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Hydrocodone for Pain Management

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Updated September 21, 2009

What Hydrocodone Is:

Hydrocodone is a narcotic painkiller in the opioid class. It is usually used in combination with other pain relievers to control moderate to severe pain, though some forms may be used for mild to moderate pain. Though often combined with medications that are available over-the-counter, any painkiller containing hydrocodone requires a doctor’s prescription.

How Hydrocodone Works:

Hydrocodone works by changing the way the nervous system (brain and nerves) responds to pain in the body. It is usually combined with acetaminophen for pain relief, though it may also be combined with ibuprofen. Hydrocodone is available in both short-acting and long-acting forms for pain control.

Hydrocodone Brand Names:

Hydrocodone combined with acetaminophen may be called:
  • Vicodin
  • Lortab
  • Lorcet
  • Norco
  • Anesxia
  • Co-Gesic
  • Ceta-Plus
  • Hydrocet
  • Zydone
Hydrocodone combined with ibuprofen goes by the brand name Vicoprofen.

Hydrocodone Side Effects:

Hydrocodone can potentially cause any of the following side effects:
  • nausea and/or vomiting
  • constipation
  • anxiety and/or mood changes
  • confusion
  • dizziness or lightheadedness
  • difficulty urinating
  • dry mouth and throat
  • itching and/or rash
Serious side effects include difficulty breathing or tightness in the chest. If either of these symptoms occur, seek medical attention immediately.

Hydrocodone Abuse:

Hydrocodone is a controlled substance, and may be abused for its narcotic effects. In fact, there is a growing trend among teens to abuse hydrocodone. The FDA reports hydrocodone is most often abused in combination with alcohol. Hydrocodone abuse may lead to addiction or overdose.

Hydrocodone Addiction:

If you take hydrocodone for chronic pain, you may have concerns about developing a drug addiction, which should not be confused with physical dependence. With drug dependence, your body needs the drug to function and may develop a tolerance. With addiction, however, drug use is compulsive regardless of any potential harm.

The risk for developing hydrocodone addiction is increased if you have any of the following:

  • mental health problems (including depression or PTSD)
  • prior addiction history or family history of addiction
  • a sense of euphoria after taking the drug
  • genetic predisposition

Hydrocodone Overdose and Safety:

The risk for hydrocodone overdose is greater if you have an addiction, or if you are abusing hydrocodone. To avoid a potential drug overdose, avoid taking more medication than prescribed. Also, never crush or chew hydrocodone, which can release too much medication into the bloodstream at one time.

Sources:

Medline Plus. Drug Dependence. Accessed 9/11/09. http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/001522.htm

Medline Plus. Hydrocodone. Accessed 9/11/09. http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/druginfo/meds/a601006.html

US Drug Enforcement Administration. Hydrocodone. Accessed 9/11/09. http://www.usdoj.gov/dea/concern/hydrocodone.html

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