Hydrocodone presents a unique danger in comparison to other opioids. This drug carries a high potential for abuse and can be habit-forming, whether taken as a prescription drug for pain management or used recreationally. Unlike other examples of opioids that may be sold almost exclusively in the illicit drug market, hydrocodone has both a large illicit drug market as well as a large prescription drug market. Knowing about the dangers of hydrocodone addiction and how it relates to the bigger picture of opioid drug abuse can support you or those you love with the right steps toward addiction treatment.

Understanding Hydrocodone

The danger of hydrocodone addiction may be overlooked, considering the growing danger of other opioid drugs. For example, this drug is not as potent as the most dangerous and widely prevalent opioid drug today, fentanyl. Secondly, hydrocodone does not have the same lawsuit history as oxycodone with the notable brand name OxyContin. Thirdly, the medication does not carry the controversial connotation like that of heroin, which has been among the most popular examples of street drugs to be decriminalized in Oregon.

So, what should people make of hydrocodone, and does it pose the same danger as other opioids? It is important to start with understanding what hydrocodone is and how people use it. As mentioned, the substance is an opioid, and this drug class is sometimes described synonymously as narcotics. Hydrocodone is most prescribed as a cough suppressant drug or pain reliever to treat moderate-to-severe pain.

According to the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), hydrocodone’s potency can be equally compared to codeine when taken as a cough suppressant and morphine when used as a pain reliever. While these are less potent examples of opioids overall, this does not mean there is no risk of abusing hydrocodone or becoming physically dependent.

Hydrocodone is a Schedule II drug, meaning it has a high potential for abuse and can be habit-forming even when taken as prescribed. In fact, in the case of all the types of hydrocodone mentioned below, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has continued to update its drug labeling, giving these drugs its black box warning, the strongest it gives to drugs that have a high potential for addiction and abuse.

Different Types of Hydrocodone

Some of the more common brand names for hydrocodone include:

  • Vicodin
  • Lortab
  • Lorcet
  • Hycodan
  • Vicoprofen
  • Zohydro

An important point about these brand names for hydrocodone is they do not represent the same drug with different strengths. That is only partly true. While it is true the medication comes in different strengths, these brand names include different types of hydrocodone drug combinations, such as:

  • Vicodin: a combination of hydrocodone and acetaminophen (Tylenol)
  • Vicoprofen: combination of hydrocodone and ibuprofen (Motrin)
  • Zohydro: hydrocodone without other combined drugs

While the most common example of hydrocodone is the combination with acetaminophen, it is important to know that all these examples fall under the “hydrocodone” name.

Signs of Hydrocodone Abuse

Hydrocodone’s effects can differ for everyone, but once someone becomes dependent on the drug, behavioral changes can occur, such as:

  • Using higher doses to experience the desired effects of the drug
  • “Doctor shopping” to get as many prescriptions as possible
  • Trying to buy hydrocodone illegally after running low on a prescription
  • Hiding hydrocodone use from friends and family members

Symptoms of Hydrocodone Abuse

Users can experience symptoms of hydrocodone abuse after taking the drug for any amount of time. Common signs include:


  • Chronic fatigue
  • Swollen feet, legs, or ankles
  • Muscle weakness
  • Itching
  • Stomach pain and digestive issues
  • Hallucinations
  • Decrease in sexual health (irregular menstruation, erectile dysfunction, etc.)
  • Swollen face (eyes, lips)
  • Chest pain or tightness


It is important to know these symptoms can and often do overlap with signs of a hydrocodone overdose, which is also a sign of abuse. If you or someone you know experiences these symptoms, seek medical help right away, especially after taking an illicit form of hydrocodone, which may contain fentanyl or other harmful substances.

Hydrocodone Abuse Statistics

It can be hard to determine the full scope of hydrocodone abuse based on the available data. Part of the reason for this is that while hydrocodone has significant data related to its popularity as a prescription medication, the same cannot be easily determined from hydrocodone’s influence in the illicit drug industry. It is worth noting that the medication is often the intended drug of choice during the highly dangerous counterfeit pill craze worldwide.

Six out of 10 pills in the counterfeit industry contain lethal amounts of fentanyl, but many of the pills local and federal law enforcement officials seize are made to look like hydrocodone. While these tragic situations tend to focus on the common denominator of fentanyl and the rising overdose death rates due to its use, it is important to stress that hydrocodone is popular enough among dealers to mimic the drug in the first place. It is also popular enough among buyers to buy it as a street drug.

Hydrocodone Addiction in the U.S.

According to the 2020 National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH), hydrocodone ranked as the prescription pain reliever with the single highest percentage of misuse among people ages 12 and older. Unlike the popularity of other opioid drugs, most survey respondents claimed to use hydrocodone solely as a pain medication. In fact, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) lists the drug as the most commonly prescribed opioid drug.

Hydrocodone Abuse on the Body

Hydrocodone can take a significant toll on the body, whether someone uses the drug one time or has an ongoing history of substance abuse. Like any central nervous system (CNS) depressant, hydrocodone interrupts the body’s communication between the brain and the body, meaning both short- and long-term abuse can cause serious problems with the healthy function of bodily organs. Two of the most severe examples of hydrocodone abuse and its effect on the body are the high risk of lung and heart failure.


Besides causing euphoria and numbing pain, opioids like hydrocodone relax the body, resulting in a slower heart rate and slower breathing. It is easy to assume that this risk a very low except for those who use hydrocodone for a long time or mix the drug with other substances. However, data related to hydrocodone and other opioids has caused the FDA to update its warnings about the drug in recent years. Now, these warning labels include the risk of fatal respiratory depression or heart failure, especially when used with other drugs or alcohol.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

There are several things to know about hydrocodone use, especially in determining how it compares to other opioids and what organs it can harm. Here are a few of the more common questions about hydrocodone:

Is Hydrocodone an Opioid?

Hydrocodone is part of the opioid/narcotic drug class and is considered a Schedule II drug by the DEA, meaning it carries an addiction and abuse potential. While hydrocodone is not as potent as other Schedule II opioids like fentanyl, it is not considered a low-abuse opioid, such as Tramadol (Schedule IV) or codeine (Schedule III).

How Bad Is Hydrocodone for Your Liver?

Hydrocodone can be especially dangerous to the liver when it includes acetaminophen. These drugs carry an FDA label warning of hepatoxicity, known as acute liver failure.

How Bad Is Hydrocodone on Your Stomach?

When hydrocodone includes ibuprofen, the FDA warning label lists warnings and possible side effects of gastrointestinal bleeding, ulceration, and perforation. These risk factors are different for everyone but are especially noteworthy for older adults and those with a history of gastrointestinal disease.


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