Think of Vicodin withdrawal as the first part of your sobriety journey. The work you do here will set the foundation for your new life.
It’s a crucial part of your life but, understandably, you want to get it over with as quickly as possible.
Vicodin withdrawal is uncomfortable. It’s sometimes described as the worst flu a person ever had. No one wants to feel miserable for one minute more than is necessary.
But it can take a few days for the symptoms to fade away. And there’s one Vicodin side effect that can stick with you for months.
How Did Your Addiction Start?
During withdrawal, your body begins to repair the damage done during your addiction. The more harm your body endured, the longer it might take to recover. And unfortunately, severe addictions also come with significant symptoms.
For many people, a Vicodin addiction begins with a slip of paper. According to the Drug Enforcement Administration, hydrocodone prescriptions (including those for Vicodin) totaled 83.6 million in 2017. Vicodin is used to treat:
- Dental pain. If you’ve had a tooth pulled or sat through a root canal, your dentist may have used Vicodin to ease pain and reduce swelling.
- Pulled muscles. A strained back muscle can make any movement agonizing. Vicodin could help to soothe sore muscles and make the pain easier to ignore.
- Severe headaches. Migraines and other similar head-aching maladies start with swelling. The acetaminophen in Vicodin is a good solution.
- Pain from surgery. When a doctor cuts into your body, pain is sure to follow. You might need a painkiller like Vicodin to help you recover.
Short-term use of the drug isn’t associated with chemical changes and compulsive use. But the longer you keep taking Vicodin, the more your brain changes. And unfortunately, your doctor may have helped that addiction start.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the average length of an opioid prescription is increasing. Now, it’s common for doctors to give patients an 18-day supply. That could be enough to set brain changes in motion.
If you’ve been taking Vicodin under the direction of your doctor for two weeks or less, you could work with that professional on a plan to quit, and you could get better at home.
But you might be in another class of users who takes Vicodin in another way. You might:
- Buy it from dealers. Maybe your doctor won’t give you any more. Maybe you never had a prescription to begin with. You’re working with someone outside the medical system to get the drugs you want.
- Mix it with other drugs. Your dealer may run out of Vicodin, and when that happens, you switch to other drugs. You’re chasing a high, not trying to remain loyal to a brand.
- Inject or snort your pills. As addiction deepens, and swallowing tablets doesn’t work as well as it used to. Crushing them gives you a bigger, more immediate high.
These are signs of a deeper addiction. Your withdrawal symptoms are likely to be bigger, last longer, and require medical attention.
What Happens During Withdrawal?
Vicodin withdrawal is a natural and healthy process. Your body is learning to live without the drug you’ve been taking for so long. But just because it’s an organic affair doesn’t mean it’s pleasant.
Withdrawal symptoms tend to begin within hours of your last hit. They start small, with:
- Watery eyes
- Runny nose
- Aching muscles
As it progresses, withdrawal can target your digestive system. You’ll develop persistent diarrhea and vomiting, and your intestines will feel cramped and twisted.
Those systems can peak in intensity after a few days, and they tend to fade away within a week of your last dose.
People can die due to opioid withdrawal. As researchers writing for Addiction explain, most of those deaths happen in jail settings. People with significant diarrhea and vomiting can grow dehydrated, and sometimes, they don’t get help for the issue while they’re incarcerated.
But the risk is real, and it could cost you your life if you’re not given appropriate care.
Throughout your week of intense withdrawal, you’ll crave Vicodin. That feeling will stick with you even when your withdrawal is complete. If you count it as a withdrawal symptom (and many people do), you could say the process never really ends.
You may combat cravings for drugs for the rest of your life. But treatment can help you address those feelings with skill and precision.
Can You Withdraw at Home?
Drug addiction recovery is personal, and it’s reasonable to crave your privacy. If you don’t want to admit that you have a problem or seek out care, it’s understandable. But it’s not always safe to go through this process in the privacy of your own home.
Dehydration happens quickly, and it’s not easy for you to solve at home. If you’re losing fluid through diarrhea and you can’t keep anything down by mouth, you will need an intravenous solution. You can’t get that at home.
Also, don’t forget that Vicodin contains acetaminophen. Your liver processes that medication, and years of abuse can harm that delicate organ. As Medscape points out, signs of liver damage can be strikingly similar to those associated with withdrawal. You might:
- Avoid food.
- Vomit repeatedly.
- Feel queasy.
- Have a sore belly.
Medical testing can help doctors diagnose liver damage. There are no at-home versions of these tests. Without the help of a pro, you may never know if the discomfort you feel is from your liver or withdrawal.
A medical professional should always be involved in your withdrawal. And, in most cases, you’ll need to get help in a qualified treatment program.
How Is Vicodin Withdrawal Treated?
The goal of a treatment program is to keep you comfortable and healthy as your body recovers. If you feel at least tolerably good, you’re less likely to return to drug use. Your team might use medications to ease you into recovery.
During your addiction, your brain became accustomed to the constant presence of Vicodin. Your team can use medications to mimic Vicodin and help your brain and body feel better. The team might use:
- Methadone. This medication is typically delivered in a liquid form. When you enroll in detox, your supervising physician will determine how big each dose should be. Over time, you’ll get less and less. You won’t feel high. But your brain may believe that you’re taking Vicodin, so you won’t feel sick.
- Buprenorphine. This medication also tricks your brain into thinking you’re taking Vicodin. But it comes with added protections, so you can’t abuse it and get high with it even if you want to. You typically take each dose as a strip that melts in your mouth.
- Clonidine. This medication doesn’t work on Vicodin receptors. But it can ease your anxiety, soothe muscle cramps, address aching muscles, and stop your nose from running.
Your team may give you medications to calm your upset digestive system. You might also need medications to repair liver damage done by Vicodin abuse.
These medications are powerful, but there are times when they’re not strong enough. If you’ve been abusing Vicodin for years, your brain needs more help than these drugs can deliver. Your team may choose to keep you on Vicodin on a tapering dose instead, so your body has time to adjust without using these medications for help.
Programs like this can last for a few days or even a few weeks. When they’re over, you can move directly to rehab, so you can learn more about how to preserve the sobriety you’ve gained in withdrawal.