Hydrocodone is a widely prescribed pain reliever. It’s also sold under the more familiar brand name Vicodin, a drug that combines hydrocodone and acetaminophen. Hydrocodone can be very effective, but it can also become habit forming. If your doctor prescribes hydrocodone for you, you can take steps to avoid serious complications from hydrocodone addiction. First, though, you must understand why and how hydrocodone becomes addictive and the signs of hydrocodone addiction.

Hydrocodone is an opioid in a class of drugs known as narcotic analgesics. These drugs connect to proteins in the brain and spinal cord called opioid receptors. Opioids interfere with pain signals heading to the brain to change your perception of pain as well as your emotional reaction to it. When used properly and for only a short period, hydrocodone is usually safe and effective.

Some people who start out taking hydrocodone as treatment become hooked on the euphoric feeling. As a result, they use it for longer than recommended. Taking hydrocodone for a long time can build a tolerance to the drug. This means your body needs more of the drug to feel the same effects.

In addition to a slower heartbeat, symptoms of hydrocodone overuse include:

  • dizziness or lightheadedness
  • nausea and vomiting
  • seizures
  • fear and depression
  • confusion
  • headaches
  • ringing in the ears
  • blurred vision

The best way to prevent hydrocodone addiction is to take the drug exactly as your doctor prescribes. It is also important to record your pain in a diary while you take it. Review your pain diary from time to time to see how you are progressing. If you realize your pain is decreasing, let your doctor know, even if your prescription hasn’t run out. Your doctor may want to reduce your dosage gradually and have you stop taking it sooner than expected.

If you feel you’re starting to crave the drug even at times when you feel little or no pain, talk with your doctor immediately. This is a sign that you are becoming addicted to hydrocodone.

If you find yourself taking hydrocodone for longer than prescribed or taking it in larger doses, you may have an addiction. Tell your doctor immediately. Your doctor may have you reduce your use slowly rather than stopping it suddenly. Stopping suddenly can lead to withdrawal problems, such as:

  • anxiety
  • trouble sleeping
  • irritability
  • unusual sweating
  • muscle aches

If you think you can’t quit on your own, there are many programs to help you. Some of these programs use medications to help ease the withdrawal, while others don’t. The best approach for you will depend greatly on the nature of your addiction. A long-term addiction that involves high doses of hydrocodone may involve a longer recovery period than addiction from short-term use.

A mental health evaluation should be part of your recovery. People with addictions should be screened for depression and other mental health issues. You should also consider support groups during and after recovery. Organizations such as Narcotics Anonymous and Alcoholics Anonymous may help you avoid relapse with hydrocodone or another drug.

Hydrocodone can be a safe and effective way to treat severe pain, but it can be addictive. Addiction can cause personal problems. It can affect relationships, employment, and other parts of your life. If your doctor has prescribed this drug and you’re worried about addiction, talk about your concerns. And if you have had issues with addiction in the past, an alternative pain reliever may be a better option for you. The more you know about hydrocodone, the better your chances are of avoiding addiction.