family who observe signs such as these should reach out to professionals for help, such as a licensed addiction specialist who can address your specific concerns and identify treatment options.