ihhen people think about addictive drugs, they typically picture tiny needles filled with heroin or powdery lines made up of chopped bits of cocaine. While it’s true that these substances can and do trap people in a cycle of abuse and addiction, common, everyday medications can also be responsible for a significant amount of misery. Prescription painkillers, in particular, have been associated with significant addiction problems. Of all of the medications in this class that people could abuse, Vicodin ranks second in terms of popularity, according to the Drug Enforcement Administration.
The Appeal of Vicodin
Vicodin contains two potent medications that can seek out and destroy signals of pain. One ingredient, acetaminophen, is sold on an over-the-counter basis, and it’s commonly used to reduce signals caused by pain and inflammation. The other ingredient, hydrocodone, is a potent opioid medication that can tweak chemical signals inside the brain. The pain might still be present, when hydrocodone is in play, but the brain is somewhat distracted by the feelings of pleasure the drug can deliver. As a result, the pain can seem just a little less important, and the person might feel capable of overlooking the issue altogether.
While people who take Vicodin on a schedule provided by a doctor might become dependent on the drug, as they develop persistent chemical alterations inside the brain that ensure that the brain functions optimally only when the drug is available, some people become hooked on the pleasurable sensations the drug can bring about.
As a result, they begin to take Vicodin in strange ways, such as:
- Crushing the pills and snorting the powder
- Mixing the pills with alcohol or other drugs to enhance pleasure
- Crushing the pills, mixing the powder with water and injecting the substance
- Taking two, three or more doses at once
- Using the drug when no pain is present
People like this might also be physically dependent on Vicodin, but they’re surely psychologically attached to the results the drug can bring about. These people have transitioned into addiction.
Dangers of Addiction
While people who abuse Vicodin might find the experience to be pleasurable, the drug can also be quite dangerous, when it’s taken in the context of an addiction. For example, people who abuse Vicodin might take such big doses of the drug on a daily basis that they destroy the delicate tissues of the nervous system. Often, this results in deep and profound hearing loss. For example, in a study in the American Journal of Otology, researchers found that overuse of Vicodin resulted in hearing loss in 12 patients, and none of these people experienced relief with the common treatments their doctors gave. In fact, many needed implants in order to hear normally.
In addition to nervous system damage, people who abuse Vicodin via needle might also be at an intense risk of developing abscesses and other forms of tissue damage and tissue death. These pills just aren’t designed to move through tiny blood vessels, and when users inject the pills, tiny particles that don’t dissolve in blood might band together and cut off blood flow. While any part of the body might be impacted by this problem, people who inject Vicodin might do damage to blood-hungry organs like the heart or the lungs, and they could lose their lives due to this damage.
Vicodin is a powerful sedative, and it’s capable of slowing down the rate at which people breathe and the speed of the heartbeat. People who take large doses of Vicodin might do so in order to chase a high, but they might get to the point at which they’re taking such big doses that their bodies can no longer support life.
They might simply fall asleep and never wake up again.
Deaths due to prescription painkillers first came to the attention of experts in the mid-2000s, as studies conducted at that time found that deaths attributed to these medications were rising. Between 1997 and 2002, for example, the number of deaths attributed to these drugs rose 96.6 percent. Now, deaths due to drugs like Vicodin have reached what some experts consider to be epidemic levels, and unfortunately, there seems to be no end in sight. Even though the drugs are dangerous, people seem determined to use them.
Due to the rising number of deaths attributed to Vicodin, along with the other health problems commonly faced by people who abuse this drug, experts have been looking into prevention techniques that might help.
For example, when people are provided with Vicodin prescriptions after a surgery or another painful procedure, they might be given a handout that discusses the risk of drug abuse and addiction, and they might be encouraged to transition to another form of non-opioid painkiller as quickly as possible.
In addition, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has proposed rules that would make Vicodin a little harder to come by. Under these rules, people would only be able to receive a three-month prescription for Vicodin, and they’d need to go to the pharmacy in person to pick up the drug. Tightening regulations like this might ensure that people see their doctors on a more frequent basis, and that might prevent an addiction from blossoming.
Focusing on prevention techniques is generally considered to be an effective method that can curb the use and abuse of potent substances like Vicodin. For example, research conducted at the University of Tennessee suggests that amending prevention protocols is more effective than amending the way that Vicodin addictions are treated, in terms of overall reductions in addiction prevalence.
However, studies like this might be a little misleading. After all, these studies seem to focus on people who develop an addiction to Vicodin after getting a valid prescription for the drug. While it’s true that many people do develop an addiction after multiple visits to the doctor for pain, many other people develop these addictions without ever stepping into a doctor’s office at all. Preventing their transition to addiction might be much more difficult, simply because there is no doctor overseeing the process.
Vicodin on the Street
The potency of Vicodin is well-known, and it’s relatively easy to understand why some people might be tempted to dabble in the use and abuse of this addictive drug. They might read about how the drug works in online articles, for example, and then they might decide that the drug seems right for them. They might also stumble across hidden stashes of pills in the medicine cabinet and choose to take them, or they might have friends who offer the drugs as a sort of favor. A simple taste of the drug could be just enough to make people want more.
When these people do choose to take Vicodin again, even in the absence of pain, it’s often quite easy for them to get the drug. For example, in a study in the journal Current Psychiatry Reports, experts suggest that searching for the term “Vicodin” online brings back a huge list of results, and nearly half of the entries come from companies that sell the drug online with no prescription required. People who like the drug can simply use a credit card to buy it, without ever seeing a doctor at all.
It can be hard to understand why someone would choose to take a drug that’s associated with such high levels of danger and damage, but it’s likely that people who develop addictions never intend to get themselves into any kind of trouble at all. In most cases, they take the drug for reasons that seem completely benign, according to an article in The Lancet, and those reasons include:
- A belief that the drug is safe
- Misconceptions about the addictiveness of the drug
- Ease with which the drug can be obtained
- Social acceptance of using this drug
These people might believe that they’re doing something common, and something safe, and they might be unwilling to change their ways as a result.
The Bottom Line
While prevention techniques might be useful for those who develop addictions while in the care of a doctor, they’re not overwhelmingly helpful for people who use Vicodin on a recreational basis and develop addictions along the way. Prevention tips might also come too late for people who have already moved from use to abuse of Vicodin. Thankfully, there are a number of treatment techniques that can help.
People who have Vicodin addictions often benefit from a structured detox program, in which they obtain their sobriety through a series of measured and slow steps.
When they are sober, they can participate in therapy sessions, either alone or in a group, in order to understand how the addiction developed and how it might be prevented in the future. Some people also find it helpful to focus on skill-building, so they’ll learn more about how to resist the urge to relapse when the drug is offered to them.
If you’d like to help someone you love to get over a Vicodin addiction, please contact us at The Oaks at La Paloma. Our residential treatment center, located in Memphis, Tennessee, could be the perfect place for the person you love to get sober, and the therapies we provide here can help to boost both understanding and strength, so a relapse is much less likely. We can even provide outpatient care for those who need a longer length of treatment in order to maintain sobriety. Please call us, and we’ll talk about how enrollment works and how you can get the process started.