Hydrocodone is among the top 10 drug causes of overdose deaths. While worrying, this isn’t surprising because it is the US's most commonly prescribed opioid (with over 130 million annual prescriptions).
The first step to helping affected individuals avoid fatal hydrocodone consequences is understanding hydrocodone withdrawal, its symptoms and treatment.
What is Hydrocodone and How Does it Work?
Hydrocodone is a semi-synthetic opioid that doctors prescribe for pain and cough. It works by binding to opioid receptors in the brain and:
- Triggering the release of feel-good hormones such as dopamine, which relieves pain.
- Suppressing the cough centers in the brain, alleviating cough.
How Long Does it Take Hydrocodone to Act?
Hydrocodone takes between 15- 60 minutes to act following ingestion.
Is Hydrocodone Addictive?
Users misuse hydrocodone seeking its feel-good effects (euphoria). Thus, long-term hydrocodone use can lead to drug tolerance (the need to take increasing doses for the same effect). This stems from hydrocodone-induced structural and biochemical brain changes.
Over time, individuals become dependent on hydrocodone. In other words, trying to quit hydrocodone use causes uncomfortable withdrawal (which forces patients to reuse the drug).
Is Hydrocodone a Regulated Substance?
The FDA classifies hydrocodone as a Schedule II substance. This means it carries significant potential for misuse.
But, the FDA considers hydrocodone combination products a lower risk for misuse and classifies them as Schedule III substances.
How Long do the Effects of Hydrocodone Last?
This depends on the hydrocodone formulation taken and its half-life (the time it takes for the body to eliminate half the drug):
- Immediate release formulations have a half-life of 4 hours; thus its effects last for 20 hours (the body takes 5 half-lives to eliminate any drug completely).
- Extended release formulations have a half-life between 7 to 12 hours and so remain in the system for 35-100 hours.
Hydrocodone Effects on the Brain: The Science Behind Hydrocodone Withdrawal
Abrupt discontinuation of hydrocodone triggers withdrawal. This is because of rebound excess noradrenaline (the fight or flight hormone) production by the locus coeruleus (a part of the brain that long-term hydrocodone use suppresses).
How Long Does it Take for Hydrocodone Withdrawal Symptoms to Appear?
This, again, depends on the hydrocodone formulation taken and its half-life. Generally, users experience withdrawal symptoms:
- Within 12 hours of the last dose when taking immediate-release formulations
- 1-3 days after the last dose of extended-release formulation.
- Hydrocodone Withdrawal Symptoms
Runny nose (rhinorrhea)
Runny eyes (lacrimation)
Ptosis (drooping eyelids) and pupillary dilation
Progressive hearing loss
Blurring of vision
Changes in body temperature
High blood pressure
Loss of motivation
Hyperalgesia (enhanced pain sensitivity)