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Vicodin is a pain-relief medication that combines acetaminophen (the over-the-counter pain reliever used in Tylenol) with hydrocodone bitartrate, a semi-synthetic opioid. Like all opioid-based pain relievers, Vicodin attaches itself to nerve receptors to increase the effects of endorphins in the body. This stimulates positive feelings and reduces anxiety and pain. Doctors frequently prescribe Vicodin for patients healing from surgery.
Unfortunately, since the body quickly becomes accustomed to increased-endorphin effects, prescription opiates also have high addiction potential. Over 4.3 million Americans are known to use opioid medications outside of official prescription instructions, and over 2 million suffer from full-blown addiction, meaning painful withdrawal symptoms if use is discontinued. Vicodin, because of its acetaminophen content, also carries a risk of liver damage with long-term use, especially when taken in conjunction with over-the-counter medications that contain additional acetaminophen.F
This article will educate readers on the specifics of Vicodin addiction, the typical withdrawal timeline and common vicodin withdrawal symptoms. It will also discuss medically recommended detox procedures, both in general and as used at Beach House Center for Recovery.
Vicodin: Overuse and Withdrawal Symptoms
Many medical professionals consider Vicodin an over-prescribed and under-regulated drug. The general public finds it relatively easy to obtain; around 20 percent of high school students have experimented with it.
Most patients who take prescribed Vicodin develop a certain level of physical dependence, to the point of noticing the sudden change in endorphin levels when usage ceases. (This can be emotionally and sometimes physically dangerous, so even non-addicted patients should discontinue medications under medical supervision.) However, genuine addiction (which usually includes going beyond official prescription instructions) may produce any number of unpleasant vicodin withdrawal symptoms upon sudden cessation.
Common initial symptoms include:
- Irritability and mood swings
- A sense of anxiety or confusion
- Intense psychological craving for more Vicodin
- Loss of appetite
- Physical aches and pains
- Cold or flu-like symptoms, including runny nose, heavy perspiration, chills and fever
Later in the vicodin withdrawal period, common symptoms include:
- Abdominal cramps
- Nausea and vomiting
- Severe fatigue
- Post-acute withdrawal syndrome (PAWS), which is characterized by mood swings, fatigue and concentration lapses over several weeks or months following initial withdrawal
Apart from PAWS (which not all patients experience), full Vicodin withdrawal typically takes from a week to 10 days, with the worst discomfort in the first half of the period. (The drug itself disappears from the body within eight hours of the last dose.)
The exact length of the vicodin withdrawal period may be affected by:
- Length of addiction period. The length of the withdrawal period tends to be directly proportional to the length of time a patient has been dependent on the drug.
- Level of tolerance. The withdrawal period will be longer, and the symptoms more severe, for a patient who has developed sufficient tolerance to take regular individual doses larger than standard prescription amounts.
- Psychological factors. The more intense the patient’s psychological (as opposed to purely physical) craving for Vicodin, the longer and more uncomfortable withdrawal will be.
- Method of detox. A patient who stops Vicodin cold, without using alternate medications to ease the detox experience, will experience a shorter but more painful withdrawal period.
Medical Protocol for Supervised Recovery
In any case, qualified medical supervision is important when entering voluntary Vicodin withdrawal. A licensed physician familiar with stoppage effects and risks will be able to recognize and quickly treat any physical dangers that manifest with the withdrawal effects. Detoxing at a medical center puts a patient in the best position for prompt meeting of individual needs, including psychological support and encouragement.
A medical doctor can also provide withdrawal-assistance medications appropriate to a patient’s situation. The medications commonly used in detox include:
- Naloxone (Narcan), usually restricted to emergency overdose treatment. Naloxone blocks opioids from binding to nerve receptors, cutting off the overdose effect before it can get worse.
- Buprenorphine, a partial opioid agonist that reduces vicodin withdrawal symptoms by providing nerve receptors with a safer version of the opioid effect.
In addition to chemical medications, patients undergoing detox may benefit from various alternate methods of pain relief, including mindfulness exercises, acupuncture and massage. Psychotherapy helps the patient understand the mechanics of craving and how to combat it.
Detoxing at Beach House
At Beach House Center for Recovery, clients in detox receive 24/7 medical care and oversight, including addiction-specific psychiatry, as part of an inclusive detox and treatment plan of care. Individual attention to each patient’s needs ensures effective detox and treatment, and significantly reduces the risks of relapse.
Our four-step detox approach includes:
- On-site admissions assessment. An intake specialist interviews the incoming patient to determine the best possible level of care and treatment procedures.
- Psychiatric assessment. Our medical team administers comprehensive physical and psychological evaluations to plan a detailed detox approach and follow-up treatment according to the patient’s needs.
- Tapering regimen. Once thoroughly informed on the patient’s unique medical profile and severity of vicodin addiction symptoms, our on-site medical team supervises detox, prescribing medications and other treatment as needed.
- Transition to residential rehab. Once the physical system is cleansed from Vicodin-related toxins, the patient moves to the residential-treatment section of Beach House. Here, recovering addicts are provided with therapy, individualized clinical regimens, and a supportive peer community to prepare them for transition back to the everyday world and an addiction-free life.