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What Are The Side Effects of Hydrocodone?

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Medically Reviewed By: Diana Vo, LMFT

April 19, 2023

Table of Contents

The side effects of hydrocodone can vary by length of use and other factors, however common ones include dizziness, drowsiness, and nausea. Longer term side effects are much more dangerous, including addiction, hormone imbalances, liver damage, and more.

Later in this article, we’ll cover all of the known short and long term side effects of hydrocodone.

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What is Hydrocodone?

Hydrocodone is a prescription opioid painkiller that was instrumental in the U.S. opioid epidemic due to its highly addictive nature.

Available in generic and branded forms, hydrocodone is found in Lorcet and Vicodin, painkillers often prescribed following injury or surgery. Branded medications including Zohydro ER and Hysingla ER contain hydrocodone in an extended-release formulation.

If you have been prescribed any hydrocodone product to relieve pain, you may have questions like “What are the side effects of hydrocodone” and “How long do the side effects of hydrocodone last.” This guide highlights the potential side effects and dangers of misusing opioids like hydrocodone.

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Hydrocodone Side Effects

Hydrocodone is an effective pain reliever but may also trigger a variety of adverse outcomes. The most common side effects of hydrocodone are:

 Common Side Effects:

  • Constipation
  • Anxiety
  • Lightheadedness
  • Drowsiness
  • Fuzzy thinking
  • Feeling unusually happy or sad
  • Problems urinating
  • Dry throat
  • Itching
  • Rash
  • Pinprick pupils

You should call your doctor immediately if you encounter any of the following serious hydrocodone side effects:

 Serious side effects:

  • Chest tightness
  • Decreased libido
  • Sexual dysfunction
  • Irregular menstruation
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Weakness
  • Appetite loss
  • Dizziness
  • Slowed breathing
  • Irregular breathing
  • Agitation
  • Hallucinations
  • Sweating
  • Fever
  • Diarrhea

When prescribed hydrocodone combination products, you may also experience other side effects not listed above. Contact your healthcare provider immediately if you encounter any problems while taking hydrocodone.

Short Term Side Effects

Hydrocodone attaches to mu-opioid receptors in the brain and effectively alleviates pain, while at the same time inducing euphoria and a sense of calm. For these reasons, hydrocodone is often abused for nonclinical purposes.

If you take hydrocodone in higher doses than recommended, there is more chance of experiencing adverse side effects like respiratory depression, a condition where breathing can slow, potentially stopping completely.

a woman sits on a dock to represent the side effects of hydrocodone.

 Opioid Overdose Risk

Taking high doses of hydrocodone also increases the risk of opioid overdose. There is also a heightened chance of overdose if hydrocodone tablets are crushed and either snorted or injected.

Those who abuse hydrocodone may experience short term side effects that include:

 Short term side effects:

  • Lightheadedness
  • Drowsiness
  • Sleepiness
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting

Long Term Side Effects

These are the potential long-term side effects of hydrocodone use:

 Long term side effects:

  • Addiction: Regular use of hydrocodone can cause physical dependence, which can lead to addiction. Addiction is a chronic, relapsing brain condition characterized by compulsive drug use despite negative consequences.
  • Tolerance: Tolerance is a common side effect of long-term hydrocodone use. It means that the body becomes accustomed to the drug’s effects and needs higher doses to deliver the same pain relief. This can lead to an increased risk of overdose and will accelerate the formation of dependence.
  • Hormonal imbalances: Long-term use of hydrocodone may lead to hormonal imbalances, which can cause a range of health problems, including irregular menstruation, decreased libido, and sexual dysfunction.
  • Liver damage: Hydrocodone can cause liver damage, particularly when used in high doses or for long periods. This risk is compounded when taking hydrocodone products like Lortab and Norco which also contain acetaminophen.
  • Respiratory complications: Long-term use of hydrocodone can trigger respiratory problems, including slowed or irregular breathing, which can be life-threatening. Those who abuse opioids are at heightened risk of pneumonia.
  • Cognitive impairment: Long-term use of hydrocodone can cause cognitive impairment, including memory problems, difficulty concentrating, and impaired judgment.

Is Hydrocodone Dangerous?

Any sustained use of hydrocodone is dangerous and associated with the risk of abuse and addiction.

The primary reason for the reclassification of hydrocodone as a Schedule II controlled substance is the high abuse potential of this potent semi-synthetic opioid.

Dangers

An overdose of hydrocodone can be life-threatening. Symptoms of hydrocodone overdose may include extreme drowsiness, slow or shallow breathing, clammy skin, pinpoint pupils, seizures, and even coma or death. It’s crucial to seek immediate medical attention if you or a loved one has overdosed on hydrocodone. Here are some steps to take:

Overdose steps to take:

  • Call for emergency medical assistance: If you or someone else has taken too much hydrocodone, call 911 or your local emergency medical services immediately.
  • Provide information: Give the emergency responders as much information as possible about the situation, such as how much hydrocodone was taken, when it was taken, and any other medications or substances that were used.
  • Administer naloxone: Naloxone is a medication that can quickly reverse the effects of an overdose of hydrocodone. The medication is available as an injectable or nasal spray. If you have naloxone on hand, use it as soon as possible.
  • Provide supportive care: The emergency responders will likely provide supportive care, such as oxygen therapy, monitoring vital signs, and administering intravenous fluids.
  • Follow up with medical treatment: After the initial treatment for the overdose, you should seek medical attention to ensure that there are no long-term effects or complications from the overdose. Your doctor may also recommend addiction treatment if appropriate.

Aside from the dangers of overdose, tolerance to hydrocodone forms with repeated use, often leading to physical dependence developing. Addiction often but not always follows.

How To Know If You’re Addicted to Hydrocodone

All hydrocodone addictions are unique, and it can be challenging to establish when abusing this semi-synthetic opioid may trigger addiction.

Hydrocodone addiction is clinically described as OUD (opioid use disorder). OUD is diagnosed as mild, moderate, or severe according to the number of symptoms present. The diagnostic criteria are listed in the American Psychiatric Association’s most current edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, DSM-5-TR

If you are concerned about hydrocodone addiction, ask yourself the following questions based on your opioid use over the past twelve months:

“Am I Addicted to Hydrocodone?” Questionnaire:

  1. Do you often take more opioids than prescribed or for a longer period than intended?
  2. Have you tried and failed to moderate or discontinue your use of hydrocodone?
  3. Are you spending lots of time obtaining, using, and recovering from the effects of hydrocodone?
  4. Have you experienced intense cravings for hydrocodone?
  5. Is your use of hydrocodone causing you to neglect personal and professional obligations?
  6. Do you continue to use opioids even though this is causing or worsening problems in your closest relationships?
  7. Are you spending less time doing things you once enjoyed due to opioid use?
  8. Do you use hydrocodone in situations where it is dangerous to do so?
  9. Are you still using hydrocodone even though you know it is causing or inflaming a physical or mental health condition?
  10. Has tolerance to hydrocodone formed so that you need more of the opioid to achieve the same effects?
  11. Have you experienced uncomfortable withdrawal symptoms when the effects of hydrocodone wear off?

The presence of two or three symptoms indicates mild OUD. If four or five symptoms are present, this is diagnosed as moderate OUD. Severe OUD is characterized by the presentation of six or more of the above symptoms of hydrocodone addiction.

If you are concerned about your use of hydrocodone, speak with your healthcare provider and request a diagnosis or referral for a diagnosis of opioid use disorder which can lead to opioid overdose if not properly treated.

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Get Treatment for Hydrocodone Addiction at Renaissance Recovery Center

At Renaissance, we specialize in the intensive outpatient treatment of substance use disorders in California. This allows you to get the structure and support you need to combat opioid addiction.

Choose from the following treatment programs at our luxury treatment facility:

 our Treatment programs:

  • PHP (partial hospitalization program)
  • IOP (intensive outpatient program)
  • Dual diagnosis treatment program (for co-occurring disorders)

Whatever level of treatment intensity makes the best fit, you can access these science-based therapies at Renaissance:

Our science based therapies:

  • MAT (medication-assisted treatment): MAT can streamline the discomfort of opioid withdrawal, minimize cravings for hydrocodone, and encourage ongoing abstinence.
  • Psychotherapy: MAT for opioid addiction at Renaissance is combined with psychotherapies like CBT (cognitive behavioral therapy) or DBT (dialectical behavioral therapy). Identify what triggers you to use opioids by working closely with a therapist, then discover how to use healthy coping techniques instead of hydrocodone.
  • Counseling: Individual and group counseling sessions allow you to explore the psychological component of hydrocodone addiction.
  • Holistic therapies: Holistic treatments like yoga, meditation, mindfulness, and adventure therapy supplement evidence-based treatments at Renaissance for a whole-body approach to opioid addiction recovery.

When you are ready to move beyond hydrocodone addiction, call 866.330.9449 for immediate assistance.

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Joseph Gilmore has been in the addiction industry for three years with experience working for facilities all across the country. Connect with Joe on LinkedIn.

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