At eighty-one years of age, Sarah became a Vicodin addict and experienced the effects of Vicodin withdrawal. It all started with a slip and fall that broke her hip and injured her shoulder, she had an extensive hospital stay and rehabilitation process. When she met her hip surgeon, Sarah asserted that she was blessed with high pain tolerance. So, she and her hip surgeon agreed that Vicodin would be her best choice for pain management. After all, it was not as potent and habit-forming as other pain medications. The surgeon replaced her broken hip, and it healed well. After a few days, Sarah’s hip pain was manageable with non-narcotic pain medications. But, her shoulder pain was still overwhelming. Three weeks of Vicodin-aided physical therapy seemed to be helping a little bit. But, after seeking a second opinion from a shoulder specialist, Sarah’s scans showed she had a rotator cuff injury that needed surgery. So, she persisted with the Vicodin.A few weeks after her shoulder surgery, she had a follow-visit with her surgeon. She told her doctor that she had to take the Vicodin more often for it to work right. After asking her a few questions about her current pain, the doctor explained it was time to taper her Vicodin. Sarah felt a panic. Yes, she still had some pain. But, her dread had nothing to do with the pain. The alarm was emotional. She felt like a close friend had just announced they were moving away. Sarah told her doctor how she felt. He worked with her, over the next few days, to address her narcotic dependence and help her nip her addiction in the bud. She found an outpatient drug rehabilitation program and set up a plan.
At eighty-one years old, Sarah went through detox at home. She felt the anxiety, nausea and muscle aches. She wrestled with insomnia. Counseling helped her through this tough time. But, Sarah felt strange about attending group therapy. But two other senior citizens attended who were also recovering from narcotic pain medication addiction.
For short-term pain management, Vicodin is one of the tamer narcotics. The primary ingredient, hydrocodone, is an addictive synthetic narcotic, but less habit-forming than most other opioids. The second main ingredient is non-addictive acetaminophen, which many people know as Tylenol. Clinical data shows that Vicodin tends to be less addictive. Still, many users of this opioid get hooked. “Less addictive” does not mean or imply non-addictive.
Just like any other opiate drug, the body gradually forms a tolerance to the hydrocodone and its pain killing action becomes less potent. If an individual continues to feed that tolerance, they will also overfeed their brain’s pleasure sensing abilities. Ongoing Vicodin use will even misdirect motivational systems, shifting priorities from normal everyday desires and responsibilities to a drug-seeking one-track mind.
Beyond alleviating pain, Vicodin introduces chemicals that create euphoria and relaxation. With the new sense of opiate-fueled Hakuna Matata, persons slipping into addiction often do so while also in denial. They unconsciously overlook the all-too-pleasant side effects while subconsciously embracing them. They still give the medication credit for adequate pain relief.
Of course, most patients won’t get hooked on the hydrocodone, the opioid ingredient in Vicodin. But, if a first-time user starts to feel uneasy when their pill bottle is almost empty, it could be a sign that they’ve become dependent upon the Vicodin to some degree. Many people overcome mild dependencies by working with their doctor to transition to other non-habit-forming pain medication. They don’t need the services of a drug rehabilitation facility. But, if a short-term user starts looking for ways to replenish their supply once their pain has died down, they may be moving toward addiction. Individuals who exaggerate or lie about their pain experience to trick a doctor into prescribing more Vicodin probably need some form of substance abuse rehab and recovery.
What are the signs that someone is addicted to Vicodin? One or more of these behaviors are red flags:
- They know they must have a narcotic to persist in their usual activities without feeling significant withdrawal symptoms.
- Their pain from a surgery or injury is gone, but they still crave the medication.
- They take more than their prescribed dose.
- The intervals between doses become shorter and shorter.
- They make an appointment with a new doctor to seek Vicodin or another narcotic analgesic.
- They just have that fear that they can’t live without it.
- They consider buying opiates from a drug dealer.
- They borrow or steal painkillers from family or friends.
Sure, Vicodin is abundantly less dangerous than street drugs—when the person taking it is not addicted. But, an addiction is an addiction, even if the addict’s drug of choice is prescribed by a physician. It’s a mistake and a trap when the drug-dependent person or their family perceive their addiction as “less concerning” than an addiction to street heroin. So, they fail to seek help while the problem is still small. They just don’t see the need.
Few people have Vicodin overdoses. Rarely do victims of substance abuse blame hydrocodone alone for ruining their lives. But, they do look back and see how misusing it introduced them to a pleasant euphoria that led to ever more aggressive thrill seeking and increasingly powerful opioids.
When someone feels that tug of Vicodin dependence, it’s time to tell their doctor and ask for help getting off of it. When people persist in negotiating their way into more and more of the medication, the conversation shifts from a short-term outpatient dependence challenge to a full-blown addiction detox and rehabilitation program. Then they feel the full brunt of withdrawal symptoms like:
- Nausea, cramps, vomiting and diarrhea
- Muscle aches
- Overwhelming urges to use opiates
The painkiller pills may have helped heal a body, but they have taken a toll on the mind. Now it’s time to treat the mind. Psychologists and therapists are a great option if you’re finding your habit hard to kick. No matter how large or small the dependence on hydrocodone, the patient needs to own the process of getting better. The need to stay actively involved over the long run, in case the cravings return.
Other Benefits of Discontinuing Vicodin
People who take Vicodin over an extended period of time may experience significant hearing loss. The drug can also have adverse effects on people’s heart, kidneys and liver. Narcotics are also infamous for causing constipation.
Narcotics are a double-edged sword when it comes to sleep. After an injury or surgery, hydrocodone can make a patient drowsy and alleviate pain that would otherwise interrupt sleep. But after a few weeks, opioids can interfere with your sleep patterns. Many people report getting a good night’s sleep again after they discontinue using Vicodin.