Vicodin Withdrawal Timeline, Symptoms and Treatment
Vicodin typically relieves pain for up to six hours, and medical professionals often prescribe this pain reliever for patients after surgery. Like any opioid pain medication, Vicodin can be addictive, and some patients build a tolerance to it. This means that the individual takes larger doses of Vicodin or does so compulsively without being able to stop. Physical dependence means that individuals will experience withdrawal symptoms when they stop taking the medication. Unlike other opioid pain relievers, Vicodin can be especially dangerous for the liver. Large doses of acetaminophen were found to cause severe allergic reactions and liver damage in many people, and several people who took over 325 mg of acetaminophen consistently often ended up in the emergency room due to overdose. The Food and Drug Administration changed their guidelines on acetaminophen products in 2011, especially on the amount of acetaminophen that can be used in prescription painkillers like Percocet (oxycodone) and Vicodin (hydrocodone). The limit was placed at 325 mg, but individuals taking these painkillers should also be wary of acetaminophen in over-the-counter cold and flu medications, to prevent overdose.
Vicodin Withdrawal Symptoms
Vicodin withdrawal symptoms are similar to those of other opioid pain medications. Typical withdrawal symptoms for Vicodin include:
- Psychological changes, like irritability, mood swings, anxiety, and confusion
- Appetite changes, like an increased craving for the drug and reduced sensation of hunger
- Physical symptoms, like tremors, enlarged pupils, nausea and vomiting, sweating, diarrhea, salivation, shivering or goosebumps, rapid breathing, and muscle aches or cramps
- Sleep disturbances, like restlessness, insomnia, or exhaustion
- Symptoms of a cold, like a runny nose, fever, sweating, chills, and nasal congestion
The predicted average timeline for Vicodin withdrawal symptoms to end, or significantly dissipate, is 7-10 days. That being said, in some cases, certain symptoms can last for weeks or months, especially psychological symptoms. Like many drug addictions, cravings for Vicodin may suddenly occur years after the individual has stopped taking the drug. Vicodin’s half-life is about four hours, so the drug leaves the body completely after about eight hours. Once the drug begins to leave the body, withdrawal symptoms begin.
Vicodin withdrawal can be a very individual process. While the worst of the withdrawal symptoms most likely end within 1-2 weeks, it is difficult to estimate the timeline accurately for each individual person.
Some people experience a syndrome called PAWS, or post-acute withdrawal syndrome. This condition can last for weeks or months during which the individual suffers other withdrawal symptoms. This difficult condition makes detox psychologically difficult to endure, and it is difficult to estimate when it will end. Those who experience PAWS are best served in inpatient addiction treatment where 24-hour medical supervision and support is available to aid in relapse prevention. There are several factors that can affect the amount of time an individual experiences withdrawal symptoms. These factors include:
Length of Use
If a person took the drug for a few weeks as prescribed, withdrawal symptoms will be minimal, if they occur at all. If a person developed a tolerance for the drug or became addicted to the medication, and took it compulsively for years, withdrawal will be more acute.
When a person develops a tolerance for Vicodin, like other opioid painkillers, the person must take more to feel the same effects from the drug. Additionally, the original prescription may have specified a large dose for a particular medical reason. When the person begins to withdraw from Vicodin, withdrawal symptoms will generally be worse if the body is used to large amounts of the medication, compared to smaller doses.
When a person suffers from Vicodin addiction, rather than just tolerance, the psychological compulsiveness involved in addiction will make withdrawal symptoms worse. The person must overcome the psychological, as well as the physical, need to take the drug. This can also make physical symptoms feel more difficult to endure.
Method of Stopping Use
When a person tries to quit any opioid medication, such as Vicodin, cold turkey without help, the person will likely experience withdrawal symptoms more severely. Medical detox is recommended to make the process more comfortable. In some instances, replacement medications like buprenorphine or methadone may be used to aid the withdrawal process on a longer-term basis. The use of any medication is determined on an individual basis. Additionally, psychological support from therapists, nurses, and other staff members, can radically help clients during the detox process.
Naloxone/NarcanNaloxone, often used under the brand name Narcan, has become prominent in the opioid addiction treatment realm. Many states have passed laws allowing emergency room doctors and emergency services professionals to administer naloxone to people suffering from opioid overdose. With prescription painkiller abuse and addiction being called an epidemic in the US, more lawmakers are trying to find ways to lower the number of lives lost due to overdose.
Naloxone stops the brain, temporarily, from soaking up the opioid medication by binding to those receptors faster than opioids can. In current incarnations, however, naloxone is a temporary solution that stops symptoms of overdose for long enough to get the individual to the hospital for treatment. In many cases, naloxone does not stop the overdose, because the medication leaves the body faster than opioids do. So, if a person suffers an overdose of Vicodin, naloxone can be administered to halt the overdose and get that person to the hospital.
This means that naloxone is not used in clinical settings to address withdrawal symptoms. However, government regulatory agencies are considering this possibility because naloxone has, so far, not shown to have any side effects, and is not addictive.
Other Methods for Treating Vicodin Addiction
If a person struggling with Vicodin addiction enters inpatient detox and rehabilitation, clinicians may use buprenorphine or methadone to ease withdrawal symptoms. As partial opioid agonists, these medicals essential make the body think it is still getting the opiates it has become accustomed to, preventing withdrawal from kicking in. Oftentimes, individuals received lowered doses of these medications over time until they are drug-free.
Non-drug therapies exist that can help ease Vicodin withdrawal symptoms. Methods like meditation, massage, or acupuncture may help the detox process in various ways. By helping the person to be relaxed and comfortable through detox, via these complementary therapies, the process can feel more manageable. In addition, the 24-hour support that is available through medical detox can help the individual to resist the urge to relapse to Vicodin when withdrawal feels tough.