The anti-inflammatory ingredient in Vicodin, acetaminophen, helps to reduce swelling while the narcotic ingredient, hydrocodone, helps to decrease the sensation of pain. Vicodin is so effective at helping people deal with pain that it’s become one of the most widely prescribed drugs in the world today. According to some news reports, in 2010, hospitals and pharmacies dispensed enough Vicodin to provide 24 5-mg tablets to every adult and child living in the United States. It’s a bit staggering to think that there are so many of these pills available and in use within the country at any given time, but it might go a long way toward explaining why the Vicodin addiction problem is so prevalent.
With this amount of drugs available, it’s easy for addicted people to access the drug.
Understanding the Pathway
Since Vicodin is prescribed so often, and its use is so widespread, many people don’t quite understand the strength of the drug when it’s prescribed to them. Some may not know the drug contains acetaminophen, for example, while others may not understand that they’re being provided with a narcotic drug that can lead to addiction.
While some people take Vicodin appropriately, managing their pain with the pills for a short period of time until they taper off the drug and use no medications at all to control pain, other people develop serious and longstanding addictions to Vicodin as they move from taking the drug appropriately to abusing the drug.
Other people come to Vicodin abuse without ever seeing a doctor. These people may borrow drugs from others when they are in pain, or they may take the pills for simple recreational purposes, hoping to feel extraordinary sensations that can help them step out of their own lives for awhile. These users might also feel that Vicodin is benign, since they can access it easily.
When users take Vicodin, the drug latches onto receptors scattered throughout the brain and body, and it produces a sensation of relaxation and serenity. At low doses, these feelings are easy to ignore, but at high doses, the drug experience can be overwhelming.
A former Vicodin addict, interviewed in the Post-Standard, said, “I didn’t realize how addictive it would be…I thought I could stop the next day.” It’s a common statement among people who are addicted to Vicodin. The drug seems helpful, or at the very least not harmful, but slowly, people begin to take higher and higher doses of the drug in order to simply feel normal. The brain becomes accustomed to having access to the drug, and it can trigger symptoms of nausea, sweating and chills when it does not have access to the drug.
In order to get these drugs, dealers often have to resort to crime. According to an article published in the Wall Street Journal, armed robberies at pharmacies rose 81 percent in the years between 2006 and 2010, likely due to dealers hoping to keep their customers supplied with pain pills like Vicodin. Since dealers have to take these terrible risks in order to supply their clients with product, they may hike up their prices as a result. People who are addicted to Vicodin may spend hundreds of dollars each day on their addictions, and they may also resort to crime in order to build up enough money to buy more drugs.
While each person addicted to Vicodin is likely to behave in different ways due to the abuse, many people who are addicted may:
- Have an increased need for privacy
- Seem sleepy or dazed much of the time
- Grow defensive or hostile when asked about drug use
- Visit a series of doctors, asking for prescriptions
- Make up illnesses or injuries, in order to get more prescriptions
- Steal money or drugs from others
The Consequences of Addiction
Over time, people with addictions may become so isolated that the addiction is their only real friend. This is difficult enough to contemplate, but the consequences of a Vicodin addiction might also go far beyond a simple disruption in social status and employment.
Vicodin contains acetaminophen, as mentioned, and while most people who abuse Vicodin are likely focused on the narcotic and the symptoms it can provide, the acetaminophen is also coursing through the bloodstream and doing its work each time a person takes Vicodin. Acetaminophen is processed by the liver, and people who are addicted to Vicodin can do a serious amount of damage to this organ through the course of their addictions, and the consequences can be dire.
Vicodin abuse can also cause side effects that baffle the medical experts. For example, an article in the journal Neurology highlights two cases of young people who became suddenly deaf after taking large doses of Vicodin. The researchers had to look at published reports to see if this had ever happened before. This case simply demonstrates how little medical experts know about the consequences of taking very large doses of drugs. When medications like Vicodin are developed, researchers spend a significant amount of time learning about how much of the drug a person can safely take, and they may know quite a bit about how the drug works when it is taken appropriately. Researchers commonly do not flood people with drugs at very high doses to see what would happen if the drugs were abused.
Those who abuse Vicodin may be in uncharted waters, as far as consequences are concerned.
Vicodin can affect the health of babies, if mothers take the drug during pregnancy. The number of babies born to addicted mothers climbed to about 13,539 per year, according to an article in USA Today, and babies like this truly struggle when they are born and their supply of drugs like Vicodin is suddenly cut short. These babies may:
- Develop stiff, rigid muscles
- Develop seizures
- Breathe improperly
- Resist feeding
Medications may help in the short term, but these babies may struggle with developmental issues throughout their lives. And if the mothers continue to use, the children may grow up with a huge amount of insecurity and they may develop their own addictions as a result.
It’s important to note that not everyone who uses Vicodin is addicted to it. Some people need to take the drug for their medical conditions, and they may not ever resort to abusing the drug in any way. However, people who begin using the drug, and then start abusing it, or people who take the drugs on a compulsive basis for recreational purposes, may need help in order to stop the abuse and move forward with their lives. We provide just this sort of help at Michael’s House, and we specialize in assisting people who have both addictions and underlying mental illnesses that contribute to their addiction issues.
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