Dangerous Side Effects of Hydrocodone – What are they and how to spot them.
What are the dangerous side effects of hydrocodone and how does long term use of this opiate affect us? Hydrocodone belongs to a group of drugs called opiate analgesic which are effective and powerful at relieving pain. Hydrocodone works by binding to the receptors in the brain and central nervous system that generate pain signals. Once ingested, hydrocodone can alleviate pain within a matter of minutes and its effectiveness can last hours. Short-term use of this drug can come with a host of adverse side-effects. In fact, drugs.com has an entire page dedicated to possible negative outcomes from hydrocodone use including upset stomach, constipation, numbing of the limbs, dry mouth, skin lesions, dizziness, agitation, and itchiness (just to name a few). But even with all of these side-effects being fairly common, it is not enough to deter the estimated 30 million people world-wide that are addicted to some form of an opiate.
The long-term side effects resulting in chronic use of this drug are exponentially more severe and dangerous than its short-term counterpart and hydrocodone withdrawal can be deadly. So why is hydrocodone, along with its opiate family, so addictive if the long-term effects are widely known and incredibly devastating? Not only does hydrocodone work by blocking pain receptors but it also works by creating a flood of serotonin and dopamine in the brain which excites our pleasure centers. These neurotransmitters (along with GABA and acetylcholine) all work together to regulate things like pleasure, mood, and even sleeping and eating cycles. When a drug like hydrocodone is introduced to the brain, these chemicals go haywire which is what creates the feeling of euphoria. And at first, that euphoria is what people chase.
However, the body is a finely tuned mechanism that continuously seeks homeostasis. Our brains and endocrine system work around the clock to make sure that the hormones and chemicals that regulate how we function are proportionate. When an outside influence (like hydrocodone) influences the amount of “feel good” chemicals flooding the system, the brain tells the body it needs to slow down its natural neurotransmitter production. This leads to a chemical deficit in the body’s natural state.
This is where long term side effects of Hydrocodone and withdrawal of hydrocodone becomes an issue. When your body stops naturally producing the neurotransmitters needed to regulate mood, it is very likely the addicted person will experience long-term side-effects such as severe depression, mood swings, agitation, anxiety, insomnia, and panic attacks. Because nobody likes to feel these things, the natural inclination (specifically with someone who has an addictive personality) is to up their intake of hydrocodone to offset the negative, long-term side-effects of its usage. From here, one can see how this becomes a never-ending cycle. After a while, that feeling of euphoria that the person initially experienced will no longer exist. Hydrocodone use will eventually just be a means of feeling normal because, without it, the come-down is terrible.
Aside from the intense depression and anxiety a hydrocodone addict will almost inevitably experience once they come off the drug, there is a host of physical withdrawal symptoms that occur including sweating, seizures, flu-like symptoms, intestinal problems, migraines, chills, insomnia, muscle ache, clamminess, coma, and death. And according to the Mayo Clinic’s website, opiate withdrawal can last weeks and it can take the brain months to start producing normal levels of dopamine, serotonin, GABA, and acetylcholine.
Unfortunately, addiction is far more complicated than the physiological responses it has on our bodies. Anyone who has ever been addicted to hydrocodone or other opiates (or any drug for that matter) will tell you that addiction runs far deeper than just it’s chemical element. Like brushing your teeth or walking or doing the millions of things we do on a daily basis, drug use is habitual. It’s something addicts have learned incorporate into the pattern of their functionality. And unlearning that pattern is a monster very separate than dealing with the ramifications of long-term opiate use and withdrawal. The addict must learn who he or she is without their safety net and that behavior can take years to undo.
In March of 2017, Chairman of the National Institute on Drug Abuse went before congress and discussed the crisis America (and much of the world) is facing regarding misuse of prescription opiates including hydrocodone, morphine, and fentanyl. He described the problem as an “economic burden” and a “widespread crisis” and emphasized that any of us can be a victim of its seductive hold. Old or young, healthy or sick, white or black, male or female, gay or straight –nobody is safe from the grasp opiates can have and we must be diligent at providing information regarding how dangerous long-term hydrocodone use and withdrawal can be.
If you or a loved one needs help with abuse and/or treatment, please call the WhiteSands Treatment at (877) 855-3470. Our addiction specialists can assess your recovery needs and help you get the addiction treatment that provides the best chance for your long-term recovery.