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Why Is Hydrocodone Addictive?

By Kyle Kirkland
Medically Reviewed by Yilang Tang, MD, PhD on July 11, 2021
Hydrocodone changes the way your brain processes pain and pleasure. We talked to experts about why hydrocodone is so addictive and what the signs of hydrocodone addiction are.

Hydrocodone is one of the most commonly-prescribed pain relievers for patients with severe pain. Due to its high potential for abuse, the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) classifies hydrocodone as a Schedule II controlled substance. Substances in this classification have a high potential for abuse, which may lead to addiction. We talked to experts to find out why the medication can be so addictive and what the signs of hydrocodone addiction are.

How Addictive is Hydrocodone?

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), hydrocodone is one of the most commonly-prescribed opiates.

“Opioids stimulate the brain to release dopamine, a brain neurotransmitter associated with pleasure,” Bankole Johnson, MD, chief medical officer of Adial Pharmaceuticals Inc., tells WebMD Connect to Care. 

Jenna Liphart Rhoads, PhD, medical advisor at NurseTogether, tells WebMD Connect to Care that hydrocodone use causes a feeling of euphoria that is more intense than naturally-occurring good feelings. This euphoria may make you want to take the medication again because naturally-occurring good feelings seem dull in comparison.

Johnson says the craving for pleasure you feel when you take the drug reinforces the habit, which can ultimately lead to addiction.

In addition to chasing the “high” you feel when on hydrocodone, you may also want to use the drug to prevent withdrawal. Aaron Sternlicht, mental health counselor at Family Addiction Specialists, tells WebMD Connect to Care that taking hydrocodone for just 3 to 5 days can cause physical dependence, which means you’ll experience symptoms of withdrawal when you stop taking the drug.

Hydrocodone Addiction Signs and Symptoms

Ashley McGee, RN, vice president at Mountainside Treatment Center, tells WebMD Connect to Care that hydrocodone addiction can cause changes in a person'sphysical appearance and behavior.

McGee and Johnson say signs of hydrocodone addiction may include the following:

  • Fatigue
  • Slow breathing
  • Lightheadedness
  • Confusion
  • Skin and bodily infections
  • Poor personal hygiene
  • Doctor shopping, which is when you go to multiple doctors hoping to receive multiple prescriptions
  • Attempting to fill prescriptions before their refill date

Hydrocodone addiction can be treated in different ways, including medicine, counseling programs, and behavioral therapy.

Don’t Wait. Get Help Now.

If you or a loved one are struggling with addiction, WebMD Connect to Care Advisors are standing by to help.

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