The Signs and Effects of Vicodin Abuse

signs of vicodin abuse

What is Vicodin?

Vicodin is a prescription painkiller, typically prescribed for short-term pain management. It is a combination of the opiate painkiller hydrocodone and acetaminophen (known over-the-counter as Tylenol). Often, people mistakenly think that medications prescribed by a doctor must be safe, but Vicodin is highly addictive and one of the most commonly abused prescription drugs. Addiction can begin with a valid medical need for a strong painkiller that develops into dependence and addiction. For this reason, it is critical to use Vicodin under medical supervision. Only take it at the prescribed dose and frequency.

How Does Vicodin Affect the Brain?

The hydrocodone in Vicodin blocks pain messages to the brain. It binds to receptors in the brain and spinal cord, preventing the release of a chemical called GABA. GABA normally regulates dopamine production, so when GABA is blocked, dopamine floods the brain. This dopamine rush “kills” the pain while at the same time producing a euphoric high. The acetaminophen increases the effect of hydrocodone on the brain. This combination makes Vicodin highly addictive (

How Does Vicodin Affect the Body?

As a painkiller, Vicodin is meant to produce changes in the body by:

  • Lowering pain
  • Suppressing cough
  • Creating feelings of euphoria, calm, and relaxation

However, as with any drug, it can also produce adverse side effects. These side effects can occur whether the Vicodin is taken as prescribed or when abused. They include:

  • Itching
  • Swelling
  • Nausea
  • Constipation
  • Decreased heart and breathing rate
  • Dizziness
  • Confusion
  • Poor judgment
  • Drowsiness or loss of consciousness
  • Liver damage or failure

Long-term Vicodin abuse can lead to liver failure by two different mechanisms. The first is that the acetaminophen in Vicodin causes liver damage over time. The second is that abusers may use intentionally couple Vicodin with alcohol for a greater effect, but that combination is especially damaging to the liver. Either way, the liver damage may be irreversible and cause to liver failure.

A Vicodin overdose can cause death. More than 15,000 people die each year from an overdose of prescription painkillers, including Vicodin.

Tolerance and Addiction

Vicodin tolerance occurs when the current dose no longer produces an effect on the body, whether that effect is pain management or an intentional high. To achieve the desired result, the user will need to increase the dosage or the frequency of Vicodin use. Addiction occurs when the user experiences negative side effects from Vicodin use but continues to use it anyway. People addicted to Vicodin may feel so compelled to use it that they will go to great lengths to obtain it, such as “doctor shopping” by requesting prescriptions from multiple different doctors, or even stealing it.

Signs of Vicodin Abuse

Signs of Vicodin abuse can be physical or behavioral. Physical symptoms include:

  • Drowsiness
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting

Behavioral changes that indicate Vicodin abuse include:

  • Paranoia and anxiety
  • Loss of focus
  • Obsessive focus on obtaining and using Vicodin
  • Using it for non-medical reasons, such as emotional escape or to feel normal
  • Mood swings


A person who stops taking Vicodin will experience symptoms of withdrawal. Symptoms can begin within 6 to 24 hours of the last dose and may last for a few weeks. Symptoms include:

  • Nausea
  • Sweating
  • Watery eyes
  • Runny nose
  • Muscle pain
  • Poor sleep
  • Diarrhea
  • Vomiting
  • Depression

Addiction Treatment

Treatment for Vicodin abuse can be outpatient or residential, depending on the individual’s needs and situation. A blend of behavioral and medical treatments will address both the physical drug dependence and the emotional cause underlying the addiction. Call our toll-free number to seek help for Vicodin abuse.

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