Hydrocodone Withdrawal and Detox

Hydrocodone is an opiate drug that can be found in popular painkillers. An example of a well-known painkiller that contains hydrocodone is Vicodin.

Painkillers and other medication that contain hydrocodone are often legally prescribed, but because of the highly addictive nature of hydrocodone pharmaceuticals and the likelihood of them being abused as recreational drugs, the sale and distribution of such medication is strictly controlled by government regulation. In the UK, hydrocodone is classified as a Class B substance.

In clinical medicine, hydrocodone is utilised as a prescription narcotic for treating chronic pain. When administered, the drug can help ease pain, whilst also causing happy and euphoric feelings. This feeling of a euphoric ‘high’ is why hydrocodone addicts abuse the drug, as they would like to experience the pleasurable effects over and over again.

As an opiate drug, hydrocodone causes pleasurable sensations by influencing the dopamine levels in the brain. If you abuse hydrocodone continuously, your brain will begin to develop a tolerance for the drug, which means you’ll require increasingly higher doses to achieve the desired effects. This will eventually lead to substance dependence, as your brain’s chemical patterns are restructured and an addiction is formed.

After an addiction or physical dependence has formed, quitting hydrocodone usage becomes very difficult, as you will experience uncomfortable and even painful withdrawal symptoms. At this point, addiction treatment at a rehab facility is the best way to break free of a hydrocodone habit. By receiving treatment at a rehab facility, you can receive professional care to minimise the discomfort of withdrawal symptoms and experience a safe and effective detox.

What is hydrocodone withdrawal?

When you suddenly quit using hydrocodone or any other opioid, your body and brain will react to the sudden change in its chemical composition by exhibiting withdrawal symptoms. Hydrocodone withdrawal symptoms can vary in intensity from moderate to severe, and how they manifest can vary from individual to individual.

Aside from the severity of the symptoms, the withdrawal timeline can also vary and is often dependent on the brain’s level of dependency to hydrocodone; that is, how addicted you have become to hydrocodone. Usually, the longer you’ve been addicted to the drug, the more severe withdrawal is.

Opiate drugs such as hydrocodone merge with multiple opiate receptors in the central nervous system and brain. This is how the drug is able to function as a non-traditional depressant for the central nervous system. It is capable of reducing heart rate, breathing rate, body temperature, as well as blood pressure.

A sudden absence of the drug from your system will lead to your brain and body going into shock, as they go into overdrive to recover. Because of the complications that can arise from such physical reactions, quitting hydrocodone ‘cold turkey’ or without medical supervision isn’t advisable.

Withdrawal symptoms from ceasing hydrocodone abuse can include any of the following:

  • Agitation
  • Anxiety
  • Chills
  • Depression
  • Diarrhoea
  • Problems with staying focused
  • Intense cravings
  • Fatigue
  • Goosebumps
  • Headache
  • High blood pressure
  • Irregular heart rate
  • Irritability
  • Mood swings
  • Muscle aches
  • Nausea, vomiting and abdominal cramps
  • Night sweats
  • Restlessness
  • Runny nose and sweating
  • Thoughts of suicide
  • Trouble feeling pleasure
  • Insomnia

Fortunately, hydrocodone withdrawal medication can be provided at an addiction clinic to help ease the strains of withdrawal. Such medication is often prescribed if the withdrawal symptoms are especially intense. Some commonly used medications for such scenarios include Clonidine, Buprenorphine and Naltrexone.

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Causes of hydrocodone withdrawal

If your body has developed a physical dependence on hydrocodone, withdrawal symptoms will typically be triggered if you suddenly stop using the drug and fail to take a fresh dose. Withdrawal symptoms can also arise if you begin taking a dose that is less than what you normally consume. These acts will trigger withdrawal symptoms, as your abuse of the drug has changed the chemical structure of your brain, which leads your body to believe that it cannot function normally without the drug in your system.

How hydrocodone withdrawal is diagnosed

In order to effectively diagnose opioid withdrawal, it’s necessary that your primary healthcare provider asks questions about your symptoms, as well as carries out a physical examination. This can be followed by urine and blood tests to check if there are any opioids in your system. Questions may also be asked about your medical history, as well as past drug usage. It’s very important that honest answers are provided during this process, so as to ensure you are prescribed a course of treatment that’s actually capable of helping you make a full recovery.

If you have a loved one who you suspect of abusing hydrocodone or other opioids, this is an effective way of determining if they are actually using such drugs.

Contributing factors to withdrawal severity

How severe or mild withdrawal symptoms are is dependent on a number of elements. Some of the more prominent factors that determine how intense withdrawal is include:

  • How long you have been abusing hydrocodone
  • Your physiology or any pre-existing mental conditions
  • How often you were abusing hydrocodone and the dosage
  • If you were mixing hydrocodone with any other substances
  • Family history of substance addiction

All these factors will contribute to how intense a withdrawal is.

Common hydrocodone detox and withdrawal symptoms

During hydrocodone detox, you can experience a variety of withdrawal symptoms. Their intensity is often determined by the severity of your addiction. The symptoms can either be psychological, physical or both.

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Physical symptoms of hydrocodone withdrawal and detox

The physical symptoms of hydrocodone withdrawal can range between mild and painful. Some of the more commonly witnessed withdrawal symptoms include:

  • Chills
  • Diarrhoea
  • Fatigue
  • Goosebumps
  • Headache
  • High blood pressure
  • Irregular heart rate
  • Muscle aches
  • Nausea, vomiting and abdominal cramps
  • Night sweats
  • Runny nose and sweating
  • Insomnia

Physical withdrawal symptoms from quitting hydrocodone are not fatal, but they can be tough to handle by yourself. This is why it is always recommended to seek assistance at a facility that can provide a medically assisted detox and round-the-clock care to promptly manage any health complications that might arise.

Psychological symptoms of hydrocodone withdrawal

Psychological symptoms that can manifest during hydrocodone withdrawal include:

  • Agitation
  • Anxiety
  • Irritability
  • Intense cravings
  • Problems with concentrating or staying focused
  • Sudden mood swings
  • Major depressive disorder
  • Trouble feeling pleasure (anhedonia)
  • Suicidal thoughts

These symptoms can be managed with therapy, counselling and medication in severe cases.

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Hydrocodone withdrawal: Timeline of symptoms

Withdrawal symptoms begin to manifest within a short time after quitting hydrocodone. Within 24 to 48 hours of your last dose, you’ll likely begin to experience nausea, muscle aches and abdominal pain. These symptoms will reach an all-time high in the first three to five days of detox, as your body works to rid itself of all hydrocodone-related toxins. These toxins will be passed out of your system via diarrhoea and excessive sweating.

By day six or seven, anxiety, irritability, mood swings and other psychological symptoms will begin to manifest in place of physical symptoms. The psychological symptoms can last for as long as a month or more, depending on the severity of your addiction before seeking treatment. Medical attention and rehabilitation at a rehab facility is essential during this period, because you are at a higher risk of suffering a relapse during this vulnerable stage.

What is acute hydrocodone withdrawal?

If you’ve been consuming large doses of hydrocodone over a long period of time, you are likely to experience acute hydrocodone withdrawal during the detox process. Acute hydrocodone withdrawal refers to a cluster of withdrawal symptoms that are severe and typically psychological and physiological in nature. The best way to overcome acute hydrocodone withdrawal is to receive care at an addiction treatment facility that actually has experience helping people with severe symptoms.

Acute hydrocodone detox can last for about 14 days, but the psychological aspects of withdrawal can last for months after physical withdrawal has passed.

What is hydrocodone detox?

Detox is the medical process of ridding your body of all hydrocodone-related toxins. Because going through detox can be an uncomfortable or even painful process due to withdrawal symptoms, most addicts shy away from it. The process can be undertaken naturally over a period of time, whilst managing your withdrawal symptoms, or detox can be sped up and made more comfortable with prescription medication.

At a hydrocodone detox clinic, you’ll be provided a safe environment where your withdrawal symptoms will be effectively managed and their severity minimised. Also, a medically supervised detox can greatly reduce the chances of experiencing mental or physical health complications during and after detox.

It is recommended that you do not attempt detoxing by quitting hydrocodone ‘cold turkey’. While this method is possible to accomplish – especially if your addiction isn’t severe – it is mostly unsafe.

During detox, you’ll lose a lot of bodily fluids, including important nutrients and electrolytes. There is also the risk of choking on your own vomit during self-detox. Such dangers and complications can be avoided by undergoing a medically supervised detox.

Because co-occurring disorders might exist alongside your hydrocodone addiction, it’s best to get professional medical help that will manage your condition with a holistic approach. This way, mental health issues like anxiety and major depressive disorder can be taken care of by a specialist. A major benefit of this is greatly minimising the risk of a possible relapse or even self-harm.

How long does it take to detox from hydrocodone?

How long it will take to complete hydrocodone detox is dependent on a variety of factors. Therefore, it’s usually rare to find two individuals who take an equal amount of time to successfully complete detox. The duration of detox will be determined by whether it is medically assisted, the severity of the addiction and if there are any co-occurring mental or health disorders.

Why you should detox properly from hydrocodone

Detox is the first step to making a full recovery from any substance addiction. It is crucial that you go through detox properly, because it lays the foundation for breaking free from addiction and staying sober long-term. Failure to detox properly puts you in danger of experiencing a relapse and other risks.

Also, because hydrocodone withdrawal symptoms can be harsh on the body and mind, it is best to visit a certified drug rehabilitation clinic where you can receive quality treatment that will minimise the strains of withdrawal. A medically assisted detox is recommended, because not only will it make detox more comfortable, it also guarantees that your body is completely drained of all hydrocodone-related toxins and that there are no long or short-term complications from the process.

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Coping with hydrocodone withdrawal

Hydrocodone withdrawal symptoms can be painful and many addicts quit without completing the process.

Resuming the abuse of hydrocodone (or any other opioid) after detoxing can be dangerous. This is because the detox, be it complete or partial, has already reduced your tolerance to the drug. This means that using the same dose as you previously did before attempting detox can lead to a dangerous drug overdose.

In order to go through the detoxification process successfully – as well as achieve long term sobriety – you can cope with the symptoms of withdrawal by making use of the following tips.

Making use of your support system

Whilst attempting to break free from addiction, it’s important to have a support system that will stand by you emotionally through the entire process. Your support system can consist of friends and family or even medical help.

Mental withdrawal symptoms can make you want to give up on trying to quit or even cause you to entertain suicidal thoughts. Said effects can be minimised by simply having a loved one close by to support you or provide a shoulder to lean on.

Join a Support Group

Becoming part of a support group like Narcotics Anonymous can also provide some much-needed guidance and support during the withdrawal stage. At a support group, you’ll get to listen and talk to people who are going through exactly what you are or have already been down that road. This can be a huge source of motivation to help you stay focused on long-term sobriety.


Being emotionally and physically prepared before undertaking detox can make a big difference to how successful your treatment is. If you’re going to be treated at a detox facility, you can prepare by educating yourself about what to expect. If you’ll be attempting to detox at home, you can prepare by:

  • Stocking up on fluids to stay hydrated and maintain your levels of electrolytes during the process. This is important, because you’ll likely be experiencing vomiting, sweating and diarrhoea – all of which can leave you dangerously dehydrated.
  • Purchasing over-the-counter (OTC) medication to help combat certain side effects. For instance, Dramamine or Meclizine (Bonine) can help with nausea, Naproxen (Aleve) or Ibuprofen (Motrin) can help with muscle aches, chills, and fever and Imodium (loperamide) can help control diarrhoea
  • Staying active to help keep your mind off thoughts of cravings and withdrawal symptoms.

Take Care of Yourself

Nourishment is important during detox. Even though food will likely be unappealing during the process, make sure to eat healthily and get lots of rest. Meditation is also great for staying positive and focusing on the benefits of your actions.

Hydrocodone withdrawal might seem scary, but the truth is that you can get through it and make a full recovery, as long you go about the process the right way.

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Possible complications

The overall benefits of going through detox far outweigh the risks. However, said risks are much easier to deal with if you know what they are (and the possible complications they can lead to) and prepare for them accordingly. Some of the common risks during a withdrawal process (especially an unsupervised one) include:

  • Severe diarrhoea or excessive vomiting
  • Aspiration (breathing in or choking on vomit)
  • Lung infections from aspiration
  • Epileptic seizures

Always remember that the risks of going through detox are far less than what you will have to face by continuing with a life of hydrocodone addiction.

Medically supervised hydrocodone withdrawal detox

After properly assessing and evaluating your condition, experts can recommend a course of treatment that’s best capable of minimising your withdrawal symptoms, whilst helping you towards making a full recovery.

Long-term abuse of hydrocodone can result in a difficult withdrawal period, with flu-like symptoms and more. Thankfully, the process is mostly non-life-threatening, but the symptoms can still be enough to make a recovering addict suffer a relapse to seek some relief. This is why treatment at an inpatient facility, where the environment is controlled and you’ll have no access to hydrocodone or other opioids, is highly recommended.

Medication might be used during an inpatient programme to minimise withdrawal symptoms. This type of medical assistance is strictly controlled and administered by treatment professionals, because the drugs used are in themselves addictive. Mental health treatment such as cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) will also be provided to deal with the psychological and underlying aspects of your addiction. This will help to retrain your mind and teach you healthy ways of dealing with pain, instead of being reliant on addictive substances.

Medications to treat hydrocodone withdrawal

A variety of medications are available to deal with the various aspects of hydrocodone withdrawal. For example, medication capable of speeding up the withdrawal process is available, as is medication for making withdrawal symptoms more tolerable. Some of the most commonly used medications for treating hydrocodone withdrawal include:

  • Clonidine hydrochloride for treating typical symptoms such as anxiety, sweating, muscle pain and vomiting
  • Naltrexone to prevent relapse episodes
  • Buprenorphine, which can be combined with naloxone to reduce symptoms. It can also be administered on its own to prevent relapse

Melatonin for hydrocodone withdrawal symptoms

Melatonin is an antioxidant hormone that your brain’s pineal gland produces during sleep. It helps to maintain your body’s natural biorhythm.

Melatonin supplements can be very useful for managing hydrocodone withdrawal symptoms. This is because substance dependence reduces your body’s melatonin levels, which can lead to symptoms such as poor moods and trouble sleeping. By using melatonin supplements, you can effectively offset withdrawal side effects by replenishing your body’s melatonin levels.

Another major benefit of melatonin during withdrawal is that it minimises oxidative damage to brain cells. Insufficient melatonin can lead the damaged brain cells to cause insomnia and headaches.

Home detox for hydrocodone abusers: How safe is it?

It’s not impossible to detox at home and make a full recovery from hydrocodone addiction, but it isn’t recommended. This is because home detox can be very dangerous, especially considering the withdrawal symptoms you are likely to experience. For the sake of your safety and to avoid any complications, it’s best if your withdrawal symptoms are cared for by medical professionals in a specialised facility.

Opting for a medically supervised detox over a home detox for hydrocodone addictions is your best option, as you’ll have access to doctors who’ll monitor your health and modify your treatment at each stage to match your needs and deliver the best possible results.

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Hydrocodone addiction facts and statistics

  • According to the National Safety Council, 60 people die every day from abusing opioid pain medications. This amounts to about 22,000 people dying every year from abusing opioid painkillers.
  • More evidence shows that about 20 million Americans are currently addicted to opioid painkillers, while over 40 million adolescents and adults in 2014 alone admitted to using prescription opioids for non-medical purposes.
  • Four out of five heroin addicts began by abusing prescription opioids. Further research has shown that 4% to 6% of prescription painkiller addicts eventually begin abusing heroin.
  • The most commonly prescribed hydrocodone combination contains acetaminophen or other compounds. These drugs can be found under the brand names Vicodin, Lorcet, Lortab, Lortab ASA, Vicoprofen and Hycomine


How do you know if you’re suffering from hydrocodone withdrawal?

Because it’s an opioid, hydrocodone abuse can lead to withdrawal symptoms similar to those caused by oxycodone and heroin. Said symptoms can include:

  • Anxiety
  • Cold flashes
  • Diarrhoea
  • Fever
  • Insomnia
  • Muscle and joint pain
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Shaking
  • Sweating

How long does hydrocodone withdrawal last?

How long hydrocodone withdrawal lasts can vary from individual to individual. It is often determined by the duration of addiction, as well as how much hydrocodone was being abused and how often. On average, withdrawal symptoms can begin to manifest within six to 48 hours of the last dose and can go on for at least a week or longer.

Extended release hydrocodone painkillers – unlike other types of hydrocodone – can remain in your system for longer and in turn cause withdrawal symptoms to linger for longer.

The discomfort of withdrawal will typically peak within the second or third day and the symptoms can begin to wane by the conclusion of the first week. However, chronic psychological symptoms like anxiety and depression can last for weeks or months.

How does hydrocodone withdrawal affect my health?

Hydrocodone withdrawal can affect your health by leading to the following side effects:

  • Anxiety/dysphoria
  • Bowel obstruction
  • Breathing problems
  • Constipation
  • Diffuse muscle weakness
  • Dizziness
  • Drowsiness
  • Fatigue
  • Headache
  • Itchiness
  • Nausea
  • Severe allergic reaction such as rash, hives, itching or swelling
  • Slowed or irregular heartbeat
  • Trouble sleeping/nightmares
  • Trouble urinating
  • Vomiting

If you are experiencing the more severe symptoms of withdrawal listed above, please seek medical attention immediately.

Is hydrocodone withdrawal dangerous?

Hydrocodone withdrawal symptoms are typically not fatal, but can still lead to adverse effects which can negatively impact your life – even long after you’ve quit the drug. This is why it’s important that detox is medically assisted and managed to aid your recovery and negate the risks associated with the process.

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