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Here's What Happens If Your Vicodin Addiction Goes Untreated

By Jacqueline Hensler
Medically Reviewed by Yilang Tang, MD, PhD on July 26, 2021
Vicodin can play a central role in alleviating pain after surgery or injury. But abuse of this drug can potentially lead to unwanted consequences, including Vicodin addiction.

Vicodin is the brand name for a medication that combines hydrocodone and acetaminophen. It is given to patients to treat moderate to severe pain. Many individuals may not believe a Vicodin addiction can happen to them, even as their drug use escalates. In 2019, about 5.1 million people aged 12 or older had misused hydrocodone products like Vicodin in the past year, according to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health. The effects of an untreated Vicodin addiction can create a host of consequences on mental and physical health while impacting work and family life. 

Withdrawal Effects on the Body 

Prescription Vicodin is an opioid pain reliever.  

“There is limited evidence that opioids are useful for chronic pain, and once a physician cuts off a prescription, patients with escalating Vicodin use often turn to the streets to get drugs,” S. Monty Ghosh, MD, Assistant Clinical Professor at the University of Alberta, tells WebMD Connect to Care. Users may be motivated to take more drugs because “the intensity of withdrawal symptoms can be felt hours to days after someone last took an opioid,” Ghosh says.  

When Vicodin is taken as prescribed for a short time period (days) after surgery, there is typically no issue discontinuing the medication, according to Mayo Clinic. Prolonged use of opioids may create a tolerance for the drug and require partnering with your doctor to taper off it to ease withdrawal symptoms. 

Withdrawal from Vicodin may include symptoms such as:

  • Anxiety or irritability 
  • Nausea, vomiting, or diarrhea
  • Stomach pain or cramps 

Overdose 

An untreated Vicodin addiction may lead to overdose and death. According to Mayo Clinic, symptoms of overdose can include:

  • Bloody or cloudy urine
  • Change in consciousness
  • Cold and clammy skin
  • Chest pain 
  • Extreme drowsiness
  • Stopped breathing
  • Cardiac arrest

Vicodin overdose requires immediate emergency medical attention. 

Vicondin's Effects on the Brain

Opioids can impact your brain. A 2019 study published by Nature Reviews Neuroscience notes that "The hippocampus is a key brain structure crucial in learning and memory, especially in contextual memory." The study says that opioids' actions in the hippocampus are likely responsible for the negative effects on learning and memory that can occur with opioid use. These effects can include impairments in both anterorade (capacity for new learning) and retrograde (capacity for memories before a memory-disrupting event) recall. 

Additionally, long-term effects of Vicodin use can pose “a problematic and detrimental effect on mood and temperament,” Keith Keller, RN, addiction and recovery expert, tells WebMD Connect to Care. 

“Opioids are powerful and rapidly eclipse the body’s natural pain management system,” Keller says. This means that they can alter the brain’s perception of pain over time.

Disruption of Family and Work Life 

Prolonged and untreated Vicodin addiction can wear on your family and work life. One sign of untreated substance use disorder is giving up commitments with friends, family, or at work. Mayo Clinic also notes that a person with substance use disorder may begin disrupting their personal relationships due to sudden behavior changes and even theft meant to support their drug habit. 

Don’t Wait. Get Help Now.

Treatment for Vicodin addiction is important, and a substance abuse expert can assist. If you or a loved one are struggling with addiction, WebMD Connect to Care Advisors are standing by to help.

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