Hydrocodone: Side Effects, Withdrawal and Detox - QuitOpioids.com


Call us on: (866) 270-0940


Editor Daniel Callahan MSW, CAP
Updated On

Hydrocodone: Side Effects, Withdrawal and Detox

Hydrocodone: Side Effects, Withdrawal and Detox

Hydrocodone is a strong opioid (narcotic) medication that is used to relieve pain. It is a major ingredient in several popular brands of prescription pain relievers, and it is often prescribed to treat post-surgery pain, dental pain, and pain from cancer, injuries, and traumatic accidents. To reduce the risk of dependency, patients should use the lowest effective dose of this medication for the shortest possible length of time.

Who Should Not Use This Opiate?

Pregnant women should not use this medicine due to the risk of causing life-threatening symptoms of opioid withdrawal in the baby. If hydrocodone is used with alcohol or other medications that cause sleepiness or that reduce breathing rate, potentially fatal side effects may occur. Individuals with stomach or intestinal blockages, asthma, or breathing difficulties should not use hydrocodone.

Prior to prescribing this drug, your doctor should be informed if you have urination problems, liver or kidney disease, substance use disorders, lung disease, issues with your gallbladder or pancreas, seizures, or long QT syndrome. This drug may not be safe for patients with these issues. In addition, individuals taking medication for depression, nausea, Parkinson’s, or migraines may face an elevated risk of a life-threatening condition called serotonin syndrome if they also take hydrocodone, and they may need to be monitored closely.

What Are the Side Effects of Hydrocodone?

The potential side effects of this opiate may vary depending on the specific brand of medication that has been prescribed and on the additional active ingredients in the medication.

One of the most commonly prescribed medicines containing hydrocodone is hydrocodone-acetaminophen. This drug combines both opioid (hydrocodone) and non-opioid (acetaminophen) pain relievers. It is often used to treat pain that ranges from moderate to severe, and the acetaminophen in the medication can help reduce a fever. Cancer patients and others with chronic pain may be prescribed this combination drug for long-term use, and it can be taken orally.

The most common potential side effects of the medication may include nausea, vomiting, constipation, and lightheadedness. While taking this medication, patients may also need to take a laxative, and they should take care to get up slowly from a lying position to reduce lightheadedness. Less common side effects may include stomach pain, problems with urination, hallucinations, agitation, confusion, fatigue, weight loss, and loss of appetite. In rare cases, this drug can cause seizures, shallow breathing, and difficulty waking up. Immediate medical help should be sought if these side effects occur.

Another popular formulation containing hydrocodone is a combination of hydrocodone, chlorpheniramine, and pseudoephedrine. Given orally, this combination drug is used to treat coughs and nasal congestion. In addition to relieving pain, it is a cough suppressant that acts directly on the area of the brain responsible for coughing. Chlorpheniramine, an antihistamine, helps prevent and reduce the development of allergy symptoms. As a decongestant, pseudoephedrine narrows blood vessels and reduces blood flow to the nasal passages, resulting in less nasal congestion.

Potential side effects of this hydrocodone combination drug may include fainting; shaking hands, arms, legs, or feet; lightheadedness; and drowsiness. Less commonly, this medication may lead to bloating, blurry vision, confusion, diarrhea, constipation, difficulty seeing blue and yellow, headaches, nervousness, painful urination, and changes in heart rhythm. Other possible side effects include tunnel vision, the appearance of halos around lights, night blindness, nausea, and numbness in the hands, feet, and mouth.

In 2013, the Food and Drug Administration approved the use of pure hydrocodone tablets. Available in an extended-release formulation, this form of hydrocodone is the strongest available on the market. In fact, it is 10 times stronger than the hydrocodone-acetaminophen combination.

As the purest form of hydrocodone, the side effects of this drug can be more severe than with other formulations. Side effects that have been commonly seen in clinical trials include back pain, muscle spasms, tremors, fever, increased cholesterol, dehydration, chest pain unrelated to cardiac conditions, swelling in the legs and feet, and development of gastroesophageal reflux disease. Other potential side effects that have been reported by patients include dry mouth, the development of urinary tract infections, insomnia, depression and anxiety, itching, and pain in the joints, muscles, neck, and extremities.

Hydrocodone has a half-life of approximately 3.8 hours for males. Thus, it takes around 3.8 hours for the body to eliminate half a dose. The drug can be detected in blood tests for up to 24 hours. It is also detectable in urine for up to four days. Hair samples can reveal the presence of this medication up to 90 days after use.

What Are the Signs of a Possible Opiate Use Disorder?

While not everyone who uses an opiate will develop a substance use disorder, it is important to recognize the potential signs of this condition and to seek help promptly. Individuals who have developed a dependency on opiates may show physical symptoms such as rashes on the skin, a dry mouth, and pupils that are constructed. Often, overdose patients will also be very drowsy, and they will have blurry vision along with nausea, vomiting, and breathing that is slow or shallow. Mentally, these patients may also become worried and anxious about their medications.

What Is Withdrawal From Opiates?

Withdrawal from opiates is a natural process that occurs when an individual with a substance use disorder reduces or stops using the drug. The withdrawal process varies according to age, the half-life of the particular opiate a person uses, and the length of time that a patient has been using the medication.

For drugs like hydrocodone, which has a short half-life, symptoms of withdrawal may begin as early as six to 12 hours after a patient’s last dose. The physical symptoms of withdrawal generally last around five days, although they can take between two to three weeks to completely resolve. The psychological and emotional recovery from substance use disorder and withdrawal typically takes between one to three months to complete.

What Happens During Withdrawal From Opiates?

Withdrawal from opiates includes a range of symptoms, and each patient experiences the withdrawal process slightly differently. The physical symptoms that patients may have during withdrawal can include dilated pupils, insomnia, anxiety, sweating, diarrhea, muscle pain, and cramps in the abdomen. Patients may also experience a runny nose, nausea and vomiting, goosebumps, and yawning.

Some patients who are going through withdrawal may find that the withdrawal process itself triggers a relapse. In fact, approximately 40 to 60 percent of patients who have been successfully treated for a substance use disorder will have a relapse at some point.

Since the withdrawal and treatment processes for a substance use disorder involving opiates can be intense, it is vital to seek proper medical care during this process. For most patients, a residential treatment facility is often the most appropriate place to undergo the withdrawal and recovery process. These facilities are staffed with medical personnel who can provide appropriate medications and other palliative options to ease withdrawal symptoms, and psychological support is also provided to all patients at every step of their treatments.

Why Is It Important to Detox From Opiates?

Substance use disorders can cause a number of long-term physical and psychological side effects that significantly reduce your quality of life. For example, patients who have a dependency on opiates may find that they lack the motivation they once had, and they may also observe that their sex drive is reduced. Energy levels may plummet, leaving individuals feeling fatigued and drowsy.

Physically, these patients may become very sensitive to pain, and they may also have compromised immune systems that do not function normally, particularly if they also have HIV. Testosterone levels may be diminished for both men and women. Women with a substance use disorder may notice that they produce excessive quantities of breast milk, a condition known as galactorrhea. In addition, female patients may have reduced fertility, and they may notice menstrual cessation or irregularities.

Patients who are experiencing a substance use disorder that involves medications that combine opiates with acetaminophen are particularly at risk for liver damage. Possible symptoms of liver damage include loss of appetite, nausea, and vomiting.

If a person takes too much of a drug containing acetaminophen, overdose symptoms may occur. However, such signs may not appear for up to 12 hours after a patient takes the medication. Potential symptoms include jaundice, sweating, irritability, diarrhea, convulsions, and even coma. An overdose of opiates or acetaminophen is considered a medical emergency, and an ambulance should be called.

How Do Patients Detox From Opiates?

Detoxification is the elimination of opiates and any other drugs associated with substance use disorders from the body. It includes the entire withdrawal process and is the first step that all patients must go through prior to beginning the active treatment process for any substance use disorder.

It is estimated that over two million Americans had an opiate use disorder in 2017. Some of these individuals try to detox by themselves at home, usually by going “cold turkey,” and they often do not involve a doctor or other medical professional in their detox process.

Since opiates are very potent medications, detoxing at home can be very risky, and it is not advised by any health care professionals. Detoxing at home is also the most painful method as these patients will not have access to any appropriate prescription medicines to ease their withdrawal symptoms. However, the major reason that doctors and hospitals do not recommend at-home detox is that it has an extremely high rate of relapse.

By choosing to detox under medical supervision, usually at a residential treatment facility, patients are giving themselves a much better chance of a complete recovery, and they can take comfort in knowing that their detox will be as safe as possible.

What Happens During Medically Supervised Detox?

Patients who have entered a special residential facility for a medically supervised detox will have a health history check and physical examination shortly after arriving. Patients will first be asked about any medical conditions they may have, including diabetes, liver or kidney issues, seizures, high blood pressure, and cardiovascular issues. During the physical examination, doctors will work to establish a medical baseline for each patient. They will check for any signs of cardiovascular, breathing, or stomach issues, and vital signs such as body temperature and blood pressure will be recorded.

During a patient’s stay at a residential treatment facility, nurses will monitor the patient’s vital signs several times a day, and particular attention will be placed on the patient’s breathing patterns and respiratory rate. Medical staff will observe patients for any pain, and they will especially watch for signs of nausea, diarrhea, vomiting. Prompt treatment will be provided for these symptoms to avoid the development of potentially serious heart issues and elevated sodium levels.

Medical staff will work together with patients to ease any other painful symptoms as much as possible and to taper drug dosages effectively. Patients will also have psychological support during their stays, which is generally in the form of both individual and group therapy sessions. Additionally, a variety of patient-centered support groups are available during residential treatment to enable patients to share and to learn from others.

How Can Patients Get Help for a Substance Use Disorder?

Patients who believe they may be experiencing signs of dependency on opiates should speak with their primary care physicians or general practitioners as soon as possible. That medical professional can assess whether the patient is exhibiting substance use issues and may be able to taper the drug or prescribe an alternate drug that does not lead to continued dependency. Doctors can also recommend the most appropriate residential treatment facilities for patients who need to detox.

If a patient does not have insurance or is underinsured, this should not deter him or her from seeking help. Residential treatment is available on both Medicaid and Medicare, and numerous treatment facilities offer payments based on a sliding scale. Through the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, each state has its own office dedicated to helping patients find substance use disorder treatments in their areas. Patients can also research residential treatment options online.

Choosing to get help for a substance use disorder takes courage, and it can be the first step to a better life. Know that you are not alone, and know that you will get better. Don’t be afraid to reach out for help and support from your doctor, a free clinic, a local charity, and friends and family.

Related Articles


No Comments Yet!

There are no comments at the moment, do you want to add one?

Write a comment

Write a Comment

Contact Us

Contact Us


For those seeking addiction treatment for themselves or a loved one, the QuitOpioids.com help line is a private and convenient solution. Caring advisors are standing by 24/7 to discuss your treatment options. Calls to any general helpline will be answered by The Haven Detox.