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Demystifying the Medicine Cabinet: What is Hydrocodone?

What is hydrocodone? We’ll discuss extensively how hydrocodone works in the body, and what some potential side effects and risks of hydrocodone usage are.

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What is Hydrocodone?

In this article, we’ll answer the question “what is hydrocodone?” Hydrocodone use has risen in recent years, and it is imperative to understand what the substance is and how it works.

Hydrocodone is a powerful substance that’s a common feature in many medicine cabinets. Yet, its uses, effects, and risks are often less understood.

Furthermore, in exploring  “what is hydrocodone?”, we’ll also talk about potential alternative treatments for hydrocodone usage. We will also explain some prescription and administrative guidelines for hydrocodone usage.

What is Hydrocodone?

What is Hydrocodone?: What Kind of Drug is It?

So, what is hydrocodone? Hydrocodone is an opioid pain reliever. It’s also sometimes combined with other materials to help reduce coughing. Opioids are a class of drugs that include the illegal drug heroin and synthetic opioids such as fentanyl.

This class also includes pain relievers, such as oxycodone and many others. Opioids work by interacting with opioid receptors on nerve cells in the body and the brain.

While opioids can effectively treat pain, they also come with serious risks and the potential for misuse. They must be used under the supervision of a healthcare provider.

What is Hydrocodone?: How Does Hydrocodone Work in The Body?

Hydrocodone operates by altering the way your brain responds to pain. This change is achieved by the substance binding to the opioid receptors in your brain and spinal cord.

When hydrocodone attaches to these receptors, it can effectively block the transmission of pain signals sent from the body through the spinal cord to the brain.

In essence, hydrocodone doesn’t eliminate the condition causing the pain. Rather, it changes the perception of pain in the brain, making it more tolerable to the patient.

What Is Hydrocodone Used For?

Hydrocodone is beneficial in situations where non-opioid painkillers have proven insufficient. It’s also frequently used for those suffering from chronic conditions, such as cancer.

However, because of the way hydrocodone works, it has a potential for misuse and dependency. It can create feelings of pleasure or euphoria in addition to pain relief. This can also lead to people seeking it out for non-medical uses.

Understanding what hydrocodone is and how it works in the body is crucial for its effective and safe use. Note that as a potent pain reliever, hydrocodone can provide significant relief for those suffering from severe pain, but it must be used responsibly due to the risk of dependency and misuse.

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What Is Hydrocodone?: Potential Side Effects And Risks

The potential side effects and risks associated with hydrocodone use are as follows:

Common Side Effects

The most common side effects of hydrocodone involve the gastrointestinal and nervous systems. These effects can include nausea, vomiting, constipation, drowsiness, dizziness, and lightheadedness.

If these symptoms persist or worsen, it’s essential to reach out to your healthcare provider.

Serious Side Effects

While these are less common, they can occur and may require immediate medical attention. They include mental or mood changes, as well as severe stomach or abdominal pain.

They may also include signs of your adrenal glands not working well or shallow breathing.

Allergic Reactions

What is hydrocodone’s role in allergic reactions? It’s relatively rare, but hydrocodone can cause serious allergic reactions. Symptoms can include rash, itching, swelling, severe dizziness, and trouble breathing.

Substance Use Disorder

Hydrocodone carries the risk of addiction and abuse, which can lead to overdose and death. This risk is higher if you have a substance use disorder (such as an addiction to drugs or alcohol).

The medication should be taken exactly as prescribed by a healthcare provider to reduce risks.

Dependence and Withdrawal

Long-term use of hydrocodone can lead to physical dependence. This means that if a person suddenly stops using the drug, they may experience withdrawal symptoms.

These symptoms can include restlessness, watering eyes, runny nose, or nausea.

Interactions With Other Medications

Hydrocodone may interact with other drugs to cause various side effects. It can cause dangerous effects when used with alcohol. This risk may be higher if hydrocodone is used with certain medications like benzodiazepines.

Overdose Risks

Overdose can occur if a person takes more hydrocodone than prescribed. Signs of overdose include slow breathing, severe drowsiness, and muscle weakness. They may also include pinpoint pupils, slow heartbeat, coma, and potential death.

Impact on Pregnancy and Breastfeeding

Pregnant women should avoid using hydrocodone, as it can harm a developing fetus. Hydrocodone may also pass into breast milk, which can potentially harm a nursing infant.

What Is Hydrocodone?: Are There Specific Medical Precautions For Individuals?

It’s important to only take hydrocodone as prescribed. Your doctor will assess your medical history and determine if hydrocodone is right for you. Also, it’s important to be aware of your own physical health.

Here are some specific medical conditions to be aware of for hydrocodone use:

  • Respiratory disorders: Hydrocodone can depress respiratory function. This makes it dangerous for individuals with existing respiratory problems.
  • Liver or kidney disease: Hydrocodone is metabolized by the liver and excreted by the kidneys. Individuals with liver disease may not metabolize as efficiently. This could lead to toxic levels in the body.
  • Brain disorders: Hydrocodone could exacerbate these conditions due to its effects on the central nervous system.
  • Allergies: Anyone who has had an allergic reaction to hydrocodone should not use the drug.

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What Is Hydrocodone Dangerous to Use With?

Interactions can occur when hydrocodone is used with certain other medications. These potential interactions can lead to changes in the effectiveness of the drug.

It can also increase the risk of adverse side effects. Here are some of the most notable potential interactions:


Hydrocodone interacts with medications that depress the central nervous system (CNS), such as benzodiazepines. Combining these substances can increase the risk of respiratory depression and even death.

Serotonergic Drugs

Combining hydrocodone with serotonergic drugs can lead to a life-threatening condition called serotonin syndrome.

MAO Inhibitors

Hydrocodone should not be used in individuals who have taken monoamine oxidase (MAO) inhibitors within the last couple of weeks, as the combination can lead to dangerous drug interactions.


Mixing hydrocodone with alcohol can lead to serious and potentially fatal side effects. Both substances depress the central nervous system. They slow breathing and potentially lead to a loss of consciousness.

Also, combining these two substances can increase the risk of other side effects, such as dizziness.

Other Opioids

Using hydrocodone in conjunction with other opioids can also increase the risk of adverse effects. The risk is so great that combining opioids is generally avoided unless under strict medical supervision.

Certain Antidepressants

Certain antidepressants can interact with hydrocodone, which can cause symptoms such as agitation, hallucinations, and muscle twitching.

Anticholinergic Drugs

These drugs can increase the risk of urinary retention when taken with hydrocodone.

Certain Antibiotics

Some antibiotics and antifungal medications can increase the levels of hydrocodone in the body.

CYP3A4 Inhibitors

Some drugs inhibit an enzyme in the body known as CYP3A4. This is responsible for breaking down certain drugs, including hydrocodone. If hydrocodone is taken with a CYP3A4 inhibitor, it can result in higher levels of hydrocodone in the blood.

What Is Hydrocodone?: Hydrocodone Prescription And Administration

It is essential to understand that hydrocodone is only available on prescription. It’s often administered orally, and it comes in various forms. This may include tablet, capsule, and liquid forms.

Hydrocodone is often combined with other non-opioid pain relievers, which can increase its effectiveness.

Dosage Guidelines for Hydrocodone

The dosage of hydrocodone will depend on the individual patient’s needs, but there are some general guidelines.

For adults taking hydrocodone for pain, the typical dosage may start at one to two tablets every four to six hours as needed for pain.

The tablets typically contain hydrocodone plus acetaminophen or ibuprofen. Dosages for the extended-release versions are usually higher. They are typically taken once every 12 hours.

What Is Hydrocodone’s Maximum Dosage?

The maximum daily dose should not exceed 40 milligrams for patients not tolerant to opioids. In opioid-tolerant people, the daily dose may be higher but should still be taken under the direction of a doctor. Additionally, the combined amount of acetaminophen should not exceed 4000 milligrams.

Patients must never exceed the dosage recommended by their healthcare provider as hydrocodone can be addictive. It may also lead to serious health complications if misused.

It’s important to avoid alcohol while taking this medication. It can increase the risk of liver damage, especially if combined with acetaminophen.

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What Is Hydrocodone?: Alternative Pain Management Options To Hydrocodone

Though effective, there are concerns about hydrocodone’s potential for dependence and other side effects. This makes it imperative to consider alternative pain management options, such as:

Acetaminophen (Tylenol)

This over-the-counter medication can be used for mild to moderate pain. It can be combined with other medications for enhanced pain relief. It has fewer side effects compared to hydrocodone, but high doses can lead to liver damage.

Non-Steroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drugs (NSAIDs)

NSAIDs, such as ibuprofen, are used for mild to moderate pain and inflammation. They are non-narcotic, so they do not pose a risk of addiction, unlike hydrocodone.

However, long-term use can lead to gastrointestinal issues and kidney problems. They can also increase the risk of heart disease.

Physical Therapy

This non-drug approach uses exercises, massage, and other techniques to manage pain. It can be effective for chronic pain and can promote better physical function.

Compared to what is hydrocodone and how it can affect your body, physical therapy poses no risk of addiction but requires time and effort. It may also not provide immediate relief.

Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT)

This helps change the perception and impact of pain on quality of life. It does not have  the risk of side effects associated with hydrocodone, but its effectiveness can vary among individuals.

Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation (TENS)

This device uses low-voltage electrical currents to relieve pain. It is non-addictive and can provide significant pain relief, but it may not be effective for everyone.

What Is Hydrocodone? Are There Other Alternative Pain Management Options to Hydrocodone?

If you feel that the above-mentioned alternative pain management options are insufficient, consider speaking to your doctor about these other alternatives to manage pain:


This is another opioid, but it is considered less potent than hydrocodone. It can manage moderate to severe pain but carries a lower risk of dependence. Still, it can cause side effects similar to other opioids.

Gabapentin and Pregabalin

These medications are primarily used for nerve pain, like that caused by diabetes. Compared to hydrocodone, they are non-addictive. However, they can cause side effects such as dizziness.

Nerve Blocks and Epidural Injections

These involve injecting medication directly into or around the nerves to block pain signals. They can provide immediate and significant pain relief but also carry certain risks.

Alternative Therapies

This includes acupuncture, chiropractic adjustments, yoga, and meditation. They can be effective for some individuals and do not pose a risk of addiction. However, their efficacy varies among individuals and types of pain.

Antidepressants and Anticonvulsants

Some antidepressants and anticonvulsants are used off-label for chronic pain management. They can be effective and are non-addictive, but they can cause side effects like fatigue, weight gain, and dry mouth.

what is hydrocodone

What Is Hydrocodone?: How Rockland Recovery Helps You

Are you looking for help with hydrocodone substance use disorder? If you are, then treatment at Rockland Recovery can give you the support you need. Rockland Recovery stands out when it comes to helping people recover from substance use disorders.

At Rockland Recovery, we offer a combination of evidence-based and holistic therapies handled by a team of experienced medical professionals. Don’t let hydrocodone addiction halt your progress in life. We will ensure you’ll receive the best possible treatment.

Rockland Recovery Tailors to the Individual

At Rockland Recovery, our treatments are individualized, meaning they’ll be tailored to your specific needs. Our professional staff ensures you are helped in managing your symptoms.

In addition to evidence-based therapy and medication-assisted therapy, we offer an array of other options for your health and well-being. Pain relief is possible with our help, and we will help you through every step of the recovery process.

Take the first step towards recovery and contact us today.

Contact Rockland Recovery Treatment Centers

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.


Rockland Recovery is a leader in addiction treatment and mental health care. Our multidisciplinary team of top medical experts is committed to addressing the unique needs of each patient. Reach out to us anytime – we are available 24/7.

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 Counselo