Hydrocodone is a prescription opioid approved to treat moderate pain. It is technically classified as a painkiller but can also cause central nervous system (CNS) depression. Norco, a common brand of hydrocodone, also contains acetaminophen (e.g., Tylenol) that may serve to relieve pain further.
Hydrocodone has a high potential for abuse and addiction, possibly leading to a life-threatening overdose. Due to the drug’s high potential for diversion, abuse, and addiction, hydrocodone products are tightly controlled by the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) as Schedule II substances.
As a psychoactive substance, hydrocodone influences specific brain neurochemicals responsible for feelings of reward, pleasure, and euphoria, such as dopamine and serotonin. When used as directed by a doctor, hydrocodone is usually found in tablet form and ingested orally. However, for recreational or non-medical purposes, it is also frequently crushed into powder and administered intranasally by snorting the residual product.
When hydrocodone is administered by insufflation (snorting), the drug is rapidly absorbed into the mucous membrane, a significantly more rapid route to the brain than swallowing hydrocodone orally and digesting it. When the drug reaches the brain, this results in an unusually intense flood of dopamine that induces psychoactive and painkilling effects, thereby providing the catalyst for its addictive potential.
Hydrocodone Dependence and Withdrawal
When hydrocodone is abused for a prolonged period, tolerance and dependence are likely to develop. Tolerance has begun to develop when the person needs to use ever-increasing amounts of the drug to achieve the desired effects.
Physical dependence occurs when the user’s nervous system adapts to a substance’s presence and becomes no longer able to function correctly in its absence. When this happens, efforts to discontinue or reduce drug use are met with uncomfortable and sometimes painful mental and physical side effects known as withdrawal symptoms.
Like most prescription narcotics, suddenly discontinuing the use of hydrocodone may result in withdrawal symptoms, including the following:
- Muscle aches
- Runny nose
- Chills and goosebumps
- Nausea and vomiting
- Mood instability
- Drug cravings
Physical symptoms of withdrawal generally last approximately 5-7 days, although psycho-emotional symptoms can persist for much longer. Medications, therapy, counseling, and group support can help relieve stress long-term and reduce the risk of a relapse.
Because snorting hydrocodone delivers the drug to the brain more rapidly than using tablets, the risk of high tolerance, dependence, and life-threatening overdose increases as a result. Full-blown addiction is further characterized by obsessive drug-seeking behavior despite the negative impact on one’s life.
An overdose related to hydrocodone or any opioid is considered a medical emergency and should be met with swift intervention. If you suspect that you or someone you know is overdosing on hydrocodone, call 911 or immediately visit the nearest emergency department.
Hydrocodone overdose symptoms including the following:
- Bluish nails and lips
- Slow or stopped breathing
- Cold, clammy skin
- Fatigue and weakness
- Loss of consciousness
- Low blood pressure
- Muscle twitches
- Nausea and vomiting
- Abdominal/intestinal spasms
- Weak pulse
As noted, an overdose of hydrocodone is more likely to occur when the drug is abused in some way, such as by crushing and snorting. Also, using other CNS depressants such as benzodiazepines in combination with hydrocodone can increase the risk of a life-threatening overdose.
Opioid overdoses are usually effectively treated using the drug naloxone (Narcan). However, it must be administered as soon as possible to save a life and prevent permanent brain damage due to cerebral hypoxia (lack of oxygen to the brain).
It’s also important to note that an overdose on Norco’s other ingredient, acetaminophen, can result in liver failure and death, making it a genuine threat under these circumstances.
Finally, in addition to the aforementioned problems, snorting hydrocodone can cause nasal irritation and infections and severe damage to the septum and surrounding tissues—not unlike damage related to cocaine use.
Getting Treatment for Substance Abuse and Addiction
Just Believe Detox and Just Believe Recovery centers offer individualized addiction treatment programs in partial hospitalization and residential formats. Our comprehensive approach to mental, emotional, and spiritual health and wellness includes a variety of services and activities vital for the addiction recovery process, including, but not limited to, the following:
- Behavioral therapy
- 12-step program group support
- Individual and family counseling
- Substance abuse education
- Health and wellness education
- Art and music therapy
- Mindfulness therapy
- Meditation and yoga
- Relapse prevention
- Aftercare planning
Addiction treatment often begins with medical detox, a clinical process in which a person is supervised around-the-clock. At the same time, their body is allowed to clear itself of drugs and other toxic substances. Detox typically takes several days to complete before the person is prepared to move on to long-term rehab.
From detox to aftercare and beyond, we are committed to ensuring each individual we treat receives the very best long-term care and support available!