To understand why it is so easy to become addicted to hydrocodone, why it is so hard to stop taking it, and how long the withdrawal process lasts, it is important to understand what hydrocodone is, as well as its history in the United States. This medication is considered semi-synthetic, because it is an opioid medication constructed by pharmacists in a laboratory setting, based on codeine, which is derived from the opium poppy. As a narcotic pain medication, it acts on the central nervous system and combines with receptors to stop the person from feeling pain. Those who abuse the medication can also get a euphoric feeling from these drugs, much like the “high” associated with morphine and heroin.
Hydrocodone was reclassified in 2014 by the Drug Enforcement Agency as a Schedule II drug under the Controlled Substances Act, making prescriptions harder to obtain and easier to monitor for refills. Prior to that, hydrocodone had been accessible as a Schedule III substance, meaning doctors could prescribe almost unlimited refills. The drug was developed as an easy-to-access painkiller for patients suffering post-surgery pain or chronic pain from illness or injury, before oxycodone drugs were found to be addictive and placed under tough federal restrictions. Unfortunately, the ease of access to hydrocodone helped propel many people into addiction.
How Common Is Hydrocodone Addiction?
In 2012, an estimated 2.1 million people in the United States alone were addicted to prescription painkillers, a group of drugs that includes hydrocodone, oxycodone, and other medications mixed with those two opioid painkillers.
While prescriptions specify the maximum dosages that individuals should take, those who find themselves dependent on the drug often increase their dosages, or the frequently with which they take the medication, as they develop a tolerance to it. Any use of the drug beyond what the prescription specifies is considered abuse. Taking higher or more frequent dosages significantly increases the risk of overdose on the drug. Opioid overdose often leads to depressed breathing, or the person may stop breathing entirely, potentially causing coma and even death.
Things to Consider about Hydrocodone Withdrawal Timelines
Certain factors affect the withdrawal timeline for hydrocodone-based drugs. These factors include:
- Length of use: People who have taken hydrocodone for a long time will have more of the drug built up in their systems than people who haven’t been using the drug for very long. Those with long-term addictions can expect more severe withdrawal symptoms.
- Dosage levels: Those using small amounts of hydrocodone will not have as much built up in their systems; as a result, they will experience less severe withdrawal symptoms.
- Age: This is in part related to how long an individual has suffered from the addiction, but it also relates to metabolism. Younger people have higher metabolisms, and they are less likely to suffer drawn-out withdrawal symptoms.
Medical detox is always recommended for those suffering from hydrocodone addiction, as it is for all opiate addictions. Those who have been abusing opiates should not attempt to stop taking the drugs cold turkey on their own. Medical supervision will keep those detoxing safe throughout the process and help to mitigate withdrawal symptoms to ensure clients make it through the detox process without relapsing.
Timeline for Hydrocodone Withdrawal – How Long Does it Last?
Most intense hydrocodone withdrawal symptoms last for 5-7 days. Generally, the first two days are the worst for people suffering from hydrocodone addiction, and this is when many people relapse in an effort to make the withdrawal symptoms disappear. Physical discomfort can be intense, but mental and emotional effects can drive people back to taking the drug as well.
While withdrawal is different for each person, the following timeline provides a general overview of what hydrocodone withdrawal looks like:
- Day 1: Withdrawal symptoms begin about 12 hours after the individual stops taking hydrocodone, although this can depend based on how much of the drug the person’s body has stored. Symptoms include agitation as well as body aches and muscle pain.
- Day 2: Muscle aches continue, along with sweating, diarrhea, loss of appetite, and difficulty sleeping. Patients will likely also suffer anxiety and potentially even panic attacks. The person might have symptoms of a cold as well, such as a runny nose or bleary eyes.
- Days 3-5: Although it is common for the worst of the pain to be gone, some pain will likely remain and slowly taper off during this time. It is also common for diarrhea to stop, but that is in large part because nausea and illness have prevented the individual from eating much for a few days. However, nausea will likely also reduce during this time, allowing the person to eat more and hydrate well, which is very important. Sweating, goosebumps, shivering, and abdominal cramping are common during this time.
- Day 6: While the worst of the symptoms, like pain and shivering, will have mostly abated at this point, the person might still feel a little nauseated, as well as psychological symptoms like anxiety and depression. At this point, moving into comprehensive therapy is important.
Psychological symptoms tend to recur after the physical symptoms have passed. These symptoms generally follow this timeline:
- One week after initial detox: The person may still be irritable, anxious, depressed, and exhausted. These symptoms may appear suddenly. In addition, physical cravings for the drug will still appear on occasion.
- Two weeks after detox: Protracted symptoms continue, including irritability and mood swings. Diarrhea, muscle cramps, back aches, and insomnia may return suddenly but temporarily.
- Three weeks after detox: Cravings for the drug may continue, but the individual’s mood will begin to stabilize, and physical symptoms are not likely to continue.
Even once the worst physical symptoms have passed, mental or emotional cravings for the drug may persist. It is very important that people suffering from hydrocodone addiction get comprehensive addiction care in a dedicated treatment center.
Does Cold-Turkey Detox Work?
Cold-turkey detox , or at-home detox, doesn’t generally work for those suffering from hydrocodone addiction. Since opiate are so strong, medical detox is always recommended. If a person attempts a cold-turkey detox alone at home, relapse is very likely. In addition, the person may encounter health complications, which can be dangerous if medical care isn’t provided promptly.
In some instances, replacement medications are used during opiate detox. This may involve the use of medications like methadone or buprenorphine. Use of these drugs is determined on a case-by-case basis. In other instances, other medications, such as antidepressants, anti-anxiety medications, and anti-nausea medications, may be used to address specific symptoms of withdrawal.
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