Last Updated on January 24, 2017 by Morris Green
Opioids are among the most commonly abused prescription drugs. Prescription painkillers like OxyContin, Codeine, and Vicodin may be beneficial in masking pain, but their opioid nature makes them dangerously addictive. What is the reality of Vicodin addiction in particular? What sets it apart from other addictions, and what does it look like?
Gregory House Illustrates Vicodin Addiction
The show was called House. It was an American television series starring Hugh Laurie that, according to IMDB.com, ran from 2004 to 2012. Laurie’s character, Gregory House, was an antisocial maverick doctor capable of diagnosing the most bizarre cases by doing whatever it took to solve the puzzle. He was witty, sarcastic, and strangely likable despite his abrasiveness. And House was an addict.
The actor behind House, Hugh Laurie, openly admitted to experimenting with Vicodin to “get closer to the character.” Speaking about his experience, Laurie told Britain’s Radio Times magazine in 2008, “I wouldn’t recommend it – we have to be careful. But then again … if you’re not in pain it gives a floaty, pleasurable feeling.”
In 2011, just one year before the series ended its eight-year run, the UK’s Daily Mail reported an all-time high in the number of Americans using Vicodin. The publication reported that over the previous five years, Vicodin use increased by 19 million prescriptions.
While at first glance the character of House might seem cool and his addiction merely a minor means of controlling pain and experiencing pleasure, a deeper look paints a very different picture. The addiction undertones slowly lead to a huge blowout where House’s addiction methodically destroys all he holds dear. Late episodes within the series confront withdrawal and recovery head-on, and it’s not a pretty picture. At times, it’s nearly impossible to tell where his hallucinations end and reality begins.
The Reality of Abusing Vicodin
Is Vicodin really addictive, or did House exaggerate its impact? Vicodin is a narcotic. It can mask pain like morphine and create a euphoric high like heroin. Its ingredients include pure hydrocodone, a Schedule II substance that is closely controlled and very restricted. The vast majority of prescription drugs on the market have small amounts of pure hydrocodone mixed with other non-narcotic ingredients. Vicodin is one, which makes it a Schedule III substance available under fewer use and distribution restrictions.
Vicodin is readily available and easy to get thanks to its medical status. Although regulated by state and federal law, it’s not as controlled as other powerful painkillers. The lack of regulations makes it easy to score a prescription for extended periods of time, and it’s not difficult to simply switch doctors to keep the prescriptions coming.
As a person uses Vicodin, even when sticking to the recommended dosage and use instructions, the body builds a tolerance. When a dose is missed, or a person tries to stop without tapering down the dosage, withdrawal symptoms begin. They can include:
- Restlessness and uncontrollable leg movements
- Insomnia, difficulty sleeping, and nightmares
- Waking hallucinations
- Pain in the muscles and bones
- Feeling cold
- Nausea and vomiting
Abusing Vicodin by taking it for unapproved uses, such as recreationally, is flirting with addiction. But people who take the drug for legitimate purposes can just as easily develop a dependence, whether physical, psychological, or both.
Never Say It Won’t Be You
Did you know some of the people most at-risk of addiction are the last you would expect? For example, veterans suffering from PTSD and co-existing conditions requiring pain medication are some of the most at-risk of developing an addiction to Vicodin or a similar drug.
How does Vicodin addiction impact everyday life? Much like the cycle of heroin abuse, Vicodin addiction demands food in the form of the drug. If a dose is missed or skipped, the addict begins to feel withdrawal. Symptoms can mimic a harsh onset of the flu or a cold. The user becomes solely concerned with getting their needed fix. Family, social, academic, and professional obligations all take a backseat.
What is Vicodin used to treat? Vicodin is primarily used to relieve moderate to severe pain stemming from surgery, injury, or a dental procedure. The drug is sometimes prescribed to treat cases of chronic pain, migraines, and other types of long-term and painful conditions. But Vicodin has some off-the-cuff uses that are not medically approved, such as use to treat coughing, anxiety, and insomnia.
What are the side effects of Vicodin? Aside from the high risk of medication interaction with other narcotics, sleep aids, muscle relaxers, sedatives and tranquilizers, and drugs that affect serotonin levels, Vicodin has a list of potential side effects. The most common experienced by the average patient include:
- Blurred vision
- Dry mouth
- Upset stomach
The less common and more alarming side effects that warrant a call to a doctor include:
- Shallow breathing and slowed heart rate
- Unusual thoughts, confusion, or odd behaviors
- Seizures or convulsions
- Impotence and decreased sex drive
- For women, infertility and missed menstrual periods
- Ease of bruising and easy bleeding similar to that of anemia
- Liver problems manifesting as jaundice, clay-colored stools, dark urine, nausea, loss of appetite, upper stomach pain, itching all over the body
- Low cortisol levels showing as dizziness, tiredness or weakness worsening to chronic fatigue, loss of appetite, vomiting
In very rare cases, the acetaminophen contained in Vicodin can trigger a severe and fatal skin reaction. If the skin turns red or a rash appears and spreads causing blisters or peeling, discontinue use of the drug and seek immediate medical assistance.
Hollywood vs. Real Life
House M.D. was a wildly popular television series with a dedicated fanbase. But the glimpse it gave audiences into Vicodin addiction was just that – a glimpse. Hollywood’s version versus real life is dramatically different. As Laurie said in his interview, “We have to be careful.” There are viable medical uses for Vicodin, but even those do not discount its addictive properties.
If you or someone you love suspects addiction to Vicodin, talk to a qualified professional. Vicodin abuse can easily bridge into a full-blown heroin problem. Learn more about the signs of heroin abuse here.
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