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Signs and Symptoms of Hydrocodone Abuse

Older adults have a higher risk of accidental misuse or abuse because they break down drugs in their systems at a slower rate and frequently have multiple prescriptions. This increases the risk of drug interactions. Hydrocodone is more likely to cause breathing problems in older adults and people who are severely ill, malnourished or otherwise debilitated.1

Short-term effects: Pain relief, drowsiness, nausea, constipation, stomach pain, dry mouth, itching, swelling in hands or feet, muscle pain, back pain, diffuse muscle weakness, cold symptoms (e.g. congestion or sore throat), headache, dizziness, euphoria, anxiety/dysphoria, insomnia, nightmares, confusion, slowed breathing and death. The long-term effects are unknown, although acetaminophen by itself can cause liver damage or failure.1,2,3

High doses: This can result in an overdose. Signs of hydrocodone abuse include any of the following:

  • Slow or irregular heartbeat
  • Chest pain or discomfort
  • Irregular, fast, slow or shallow breathing
  • Severe drowsiness
  • Muscle weakness
  • Increased sweating
  • Cold and clammy skin
  • Pale skin
  • Pinpoint pupils
  • Blurred vision
  • Confusion
  • Change in consciousness
  • Decreased awareness or responsiveness
  • Dizziness, faintness or lightheadedness
  • Sleepiness or unusual drowsiness2,3

Even when taken as prescribed, serious hydrocodone side effects may occur. Stop using hydrocodone and call your physician if you experience any of the following symptoms:

  • Weak or shallow breathing
  • Pain or burning during urination
  • Bowel obstruction
  • Slow or irregular heartbeat
  • Severe allergic reaction such as rash, hives, itching or swelling
  • Bloating or swelling of the face, arms, hands, lower legs or feet
  • Vomiting
  • Confusion
  • Tremors
  • Severe drowsiness
  • A lightheaded feeling, like you might faint
  • Infertility or missed menstrual periods
  • Impotence, sexual problems or loss of interest in sex
  • Low cortisol levels: nausea, vomiting, loss of appetite, dizziness, worsening fatigue or weakness
  • Liver damage or failure
  • Sensorineural hearing loss2,3

Symptoms of serotonin syndrome include agitation, hallucinations, fever, sweating, shivering, fast heart rate, muscle stiffness, twitching, loss of coordination, nausea, vomiting or diarrhea. This is considered a medical emergency so anyone experiencing symptoms unrelated to an underlying illness or condition should seek help right away.3

Symptoms of Opioid Use Disorder

Serious behavioral side effects of hydrocodone may fall under the classification of opioid use disorders.

  • A strong desire to use opioids
  • Inability to control or reduce use
  • Continued use despite interference with major obligations or social functioning
  • Need to increase dosage over time
  • Development of tolerance
  • Spending a great deal of time obtaining and using opioids
  • Withdrawal symptoms after stopping or reducing use4
  1. Commonly Abused Drugs Charts. National Institute on Drug Abuse website. https://www.drugabuse.gov/drugs-abuse/commonly-abused-drugs-charts Updated January 2016. Accessed January 16, 2017.
  2. The Effects of Hydrocodone Use. Drug Abuse website. http://drugabuse.com/library/the-effects-of-hydrocodone-use/ Accessed January 16, 2017.
  3. Hydrocodone. Drugs website. https://www.drugs.com/hydrocodone.html Accessed January 16, 2017.
  4. Substance Use Disorders. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration website. https://www.samhsa.gov/disorders/substance-use Published October 27, 2015. Accessed January 16, 2017.
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