People in chronic, unrelenting pain have lives that are hard for outsiders to even comprehend. Every little move they make may cause them burning, searing, grinding pain, and that discomfort stays with them at night, so they can’t get the rest they need in order to heal. They may not have the energy to make friends, connect with family members, or engage in a hobby, as all of their time is spent simply trying to move about from place to place without bursting into tears. Pain medications like Vicodin are designed to soothe that pain and make life just a bit more worthwhile. But a significant amount of research suggests that these medications act upon parts of the body and brain that have nothing to do with pain. In time, people who take Vicodin may move from soothing pain with the drug to boosting the value of life with that medication, and these people may need long-term help in order to recover from their addictions.
What Is Vicodin?
Vicodin is capable of delivering powerful relief due to its drug/drug combination. Each dose contains acetaminophen, which is made to dull a signal of pain. That medication is accompanied by a kick of hydrocodone, which is an opiate that boosts a signal of pleasure in the brain.
People who take Vicodin may have a reduced experience of pain, and that’s paired with an enhanced feeling of pleasure and well-being. They just feel better, and they’re more capable of handling the tasks that life tosses in their direction. In a study of the issue, in the journal Clinical Pharmacology and Therapeutics, researchers found that the hydrocodone/acetaminophen combination provided a great deal of relief to patients undergoing abdominal or gynecologic surgeries, and that the relief was far superior to the pain relief people got when they took a plain sugar pill. Clearly, these pills can and do remain helpful for people who have very serious forms of pain.
But the inclusion of hydrocodone in a Vicodin pill is problematic, as this ingredient’s ability to boost signals of pleasure can become addictive for some people. They may take the drug, at first because they have a painful condition that needs soothing. But in time, they may take the drug for a completely different set of symptoms.
Progression to Addiction
It’s hard to know how many people move from pain control to addiction, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, as estimates vary from about three percent to about 40 percent. Similarly, it’s hard to make appropriate generalizations about why people abuse their medications, as most people have individualized reasons for their drug abuse habits. But many people who do develop an addiction follow a predictable set of steps. In the beginning, people take the drug for the relief from pain that it brings, and they follow the instructions for those drugs to the letter. In time, however, they find that they crave the drug, even when they’re not in pain. When they feel low, they want the drug.
When they’re dealing with a shock, they want the drug. When they’re heading to a party, they want the drug. People often begin to take liberties with their prescriptions by:
- Taking doses at random times
- Taking pills one right after the other
- Chewing or crushing the pills
- Asking for more pills when they run out
Abusing Vicodin in this manner is intensely dangerous, as the acetaminophen in each tablet must be processed by the liver. People who take in huge doses of the drug on a regular basis can do a significant amount of damage to that organ in no time at all, and sometimes that damage is impossible to recover from. Similarly, a study in the journal Pain Medicine suggests that many people who lean on prescription painkillers like Vicodin develop depression, or they have depression caused by chronic pain, and their drug use augments that depression and increases the risk of suicide. That’s a very serious problem, as people who feel low and sad and who take Vicodin might use those prescription pills in order to make an attempt on their own lives. Some do, and they don’t survive the episode. In addition, experts quoted by The New York Times suggest that long-term treatment of pain with prescription drugs like Vicodin can lead to a slew of other problems, including sleep apnea, lethargy, and a reduction in hormone production. These additional health ills could drive a person back to Vicodin abuse, as the substance may be the only thing that brings a person joy.
Help for Addiction
People who are addicted to Vicodin often need help with the recovery process, as the early days of recovery come with a slew of flu-like symptoms, including:
- Muscle pain
At the same time, these people may face an intense craving for Vicodin, and that feeling of need may persist for weeks, if not months.
Therapy can help people to understand their cravings and develop tools that can keep a relapse from taking hold, but that therapy must begin in the immediate aftermath of withdrawal, so people don’t get sober only to get high minutes later.
Pain Control in Recovery
While people do need to leave Vicodin behind in order to get an addiction under control (there’s no real way to pair sobriety with continued drug use), this doesn’t mean that people must live with their pain without getting any kind of relief. In fact, the opposite is true. Experts want to provide adequate pain control to people in recovery simply because people who aren’t in pain have one less trigger that can lead them to drug use. The Partnership for Drug-Free Kids suggests that a multidisciplinary approach tends to work best in people who have chronic pain.
A doctor, a physical therapist, a mental health expert, a life coach, a nutritionist and more might all work together to come up with a comprehensive plan that gets to the root of the pain and provides a person with real relief. Someone with chronic back pain, for example, might work with a dietitian to lower body weight, and then work with a physical therapist on core-strengthening exercises. This person might also develop meditation skills to use when pain hits, and find new hobbies that could help to take his/her mind off of pain. All of these techniques could help to keep pain at bay, and a Vicodin addiction in remission. People who need a little more than therapy can also lean on medications, but they might benefit from those that don’t include narcotics. Antidepressants, anti-anxiety medications, and even high blood pressure medications could all provide profound relief, without the risk of concurrent addiction.
It’s clear that people who have chronic pain and addictions to Vicodin can get better. But they need to ask for help to get the process started. Please call us, and our admissions coordinators can tell you more about how recovery works and why one of our treatment centers at Foundations Recovery Network might be the best choice for you.
Further Reading About Vicodin Abuse and Chronic Pain
David W. Newton is a board certified pharmacist and also has been a board member for boards of examiners for the National Association of Boards of Pharmacy since 1983. His areas of expertise are primarily pharmaceuticals as well as cannabinoids. You can read an article about his expertise in CBD on the National Library of Medicine.
Reviewed by: Kim Chin and Marian Newton