How Long Does Vicodin Stay in Your System?Anna Ciulla
Vicodin is one of the most popular opiate painkillers in the world. It can often seem like doctors prescribe it for just about everything; from individuals dealing with chronic back pain to patients who have undergone oral surgery. Because there is so much Vicodin in circulation, the drug has taken on a life of its own outside of professional medical care. Abuse is rampant and has led many people down paths of crippling addiction that leads them to seek out a complete drug detox.
Hydrocodone—the opiate element within Vicodin—produces relaxing effects. The effects of opiates can last for hours in your system. However, during that time the user’s heart rate slows and breathing becomes labored. If enough is irresponsibly taken, Vicodin use can result in brain damage and death. Once Vicodin has entered a user’s system, it takes several hours for the effect to wear off and numerous days for it to leave the body.
Factors Affecting How Long Vicodin Stays in Your System
There are numerous factors that affect how long Vicodin will stay in your system. Each person is different, and while there is a general pattern for how long Vicodin remains in the system, it’s almost impossible to predict exactly when your body will be free of the drug.
It’s also important to note that Vicodin has a half-life of 3.8 hours. That means that it takes that amount of time for the concentration of the drug in your body to diminish by half.
While doctors will usually prescribe a set amount to be taken every few hours in accordance with the patient’s pain, those who abuse the drug will often forgo these recommendations and take a much larger amount. In these cases, the amount of Vicodin consumed correlates with how long the drug will remain in the system. The more you take, the longer your body will need to get rid of it.
When your body is hydrated, water molecules help dilute the concentration of Vicodin and your body has an easier time flushing it out.
Every person has a different metabolism, which is based on factors like age, sex, and other biological components that are unique from person to person. Your metabolism affects how quickly your body is able to process everything that enters it. If you have a fast metabolism, your body will be able to get rid of the Vicodin much quicker than someone who has a slower metabolism.
Body Fat Content and Body Mass
Related to your metabolism is your body fat content and body mass. Generally, the larger the body, the longer it takes for drugs like Vicodin to pass through the system. When Vicodin passes through the body, hydrocodone is held up in fatty tissue. Because of this, it can take a long time for it to pass through depending on how much has been absorbed.
If the user is taking other drugs in addition to Vicodin, it will take much longer for the concentration of hydrocodone to leave the system. There are a number of reasons for this. Past use may have damaged the ability to process drugs, and when Vicodin passes through these damaged systems the body is less capable of flushing it out.
When the body undergoes stress via exercise, the cardiovascular system speeds up, which in turn speeds up the metabolism. Exercise makes drugs like Vicodin pass more quickly through the body.
Testing for Vicodin
There are several ways to test for the presence of Vicodin in the body. All tests are essentially looking for hydrocodone, the drug’s active ingredient which gives Vicodin its sedative qualities.
One of the most convenient ways to test for Vicodin is administering a saliva test. It’s simple and offers quick results. However, it must be administered within a short amount of time after the drug was last taken, ideally within 12 to 36 hours.
Unfortunately, blood testing is an ineffective way to test for Vicodin and won’t produce any worthwhile results.
Requesting a urine sample is the most common way to test for the presence of Vicodin in the body. This is because it’s so simple to administer, but many believe that urine testing is actually unreliable and should be foregone in favor of other methods.
Testing a subject’s hair follicle for the presence of substances is thought to be the most effective way to administer a drug test. The only downside to hair testing is the window of time it takes for the results to appear. Often, it can take up to 10 days before conclusive results are returned. Still, many still think it’s worth the wait. Traces of Vicodin can be detected in hair follicles for 90 days following a single use.
How Vicodin Affects the Body
Vicodin is the combination of two unique substances: hydrocodone and acetaminophen. Both contribute to the overall effect of the prescription painkiller and affect the body in different ways.
Hydrocodone, the dominant substance, is what drug tests attempt to detect. Similar to morphine, it’s a pain reliever used for managing moderate to severe pain. It has also been proven to work as a cough suppressant. Acetaminophen is much more common than hydrocodone and is found in many over-the-counter products. It’s a fever reducer (or antipyretic) that also has some function as a severe pain reliever.
In general, the effects of hydrocodone are similar to the effects of drugs like morphine and heroin. When they enter the body, they influence opiate receptors that are in the spinal cord, gastrointestinal tract, and the brain. Once there, they start to affect the user with a series of chemical events.
Users will typically experience the following:
- Mild to moderate feelings of euphoria
- Sensations of relaxation and calmness
- Reduced pain
- Suppressed cough reflex
The side effects of Vicodin use are often unpleasant. It’s also worth noting that many users who abuse the substance will combine Vicodin with other drugs or alcohol, and in these cases the side effects tend to become enhanced. Combining Vicodin with other drugs also greatly increases the odds that an overdose will occur.
The most common side effects of Vicodin are:
- Intense dizziness or lightheadedness
- Foggy thinking
- Sensations of nausea
- Greatly slowed breathing
- Impaired judgment
- Fainting or loss of consciousness
There are numerous reasons why Vicodin is so widely abused. Because it’s prescribed by healthcare professionals, many assume that it’s not that dangerous. This is misguided. Vicodin and its component substances are powerful and over time have ruinous effects on both the mind and body.
When someone uses Vicodin for a long period of time, they will inevitably develop a tolerance. In these cases, the body becomes used to the substance and requires more to achieve the original effect. While tolerance is different than addiction, the two are related. When someone increases their tolerance to Vicodin, their chances of becoming addicted also increases.
Vicodin addiction occurs when the user feels compelled, both mentally and physically, to take the drug. Once a user becomes addicted, they will continue to use the substance despite various negative consequences that extend beyond the damage being done to their body. Their behavior will change, and it’s not uncommon for them to lie to pharmacists, steal Vicodin or things to sell for money, contact multiple doctors to establish overlapping prescriptions, and turn to shady dealers to buy black market painkillers.
Different Names for Vicodin
Vicodin is produced by multiple pharmaceutical companies and is often marketed with different names, though the base compounds tend to be the same. The following four are the most common names for the painkiller:
Except for Vicoprofen, the rest of these iterations are made from combinations of hydrocodone and acetaminophen. Vicoprofen is a combination of hydrocodone and ibuprofen, a similar substance.
Vicodin withdrawal occurs when long-term users attempt to rapidly reduce their intake or quit entirely. It only occurs for those who have developed a dependency, which can manifest both physically and psychologically. At the point of dependence, users require Vicodin to feel normal.
In many ways, Vicodin withdrawal symptoms are similar to those experienced by users withdrawing from heroin. The symptoms are unpleasant, and are often bad enough to warrant professional medical treatment.
Vicodin withdrawal symptoms may include:
- Mental changes, which may include intense anxiety, confusion, and irritability
- Cold-like symptoms which may include cold sweats, congestion, and high fever
- Poor sleeping patterns and a high chance of insomnia
- Intense physical reactions which may include nausea and vomiting, sweating, goosebumps, quick breathing, and general aches and pains throughout the body
As discussed above, the timeframe for Vicodin withdrawal is different from person to person. It is dependent on biological and environmental factors, and chiefly based on the strength of the user’s dependency. Symptoms will begin once the drug has left the body.
Typically, it takes between 1-2 weeks for a user to go through the withdrawal period. However, once withdrawal is complete it’s still possible to experience cravings for Vicodin. Drug addiction is incredibly psychological, and a desire for the drug may arise after years of non-use.
Post-Acute Withdrawal Syndrome
While many people going through withdrawal will stop experiencing the withdrawal symptoms within two weeks, some experience post-acute withdrawal syndrome (PAWS). This can last for weeks or months after the standard withdrawal symptoms cease.
During this time, the individual may continue to suffer from select withdrawal symptoms that may be incredibly difficult to endure. Those who are experiencing PAWS should be checked in to an inpatient drug rehab center in order to have medical supervision. It’s common for individuals, seeking to end the painful withdrawal symptoms, to relapse during this time.
Symptoms of Vicodin Overdose
It’s important to be aware of the symptoms of overdose in case you or someone you know might be experiencing them. In many cases, medical professionals will provide at-risk users with Naloxone, a rescue medication that can counteract the effects of an overdose before they become lethal. However, most people who are experiencing overdose symptoms are unable to treat themselves.
Some common symptoms associated with Vicodin overdose include:
- Overpowering sleepiness
- Slowed breathing
- Slowed heartbeat
- Clammy, cold skin
- Pupils that are either especially narrow or wide
- Muscle weakness
If you believe that you or someone you know are experiencing any of these symptoms, it’s vital to call 911 immediately. If you’re in the company of someone who is experiencing these symptoms, make sure that you watch them closely until medical help arrives.
Coping with Detox
Vicodin withdrawal symptoms are incredibly unpleasant, and it’s common that people going through the withdrawal process will relapse. Relapse provides an easy escape from the symptoms, but will only send users back into the cycle of addiction. You know the old maxim: If you’re going through hell, keep going.
The process of detoxing—removing the substance from your body and returning to normal function—can be made easier with a few common sense steps.
Getting a little bit of moderate exercise can help immensely. It can clear mental fog and help with some of the physical symptoms. While it’s common for people who are struggling with addiction to ignore their health, during detox it’s possible to reestablish healthy routines that can be continued into good health.
Some simple suggestions include:
- Brisk or light walking
- Yoga or stretching
While undergoing Vicodin detox, the body is attempting to repair itself. The bad substances are on the way out, and during this time it’s important to make sure good substances are going in. If you eat junk food, it will possibly hinder the process because your body will be denied the essential, helpful nutrients that it’s craving.
Eating healthy food is important, but it’s also critical that you drink plenty of water. Dehydration is common for people going through detox, and a state of dehydration can greatly enhance the unpleasant symptoms of withdrawal.
Removing Vicodin from your system can be deeply unpleasant, but it’s a worthy undertaking. Vicodin addiction does incredible damage to the body and mind. It’s possible to live a happy life free of dependency, but it takes commitment to the process of recovery to get us there.