Home > The Complex Nature of Abused Substances and Getting Help for Addiction > Vicodin Abuse
Hydrocodone acetaminophen, or Vicodin, is a medication prescribed to treat moderate to severe pain. The drug is comprised of hydrocodone, which is a semi-synthetic opioid analgesic, and acetaminophen, a substance similar to paracetamol. Vicodin works by stopping pain from traveling between the brain and nerve endings while stimulating dopamine receptors. When dopamine receptors are stimulated, a person will be rewarded with positive feelings. Overuse of a drug that stimulates the dopamine receptors is known to cause a change in the chemical balance of the brain and can lead to tolerance and dependence.
Many people who take Vicodin are not aware of the risks associated with the drug. Because Vicodin is a synthetic opiate painkiller, the risks, symptoms and addiction rates are the same as for an opiate drug. Chronic pain is very difficult to manage. Often, a person who has been prescribed this drug will begin to managing their pain as outlined by their doctor. Vicodin is typically only prescribed for short-term treatment of pain due to the addictive properties of the drug. However, because opiate drugs develop tolerance early, a person may begin to take more of the drug and begin to seek out other doctors to prescribe them the medication.
Opiates give people a highly pleasurable feeling when they take the drug and this is no different for Vicodin. Initially the drug is used for relief from pain and discomfort but the powerful feelings of relaxation and warmth are often the feelings that a person will begin to desire. These desires can lead to strong cravings and tolerance developing. With tolerance comes dependence and that is when an addiction will take over a person’s body and life. Many people do not even realize that this has happened until they begin to feel the negative effects when they stop taking the drug.
Vicodin was the number-one prescribed drug in America in 2010. It was reportedly prescribed over 130 million times during the last year, and addiction is a growing problem. Because the drug is prescribed for short-term chronic pain, doctors may become wary of continuing prescriptions and users will begin to shop around. They may go to different doctors, emergency rooms or dental clinics to get the drug prescribed.
Vicodin is an incredibly dangerous drug when misused. Health complications can arise if a person is taking the drug in high levels. When used chronically, the problems are magnified. Addiction, dependence, liver damage and psychological issues associated with Vicodin use are common side effects. When used by people in combination with other drugs or alcohol, the harm can be significant.
A very serious effect of continuous and high level use of Vicodin is liver damage. Vicodin contains two main ingredients, hydrocodone and acetaminophen. Acetaminophen is a common ingredient in many drugs, including Tylenol, and is effective in reducing mild pain, headaches and fevers. In high doses, acetaminophen damages the liver and can lead to death. Overdosing or poisoning is relatively common and often occurs because a person takes a number of different medications that all contain the ingredient. Acetaminophen can be found in over-the-counter cough mixtures, headache tablets, sleeping aids and drugs to reduce symptoms of colds and fevers. It may also be present in antibiotics or other prescribed drugs.
Liver damage occurs because acetaminophen is metabolized in the liver. The substance is broken down into smaller particles and used or excreted from the body. A small amount a toxic byproduct (NAPQI) of the drug remains in the liver. NAPQI is usually combined with another compound and metabolized. However, if there is too much pressure on the liver from high doses of Acetaminophen, the body cannot break it down, leading to liver cell damage. For people who drink alcohol or have existing liver health issues, this can prove incredibly harmful and fatal in some cases.
Withdrawals are the symptoms of stopping use of a drug to which the body has become tolerant and dependent. The body changes in response to the persistent use of a drug. When the level of the substance in the body falls too low, the individual will begin to experience withdrawal symptoms. The symptoms of withdrawals for those who have a Vicodin addiction can be very unpleasant and painful. As well as the physical discomfort the individual will experience, there is a level of psychological pain that a person will also go though. Fear of such effects can discourage people from trying to escape their addiction.
Physical symptoms that a person may experience when withdrawing from Vicodin include body shakes and tremors, nausea, sweating, heart palpitations, muscle aches, seizures, diarrhea, headaches and insomnia. These symptoms can last for a few hours to a few days and in some cases, longer. Many of these symptoms can be managed with support from friends, family or medical professionals to reduce the severity and anxiety associated with them.
Physical dependence can occur with alcohol and drug abuse. In some instances these symptoms can be so severe that they prove fatal. Even people who are using prescription medication can develop physical dependence if they use the drug for long enough and at a high enough dosage.
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