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Understanding the Side Effects of Hydrocodone

Learn more about the potential side effects of hydrocodone and how to find treatment for hydrocodone addiction.

All medication has the potential for some sort of undesirable effect on the human body. Sometimes these effects are minor, but other times they can be severe.

So understanding the intricate dynamics of medication and its effects on our bodies is a crucial part of health management. In this post, we shine the spotlight on hydrocodone. Hydrocodone is a popular medication used in pain management.

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What is Hydrocodone and How Does It Work?

Hydrocodone is an opioid medication. It is often used for the management of severe pain that cannot be controlled by other medications. Hydrocodone works by changing the way the brain and nervous system respond to pain.

How Hydrocodone Works

At the molecular level, hydrocodone binds to and activates opioid receptors in the brain. It also binds to receptors in the spinal cord and other organs in the body.

This, in turn, reduces the perception of pain and the emotional response to pain. In doing so, it provides relief to patients. But, it is this very mechanism that also triggers the side effects of hydrocodone.

In the following section, we’ll look at some of the most commonly reported side effects of hydrocodone.

side effects of hydrocodone

What are the Most Common Side Effects of Hydrocodone?

Hydrocodone, like many other powerful medications, is associated with a range of side effects. It’s important to note that not everyone will experience all these side effects.

The frequency and severity of these effects can vary based on the individual’s health status, dosage, and duration of use. Understanding the side effects of hydrocodone is a crucial step toward safe and effective pain management.

The side effects of hydrocodone are numerous, but some of the most commonly reported ones are detailed below.

Drowsiness and Fatigue

Drowsiness and fatigue are often among the most frequently reported side effects experienced by individuals taking this medication. It is estimated that this side effect impacts up to a third of users.

Hydrocodone impacts the central nervous system and can slow the brain’s activity. This causes drowsiness and fatigue. As the body adjusts to the medication, these side effects may diminish.

Nausea and Vomiting

These side effects of hydrocodone occur in about a quarter of users.

Hydrocodone, by acting on the opioid receptors in the brain, can stimulate the area postrema. This is the part of the brain responsible for inducing vomiting in response to toxic substances.


One of the most common hydrocodone side effects is constipation. It’s reported by up to a quarter of users.

Hydrocodone can slow the movement of the intestines and reduce the amount of fluid in the stool. This makes it harder and less frequent.

Lightheadedness and Dizziness

Hydrocodone can lower blood pressure and alter the balance mechanism in the brain. This leads to lightheadedness and dizziness

Dry Mouth

Dry mouth is another common side effect of hydrocodone. Hydrocodone can reduce the production of saliva, leading to this dry mouth condition.

Itching and Rash

These skin-related side effects are less frequent. But, they can still occur in lots of hydrocodone users.

This reaction is often due to a release of histamines, a type of immune response.

Confusion and Mental Fog

These cognitive side effects can occur in lots of hydrocodone users. They may be caused by hydrocodone’s interaction with the brain’s opioid receptors.

Euphoria and Mood Changes

Some users may experience these psychological side effects of hydrocodone. These can range from a mild sense of well-being to intense euphoria, particularly with higher doses.

These side effects, although less frequent, are particularly concerning. This is due to their potential to lead to misuse and addiction.

Less Common Side Effects

Some individuals may experience less common side effects. It’s crucial to report any unusual effects to a healthcare provider.

Moreover, there may also be manifestations of severe side effects of hydrocodone. These manifestations should be considered a medical emergency.

In the next section, we’ll explore these severe side effects of hydrocodone use.

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Severe Side Effects of Hydrocodone Use

So far, all the side effects of hydrocodone we’ve explored are relatively mild. But, as earlier mentioned, hydrocodone has the capacity to elicit some pretty severe side effects.

These side effects are less common than the ones discussed above. But, they are dangerous.

Below are some of these severe side effects:

Respiratory Depression

One of the most serious side effects of hydrocodone is respiratory depression. Respiratory depression is also known as slowed breathing.

This can occur because hydrocodone acts on the brain’s opioid receptors. This includes those that control breathing.

Extreme Oxygen Deprivation

In severe cases, this can lead to a lack of oxygen reaching the brain and other vital organs. This can, in turn, be life-threatening.

This side effect of hydrocodone is concerning in higher doses. It also occurs when the drug is misused or combined with other substances that depress the central nervous system.

Examples of such substances include alcohol and benzodiazepines.

Dependence and Addiction

Among the long-term side effects of hydrocodone is the potential for physical dependence and addiction.

With prolonged use, people may develop tolerance. This means they’ll require higher doses for the same pain relief. They may also become physically dependent. This means they’ll experience withdrawal symptoms when the drug is discontinued.

These side effects can lead to a cycle of misuse and addiction, with serious implications for an individual’s physical and mental health.


Overdose is one of the most severe and life-threatening side effects of hydrocodone. Symptoms can include:

  • Extreme drowsiness
  • Muscle weakness
  • Confusion
  • Cold and clammy skin
  • Pinpoint pupils
  • Slow heart rate
  • Low blood pressure
  • Coma
  • In extreme cases, death

This side effect is more likely when the drug is misused or combined with alcohol and benzodiazepine.

Severe Allergic Reaction

Although rare, severe allergic reactions to hydrocodone can occur. Symptoms may include a rash and itching/swelling (especially of the face/tongue/throat). They may also include severe dizziness and trouble breathing.

This is a potentially life-threatening side effect of hydrocodone and needs immediate medical attention.

Liver Damage

Some formulations of hydrocodone come combined with acetaminophen. When these formulations are taken in high doses, they can cause liver damage.

This is a potentially serious side effect of hydrocodone-combination products. Symptoms can include yellowing of the skin or eyes (jaundice), abdominal pain, nausea, and vomiting.

It’s crucial to understand that these serious side effects of hydrocodone are not exhaustive. Individuals may experience other serious effects. If you or someone else may be experiencing serious side effects of hydrocodone, it’s important to seek immediate medical attention.

What Specific Populations Are at Risk of Experiencing Hydrocodone Side Effects?

Certain populations may be more susceptible to the side effects of hydrocodone. This is due to several factors like age and pre-existing medical conditions.

Below are some of these specific populations:

Elderly Individuals

Older adults may be more susceptible to the side effects of hydrocodone. This increased susceptibility can be attributed to several factors.

They include:

  • Decreased organ function
  • Increased sensitivity to medications
  • The higher likelihood of concurrent medications

Specific Concerning Side Effects

There are some side effects of hydrocodone that may be more concerning in this population. They include:

  • Dizziness (increasing fall risk)
  • Confusion
  • Respiratory depression

Individuals with Respiratory Conditions

People with pre-existing respiratory conditions, such as asthma or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), may be more at risk of experiencing the respiratory depressant side effects of hydrocodone.

This can lead to increased difficulty in breathing or even respiratory failure in severe cases.

Individuals with Liver or Kidney Disease

Hydrocodone is metabolized in the liver and excreted by the kidneys. Therefore, people with impaired liver or kidney function may have a higher risk of experiencing side effects of hydrocodone. This is due to slower drug clearance.

This, in turn, leads to increased or prolonged drug effects. This is also the case for medications combined with hydrocodone, such as acetaminophen, which can cause liver damage in high doses.

Individuals with Mental Health Conditions

People with mental health disorders, particularly those with a history of substance misuse or addiction, may be at higher risk for abuse and dependency on hydrocodone.

Hydrocodone can also worsen certain mental health conditions like depression.

Pregnant and Nursing Women

Hydrocodone can cross the placenta and enter breast milk. This means it can affect an unborn baby or a nursing infant.

Hydrocodone dependence and withdrawal have been reported in newborns whose mothers took opioids consistently during pregnancy.

Individuals on Concurrent Medications

People who are on certain other medications may experience enhanced side effects of hydrocodone. This is particularly true for medications that also depress the central nervous system, such as:

  • Benzodiazepines
  • Muscle relaxants
  • Certain antidepressants
  • Alcohol

They can worsen side effects like respiratory depression, sedation, and confusion.

Note About These Populations

Do you fall into any of these populations? If you do, it is critical for you and your healthcare providers to be aware of the increased risk of the side effects of hydrocodone.

Through close monitoring and appropriate dose adjustments, the benefits of pain relief can be maximized while minimizing the potential side effects.

side effects of hydrocodone

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Prevention and Mitigation of Hydrocodone Side Effects

As seen above, the side effects of hydrocodone can be severe. But, the good news is there are ways to prevent and mitigate them.

Below are some of these approaches for reducing the side effects of hydrocodone:

Proper Dosage and Administration

The first step in preventing the side effects of hydrocodone is to use the medication as directed by a healthcare provider.

This includes not taking more than the prescribed dose or taking it more often than instructed. Misuse can increase the risk of serious side effects, including overdose and addiction.

Monitor for Side Effects

Regular monitoring for the side effects of hydrocodone can help catch any problems early, before they become serious.

This includes both self-monitoring by the patient for common side effects and regular check-ups with the healthcare provider to catch any signs of more serious side effects of hydrocodone.

Hydration and Fiber for Constipation

One of the common side effects of hydrocodone is constipation. Staying well-hydrated, eating a diet high in fiber, and regular physical activity can help prevent this. In some cases, a stool softener or a laxative might be recommended.

Care with Activities

Since the side effects of hydrocodone can include dizziness or drowsiness, it’s important to be careful when driving or operating machinery. If these side effects are severe, these activities should be avoided altogether.

Avoid Alcohol and Other CNS Depressants

Alcohol and other central nervous system depressants can enhance many of the side effects of hydrocodone. They can especially worsen those related to mental functioning and alertness, and can also increase the risk of overdose.

It’s recommended to avoid these substances while taking hydrocodone.

Prompt Communication with Healthcare Providers

If side effects do occur, prompt communication with the healthcare provider is crucial. They can provide advice on managing these side effects, adjust the dosage if needed, or switch to a different medication if the side effects are severe.

Regular Assessments for Long-Term Users

For people who need to use hydrocodone for a long period, regular assessments with the healthcare provider are important.

This can help monitor for any signs of tolerance, dependence, or addiction, some of the more serious side effects of hydrocodone. Regular reassessment of pain is also crucial in long-term use to ensure the medication is still needed and effective.

Tapering Off

If hydrocodone therapy needs to be stopped, it should be done gradually under the supervision of a healthcare provider to avoid withdrawal symptoms.

By employing these strategies, patients and healthcare providers can work together to prevent and manage the side effects of hydrocodone. Thus ensuring that the benefits of the medication in managing pain outweigh the potential risks.

Find Help for the Side Effects of Hydrocodone at Rockland Recovery

Do you suspect you’re currently suffering from the side effects of hydrocodone? Or maybe you’re looking for help on how to prevent these side effects. Rockland Recovery is here to help.

At Rockland Recovery, we offer a wide variety of treatments ranging from evidence-based clinical approaches to more holistic therapies aimed at helping heal the whole person.

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At Rockland Recovery, we’re committed to providing compassionate and effective addiction treatment services. We understand that reaching out for help is a significant step, and our team is here to guide you through every stage of your journey toward recovery.


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For additional information or to find addiction treatment and mental health services in your area, contact us directly or visit SAMSHA’s treatment locator. For immediate assistance, call or text 988 to reach the National Suicide & Crisis Lifeline or 855.732.4842 to speak to a Care Coordinator at Rockland Recovery.

Medical Reviewer Kate Perfetti, LADC II

Medically Reviewed by Kate Perfetti, LADC II

Kate is a Licensed Alcohol and Drug Counselor who has worked in the field of substance abuse for the last nine years. At Rockland Recovery, Kate works to provide resources to the local community and engage and progress Rockland Recovery’s alumni program.

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