There are many different substances that have proven to be quite problematic on a cultural and societal level. Of course, the first substances that we often think about are ones like alcohol, marijuana, and cocaine, but these are just a few of the substances that have affected the lives of millions and millions of people. Some of the substances to which a number of people have become addicted were actually created to help people rather than harm them, which is the case with pharmaceutical drug hydrocodone. But what is hydrocodone, exactly? Where does it come from and what are its effects? And how does someone overcome hydrocodone addiction?
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What exactly is hydrocodone?
Before diving into hydrocodone specifically, it’s important to go over the background of opiates in general, which begin with a substance called opium. As you may already be aware, opium is an extremely potent narcotic that comes from the seeds of the opium poppy. According to historical records, our history with opium extends back thousands of years. The plant itself originates from the Mediterranean region, but it didn’t take long for opium use to spread to such places as Egypt, Syria, Greece, and numerous other nations in the Eastern Europe, Northern Africa, and Western Asia areas.
Initially, opium was mainly used during surgical procedures as well as for religious practices; however, it would eventually be used for recreational purposes, too. In fact, as opium became a more recreational substance, the drug was making its way into China, which is one of the places that has a very strong historical association with opium. Upon making its way into China, opium quickly spawned an addiction problem among the Chinese, resulting in the many so-called opium dens that emerged throughout the country. As Chinese emigrants moved westward, opium was finally introduced to the Americas. On the cusp of the American Civil War, we had learned just how powerful and addictive this substance is, leading a number of researchers to search for safer or less addictive alternatives. This led to the discovery that opium’s effects are the work of two important alkaloids: codeine and morphine.
Thereafter, morphine usurped opium’s place as the primary opiate for use in surgical procedures. In fact, soldiers who were wounded in battle were usually treated with morphine during the Civil War. However, experiments with these substances were ongoing and would soon lead to the development of heroin. Although they had been hoping to develop something similar to morphine with less risks, heroin proved to be even more powerful and addictive than morphine. As a result, chemical development continued, leading to the synthesis of such pharmaceuticals as oxycodone and hydrocodone.
Hydrocodone was first synthesized in Germany in 1920, but it wasn’t until more than twenty years later — 1943 — when it was officially approved in the United States by the Food and Drug Administration. While oxycodone was created from thebaine — one of the less-used derivatives of opium — hydrocodone was created by adding hydrogen to codeine; however, hydrocodone appeared to lack the stomach discomfort and high risk of toxicity that characterized codeine. Through testing, it was found that hydrocodone was effective at three things: (1) alleviating pain, (2) alleviating a cough, and (3) producing feelings of euphoria.
It was hoped that strong regulations surrounding the substance would mitigate its abuse, but it has, at times, been the most-prescribed painkiller as well as the most widely abused. Today, the trade name Vicodin is most closely associated with hydrocodone, but there have been a number of other brands to release versions of the drug. In the past few years, there has been a purer form of hydrocodone called Zohydro to receive F.D.A. approval although surveys show that it’s not being prescribed very often. However, hydrocodone remains one of the most frequently prescribed painkillers with estimates from 2013 indicating at least 136 million annual prescriptions for the drug.
Effects of hydrocodone
There are a number of effects that are associated with hydrocodone. Many of these effects pertain to the drug being intended to modify a person’s perceptions of physical pain. Understandably, this takes place through a modification of brain chemistry. When a person takes hydrocodone, the brain experiences a surge of neurotransmitters, including dopamine, serotonin, and norepinephrine. The cumulative effect is to essentially dampen a person’s ability to feel pain. However, the drug has been found to induce euphoria, which is why it’s often abused. As is the case with other opiates, abusing hydrocodone causes feelings of warmth and a tingling sensation throughout the body. As well, the limbs often feel heavy. An individual often becomes quite drowsy and has difficulty staying away. The drug can also cause things like respiratory depression when taken at high doses, which is a major contributor to overdoses.
Hydrocodone withdrawal symptoms
When a person takes hydrocodone frequently over a period of time, he or she becomes quite likely to experience withdrawal symptoms during times when he or she is unable to obtain or take hydrocodone. Many of the withdrawal symptoms associated with hydrocodone apply to most other opiates, too. For instance, individuals experiencing hydrocodone withdrawals often experience insomnia, sweating, intermittent hot flashes and cold chills, loss of appetite, nausea, diarrhea and/or vomiting, anxiety, depression, physical discomfort in the joints and muscles, yawning, runny nose, watery eyes, and a number of other symptoms that are comparable to the flu.
Overcoming hydrocodone addiction
It can be quite disconcerting to be addicted to hydrocodone, but there are plenty of resources available to help. In most cases, recovery from hydrocodone addiction begins with detoxification, which is an initial period to address the physical aspects of addiction so that the individual in question isn’t experiencing withdrawal symptoms when he or she begins actual treatment. Next, the treatment phase consists of individual psychotherapy, group therapy, relapse prevention education, and other important components. The goal is to help the individual achieve lasting sobriety by meeting his or her unique recovery needs.