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What Are the Side Effects of Vicodin Abuse?

Vicodin is a popular prescription drug in the United States for the relief of moderate to severe pain. While Vicodin is an effective pain reliever, it does have side effects and a high potential for abuse. Today, we’ll examine Vicodin’s short- and long-term risks.

Vicodin: What It Is and Why It’s So Addictive

Vicodin is a combination of acetaminophen and hydrocodone. Both are pain relievers, but each works differently to lessen pain. Acetaminophen relieves pain without steroids or addiction risk. Hydrocodone is a synthetic opioid painkiller and depressant.

How Vicodin Causes Abuse and Addiction

Vicodin is so addictive because of the way it affects the brain’s reward center or the part of the brain that makes us feel good when we win a game, eat, or do something we like.

Vicodin causes dopamine to be released in very large amounts. This causes intense feelings of happiness, followed by intense lows. When Vicodin is taken for a long time, the brain stops releasing normal amounts of dopamine, and then it relies on the drug to do it instead.

The intense lows experienced when the drug wears off can result in a person needing to take Vicodin to feel normal.

The Short-Term Effects of Vicodin Abuse

Vicodin’s short-term effects are the same for everyone, whether they’re taking the drug on a prescription basis or using it recreationally. These effects include:

  • Relief of pain
  • A feeling of euphoria
  • Coordination problems
  • Dizziness
  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Slowed heart rate
  • Muscle pain
  • Nausea and vomiting

Overdose is also considered a short-term effect because it can occur even when Vicodin is taken at low doses.

The Long-Term Effects of Vicodin Abuse

Just as with Vicodin’s short-term effects, its long-term effects are generally the same, whether the drug is being used as prescribed or not. Addiction is typically the catalyst for these long-term effects.

Acetaminophen Dangers

In addition to being a mild pain reliever, acetaminophen also causes liver damage when taken for long periods. The fact that there are 300 to 325 milligrams of acetaminophen in each Vicodin tablet, coupled with the fact that general prescription instructions are to take one pill every four to six hours make it easy to see these liver damage dangers.1

Effects on the Brain

Other long-term effects are directly related to how the drug changes the brain and the body. For example, coming down from Vicodin can cause intense bouts of depression with long-term use, causing worsening mental health.

A person’s brain function, including their intelligence and memory, can also decrease significantly with long-term Vicodin use. Pregnancy complications leading to preterm labor and birth defects are other known effects of long-term use, as are stillbirths and miscarriages.

Other long-term effects are:

  • Cardiovascular problems
  • Feelings of apathy
  • Relationship and work difficulties
  • Endangering others or oneself to acquire more of the drug
  • Engaging in illegal activity to acquire more of the drug

When to Seek Help

If you’ve experienced two or more of the following signs and symptoms of Vicodin abuse within 12 months of taking Vicodin, it’s important to seek help as soon as possible to reduce the risks of further damage:

  • Having relationship problems directly related to Vicodin use, but continuing to take it
  • Taking a dose that’s higher than prescribed
  • Taking Vicodin for longer than prescribed
  • Experiencing urges or cravings to take Vicodin
  • Trying to quit, but being unable to
  • Inability to meet school, home, or work obligations
  • Needing more Vicodin to get the same relief
  • Abandoning previously enjoyed activities in order to use Vicodin
  • Repeated use, despite becoming involved in dangerous situations because of Vicodin

If you experience two or more of the above symptoms of Vicodin addiction, you will likely require addiction treatment to quit the drug due to the chemical dependence it causes.

Types of Treatment for Vicodin Addiction

Adelante Recovery Center’s detox program is administered by a specialized medical team that helps to minimize Vicodin withdrawal symptoms in a safe place and motivates you to continue your recovery journey.

Should you feel you need treatment beyond the detox stage, our inpatient residential treatment program allows you to focus on recovery from substance abuse as you live on-site and receive care and monitoring around the clock.

Vicodin is an addictive drug that negatively affects the lives of patients and their families. If you or someone you love is struggling with drug abuse or co-occurring disorders, Adelante Recovery Center can help. Call (949) 427-9099 today.


  1. https://www.addictioncenter.com/opiates/hydrocodone-addiction/vicodin/

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