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Vicodin: The Long-Term Effects


Among the many dangers of abusing a drug like Vicodin is the potential long-term effects that you may have to endure. Some will effect your body and psyche while others may spill over into your personal and professional life. Effects will vary from person to person but what is clear is that abusing a drug like Vicodin doesn’t lead anywhere good,

What Is Vicodin and How Does It Work?

Vicodin is among the most prescribed opioid pain relievers on the market, and also one of the most abused. A large part of the current opioid epidemic in the United States, Vicodin is the most popular brand name of painkillers that are made up of hydrocodone and acetaminophen.

The opiate hydrocodone is a powerful pain reliever that is used to manage moderate to severe pain, mainly for patients after surgery or for those dealing with a terminal illness. It also is sometimes used as a cough suppressant. Acetaminophen is a mild pain reliever and fever reducer that was mixed with hydrocodone to help reduce its highly addictive qualities. Unfortunately, although it is an effective pain reliever, Vicodin is still very addictive, and if it is taken in doses or frequency outside of what is recommended by your doctor, it could lead to serious problems.

According to the Drug Enforcement Administration, hydrocodone was the most frequently dispensed opioid medication in 2013, with 136 million prescriptions, Vicodin is the most commonly prescribed brand name. The DEA and local law enforcement agencies have tried to combat the growing opioid epidemic over the last several years by seizing large amounts of Vicodin from the secondhand market.

In 2011, Vicodin was moved from a Schedule III to a Schedule II drug. Limits were placed on prescriptions and the amount of acetaminophen within the mixture. Penalties were increased for illegal possession and distribution. But the epidemic continues to grow.

Vicodin is among the most popular opioids because it is readily available, and because of the effects it has on our mind and body. The drug is prescribed to influence how users experience pain by affecting pleasure centers in our brain and spinal cord. The drug attaches to opioid receptors in the brain and spinal cord, and interrupts the signals of pain, replacing them with feelings of relaxation and euphoria.

When taken over a long period of time or outside of the recommended dosage, it is easy for a person to develop a tolerance, followed by a dependence and addiction.

Building A Tolerance

Building a tolerance is one of the most common long-term effects of Vicodin, especially in those who have used the drug over a long period of time. Over time, users will build a tolerance to Vicodin as they continue to take the drug. Building a tolerance is a common process to many different kinds of drugs, but especially an opioid-like Vicodin. Even people who use Vicodin as prescribed can build a tolerance.

Tolerance occurs when an individual needs greater amounts of a drug in order to achieve its therapeutic effect. When someone builds a tolerance to a drug, they will not be able to feel the same benefit from their dosage as they did when they began taking the drug. The effects of your prescribed dosage of Vicodin may at first be very intense and effective, but over time, the dosage will not provide the same amount of relief. This goes the same for those who abuse the drug recreationally.

As the effects of the dosage diminish, users will be tempted to take more of the drug to achieve their desired effect. So if a user were taking two pills per day to help with pain, they would begin to take three, then four and so on. As a user ups their dosage, they will build a tolerance to each new level and crave more and more.

The user’s doctor may prescribe a more potent, longer-acting opioid, but over time the patient can build a tolerance to even the most potent prescription. The user will continue to take a higher dosage and more frequently to achieve their high, at which point they have become addicted to the drug. Building this tolerance is also what puts users at risk for an overdose.

Oddly enough, the process of building a tolerance is your body trying to protect you from the mind-altering effects of the drug. By taking more, you are competing with your own body to get high.

Developing An Addiction

A person has become addicted to Vicodin if they continue to use the drug despite its negative effects and the potential consequences. There are many reasons a person might develop an Vicodin addiction, but the risk for developing an addiction to Vicodin is high.

Those who take Vicodin recreationally and abuse the drug are most likely to develop an addiction. Recreational users mainly crush up the pills to snort or inject them, achieving a quicker, more intense high, that reduces the half-life of the drug and leaves them craving more, and more frequently than taking the drugs orally.

Even those who initially stick to their prescribed dosage and follow doctor instructions can potentially develop a Vicodin addiction, because they too may eventually build a tolerance a need more.

On a neurological level, at some point during a person’s growing usage of Vicodin, their brain will begin to associate the feelings of calm, relaxation and profound euphoria with the taking of the drug. Our brains are wired to seek pleasurable actions and events, which may lead to a subconscious craving for more Vicodin. The brain will begin to tell the body that the positive experience created by Vicodin should be repeated, which leads the user to take more.

The problem is, when an addict runs out of their supply, they will ignore their other responsibilities and dedicate their time and energy toward acquiring more Vicodin. To get more of the drug, they might modify prescriptions, doctor shop to get prescriptions from multiple doctors, make false pharmacy calls, purchasing from illegal sources, or stealing.

If they cannot find their desired Vicodin, they will often turn to other drugs to achieve their high. The need becomes stronger than their will to turn other drugs down. This often leads Vicodin addicts to heroin, which produces a similar euphoric high. Many heroin users begin their drug abuse with prescription opioids.

Physical and Psychological Long-Term Effects Of Vicodin

The physical and psychological side effects of Vicodin use can range from uncomfortable to life-threatening. The long-term effects felt will vary based on some factors, including how long the person has abused Vicodin, genetic factors, body chemistry, and more. Long term abusers can expect to experience some of these Vicodin addiction symptoms.

Liver Damage

The long-term abuse of Vicodin can sometimes cause irreversible damage to the liver. This is because of the high levels of acetaminophen in the drug. High levels of acetaminophen are toxic to the liver, which is why abusing Vicodin can lead to hepatic necrosis, an acute, toxic injury to the liver that can lead to liver failure. This condition can be very serious, as liver failure can lead to death, but sometimes the condition might not be obvious, and just feel like the flu or minor abdominal pain. This damage to the liver can be compounded by taking Vicodin with alcohol.


Abusing painkillers can lead to a condition called opioid-induced hyperalgesia. This is a phenomenon in which the prolonged use of opioids will eventually cause an adverse reaction in your body, where you will develop abnormal sensitivity to pain. This condition is unique to the long-term abuse of opioids like morphine, oxycodone, methadone, or the hydrocodone found in Vicodin.

Hormonal Dysfunction

The prolonged use of opioids can cause hormonal effects that may result in menstrual period changes in women as well as reduced testosterone and erectile dysfunction in men. Decreased levels of fertility, libido, and sex drive in both women and men may also occur. In addition, the prolonged use of Vicodin can make a person more susceptible to infection, increases their risk of developing cancer, and increases their risk of contracting HIV, especially in those who injected the drug.

Hearing Loss

Prolonged Vicodin abuse can also cause profound hearing loss, which may not be reversible.

According to a report from ABC news, people who take between 15 and 75 Vicodin tablets per day can suffer hearing loss. This can range from minor to a complete loss of hearing. The damage can sometimes be so extensive that it may be difficult to find an effective hearing aid.

Mental Health Issues

Vicodin abuse can trigger some long-term mental health issues because the drug can change your brain chemistry. Vicodin and other opioids directly affect your central nervous system, and can also disrupt the oxygen delivery to your brain and other vital organs. It will change how your brain perceives pain, perhaps permanently, and will alter your brain’s pleasure center.

These effects can linger long after a person stops using the drug. The trickle-down effects can go in many different directions. Users may experience changes to their personality, memory loss, altered cognition or cognitive decline, and more.

In particular, Vicodin is notorious for its tendency to create a sense of apathy. Abusers of the drug will stop caring about things they previously did. This may include their loved ones, their job, finances, and health, and it can last weeks after you stop using the drug.

Vicodin users also will often become more irritable and experience long-term changes to their general mood. They can become more easily agitated and have problems dealing with stress. Vicodin addiction behavior also includes anxiety, usually more anxiety than they experience before the drugs took hold.

Long-term Vicodin abuse can also lead to lingered depression. This can be dangerous during the Vicodin withdrawal period and can be one of the hardest things to get over. For some users, depression can be permanent, and necessitate a lifetime of medication and therapy.

Other long-term abusers of Vicodin may deal with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), and even obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). Having a history of mental illness will increase a person’s vulnerability to these lingering effects of Vicodin abuse. Self-medicating with Vicodin when dealing with any of these issues can also make them worse, or trigger others.

Growing Personal Problems

Addiction to Vicodin can cause many problems to your personal and professional life, due to the apathy it causes. It can disrupt your work performance and eventually cause you to lose your job. It can cause irrevocable damage your relationships with family and friends. It can put you in a dire financial situation.

Simply, all the things that once mattered to you and all the people you care about won’t matter anymore. All that will matter is scoring the next fix. Your addiction will be the controlling factor in your life, and you will do whatever you have to do to get high, no matter what or who gets neglected or hurt in the process. The damage this causes can take a long time to mend.

Long-term Effects Specific To Method Of Use

Some long-term effects will directly relate to the alternate methods a person uses to take the drug. If a person has snorted Vicodin for a long period of time, it can deteriorate their nasal passageways and potentially cause you to lose your sense of smell. If you inject the drug intravenously, you can develop infections in your bloodstream or cause permanent scarring at the injection sites.

Dependence and Withdrawal

Eventually, the prolonged use of Vicodin will change the way the nerve receptors work in your brain, and make you dependent upon the drug to feel “normal.” When and if a user decides to quit, this can lead to withdrawal.

Vicodin withdrawal symptoms can be incredibly severe and dangerous, depending on the user’s health, and how long they’ve used the drug. Users will often relapse and take the drug to avoid dealing with the intense withdrawal symptoms. This is why recovery should be attempted in a professional treatment program, where patients can be monitored and safely weaned off their painkiller addiction. At Luminance Recovery, a rehab in Orange County, we utilize a variety of therapy methods when helping people undergo Vicodin withdrawal. Call us today for more information on our treatment programs.

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