How Does Hydrocodone Work?

How Does Hydrocodone Work?

Hydrocodone is a common medication for moderate to severe pain. It is an opioid (or synthetic opiate), and as such is directly related to drugs like heroin, morphine and opium. As with all opiates, hydrocodone is both highly effective at blocking pain and also highly addictive.

How Hydrocodone Blocks Pain

Pain messages are sent through the nervous system as chemicals in the brain bind to specific receptor sites. Hydrocodone binds to these sites, preventing them from receiving pain signals. The same part of the brain that manages physical pain also controls symptoms of emotional or psychological pain, including pain from the following problems:

  • Anxiety disorders
  • Behavioral compulsions such as sex, gambling, stealing or shopping addiction
  • Personality disorders
  • Depression

Any negative feelings or psychological distress will fade away as a feeling of euphoria sweeps over the user. In many cases, hydrocodone temporarily relieves an underlying psychological disorder, causing some people to self-medicate a psychological issue whether or not they know that is what they are doing.

Physical Addiction to Hydrocodone

The brain produces chemicals to cope with pain, but when hydrocodone is present the brain stops creating these chemicals, leaving the user dependent on the medication to feel normal. Once a physical addiction and the brain produces none of these chemicals on its own, an addict will experience withdrawal symptoms if she goes long enough without a dose. Some of hydrocodone’s withdrawal symptoms include the following sensations:

  • Intense pain
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Fever, chills and other flu-like symptoms
  • Tremors

In severe cases of hydrocodone addiction coma and even death are possible during withdrawal symptoms. For this reason opiate addicts should detox under close medical supervision.
Another aspect of physical addiction is the development of tolerance, which means that a user will need larger and more frequent doses to feel its effects. If a user increases his dosage beyond what is prescribed, he will further establish the addiction.

Psychological Addiction to Hydrocodone

Even more powerful than the physical aspects of hydrocodone addiction are the psychological elements of the disease. The drug’s ability to mask emotional distress combines with its ability to produce euphoria to create a strong psychological addiction. These cravings happen in the same part of the brain that reinforces behaviors. Stress, anxiety and emotional functions are all centered in this same area and the brain will use all of those problems to keep the supply of hydrocodone coming. Some of the most common symptoms of psychological addiction include the following:

  • Defensiveness when approached about drug use
  • Denial or dishonesty about drug use
  • Justification for continued abuse
  • An inability to maintain sobriety even when you want to
  • Memories that focus on the good times associated with drug abuse and not the consequences
  • A growing lack of interest in previously important relationships and activities

While the physical symptoms of hydrocodone addiction run their course in a matter of days, the psychological effects can take months, years or even a lifetime to correct.

Hydrocodone Addiction Help

If you are concerned about your hydrocodone abuse, please call our toll-free, 24 hour helpline any time. Our counselors can connect you with the best recovery resources for your specific needs, and they can answer any questions you may have regarding treatment. The call is confidential and free so you have nothing to lose.