Vicodin is a brand name medication that contains a combination of the prescription opioid hydrocodone and the nonprescription painkiller acetaminophen. Since it contains hydrocodone, the medication can produce symptoms of opioid addiction in people who misuse their prescriptions or take it without a prescription. People who go through Vicodin detox (detoxification) completely halt their intake of the medication. In dependent or addicted individuals, this process can trigger the onset of opioid withdrawal.
While not usually life-threatening, the symptoms of opioid withdrawal can be extremely uncomfortable. If you try to detox on your own, the physical and mental changes you experience can easily discourage your efforts and drive you to relapse back into active Vicodin abuse. For this reason, you should attempt to detox from Vicodin only under the guidance of a trained addiction specialist or other health professionals with plenty of experience with the detoxification process.
What Is Opioid Withdrawal?
When taken for long periods of time or in excessive amounts, hydrocodone and all other opioid substances can produce serious changes inside your brain that lead to the beginning of dependence or addiction. When people affected by dependence or addiction abruptly halt their use of Vicodin or any other opioid, they will typically experience withdrawal. Doctors use this one-word term to describe a range of symptoms that begin shortly after the addicted/dependent brain stops receiving its accustomed drug or medication intake.
Vicodin Withdrawal Symptoms
Vicodin withdrawal occurs in two distinct stages, and each of these stages produces its own typical grouping of symptoms. Taken together, these symptoms closely mimic the effects of a bad case of the flu. Early indicators of withdrawal commonly include:
- Achy joints or muscles
- Uncontrollable yawning
- High sweat output
- Watery eyes
- A runny nose, and
- An agitated or unusually anxious mental state
Common late-stage symptoms of opioid withdrawal include:
- Nausea and vomiting
- Pupil dilation
- Loose stools
- Cramping in the stomach or abdomen, and
- Goosebumps or gooseflesh
During both the early and late stages of withdrawal, people going through the process also typically experience mild, moderate or strong cravings for additional opioid use. Doctors often rely on a test called the Clinical Opiate Withdrawal Scale to measure the intensity of withdrawal symptoms, and thereby estimate the intensity of dependence/addiction. This test rates the severity of 11 specific early- and late-stage symptoms.
Vicodin Detox Treatments
The goal of Vicodin detox treatment is to ease the intensity of your symptoms and make you comfortable enough to successfully complete opioid withdrawal. There are several medication options used for this process. One commonly used medication, buprenorphine, is a relatively weak opioid. When given to a person going through withdrawal, it acts as a temporary stopgap that helps wean the brain from Vicodin while still providing enough opioid intake to limit the impact of cravings. Doctors often combine buprenorphine with a second medication called naloxone, which stops opioids from reaching the brain. This effect essentially limits buprenorphine’s window of activity and discourages medication abuse.
In later stages of the detoxification process, your doctor may also prescribe another medication called naltrexone. Like naloxone, naltrexone stops opioids from reaching your brain. During detox, it can help prevent a relapse by making opioid abuse seem much less appealing. Your doctor may also prescribe a medication called clonidine to help you cope with such withdrawal symptoms as achy or cramping muscles, excessive sweat production and anxiousness or mental agitation.
How Long Does Detox Last?
No one can tell in advance exactly how long the Vicodin detox process will last. However, several factors typically play a role in determining its length. The most critical factors are the span of time over which dependence/addiction has been present, the severity of dependence/addiction, the number of withdrawal symptoms present and the overall severity of withdrawal. As a general rule, a person who has abused Vicodin heavily or for many years will likely experience more serious withdrawal symptoms and remain in detox longer than a person who has only moderately abused the medication for a few months.
What Happens Next?
Detoxification is only the beginning of the recovery process for people addicted to Vicodin. The next phase of the process is an active treatment program that helps you understand the roots of abuse/addiction, helps you identify personal behaviors that promote abuse/addiction and shows you how to change these behaviors. The typical treatment program relies heavily on some form of counseling, and may also include continued medication use and participation in a mutual support group.
U.S. National Library of Medicine – MedlinePlus: Opiate and Opioid Withdrawal https://medlineplus.gov/ency/article/000949.htm
National Center for Biotechnology Information – Bookshelf: Drug Misuse – Opioid Detoxification http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK50618/
National Institute on Drug Abuse: Clinical Opiate Withdrawal Scale https://www.drugabuse.gov/sites/default/files/files/ClinicalOpiateWithdrawalScale.pdf