Vicodin is a drug that was developed to include a combination of hydrocodone and paracetamol (acetaminophen). It is utilized primarily to provide pain relief for those with moderate to severe pain. It is considered a “Schedule II” controlled substance in the United States, meaning that it has a high potential for abuse and both psychological and physical dependence.
In addition to using this drug for pain, many people use it recreationally to “get high.” Vicodin can provide a significant initial boost in mood and powerful anxiolytic effects. This can lead many to use it on an illicit basis to provide stress relief. Unfortunately, tolerance to this drug is easily established and eventually the initial positive psychological effects will wear off.
Looking at its composition, it theoretically should be easier to withdraw from compared to pure hydrocodone. However, it is an opiate and once a person has built up a tolerance, withdrawal symptoms are generally regarded as being severe. If you are going through withdrawal or plan on withdrawing, read below so that you know what to expect.
Factors that influence Vicodin withdrawal
When it comes to withdrawal from any medication, there are factors that play a role in influencing symptoms experienced upon withdrawal. These factors include things like: how long a person was on the drug, their dosage, whether they developed a tolerance, whether they are addicted, how quickly they tapered, and other individual factors such as physiology and environment.
1. Time Span
How long did you take Vicodin? Those that took it for an extended period of time are thought to have a more difficult withdrawal process. When you take it for a long period of time, your nervous system becomes accustomed to receiving the drug to function. If you took Vicodin just for a short term, you shouldn’t have as much difficulty transitioning back to sober functioning following discontinuation.
2. Dosage + Tolerance
What dosage did you take? Those that were on higher dosages are likely going to have increased tolerance as well as a tougher time dealing with withdrawal effects. The lower the dosage and less frequently you take it, the easier it should be to withdraw. The drug comes in a few different formats listed below.
- Vicodin 5 mg / 300 mg Acetaminophen – On average, people take 1 to 2 tablets of this dose every 4 to 6 hours for pain. Maximum daily dosage is 8 tablets.
- Vicodin ES 7.5 mg / 300 mg Acetaminophen – Most people take 1 tablet every 4 to 6 hours. Maximum daily dosage is 6 tablets.
- Vicodin HP 10 mg / 300 mg Acetaminophen – Standard dosage is 1 tablet every 4 to 6 hours. Maximum daily dosage is 6 tablets.
If you have developed a tolerance, your body’s natural endorphin supply may be abnormally low. Those with a high tolerance to the drug tend to have lower levels of endorphins and altered neurotransmitter functioning. Although endorphins and neurotransmitters can transition back to how they were pre-Vicodin, it is going to take a longer period of time if you have a high tolerance.
Some people become addicted to taking Vicodin. Whether you initially took it for pain and became addicted to the effects of the drug, or whether you are addicted to the opioid high that this drug provides, addiction can make withdrawal more difficult. Those who are addicted may want to seek some sort of psychological and/or psychiatric help so that they can get through withdrawals.
Among people that are addicted, it is easy to build a very high tolerance quickly. These individuals may need additional psychological support so that they can successfully withdraw from this medication. Additionally it is thought that “opioid replacement therapy” may be another valid option for those that are addicted.
4. Cold Turkey vs. Tapering
Quitting cold turkey usually isn’t too bad if a person is at a relatively low dosage and hasn’t established tolerance. However, if a person has a high tolerance to the drug and they quit cold turkey, withdrawal effects may be extremely severe. In order to avoid experiencing the most extreme withdrawal symptoms, you may want to consider conducting a gradual taper off of the medication.
A gradual taper will allow your nervous system to gradually adjust to functioning without the drug. If done slowly enough, most of the withdrawal symptoms should be minimized. The quicker a person tapers or discontinues, the greater the chance it is that they’ll experience severe symptoms.
5. Individual Factors
Two people may take the exact same dose of the drug for the same length of time and one person may have more severe withdrawal symptoms. Many individual factors such as genetics, sensitivity to drug withdrawal, and habits can influence recovery. Those who eat healthy diets, get mild exercise, and have good social support are thought to have a quicker recovery period than others.
Additionally some people are on other drugs that may help mitigate withdrawal symptoms. Always keep in mind that some people may have a tougher time coping with this than others.
Vicodin Withdrawal Symptoms: List of Possibilities
Below is a list of possible withdrawal symptoms that you may experience when discontinuing Vicodin. Keep in mind that not everyone will experience every symptom listed below. Also understand that the severity and duration of symptoms will largely be based on the individual.
- Abdominal cramps: When people come off of Vicodin, they may notice cramping throughout their body. Most people notice a particularly painful cramping sensation in their abdominal region. Although the stomach pain may be pretty uncomfortable for awhile, it will eventually fade.
- Anxiety: Since this drug can reduce anxiety, when a person stops taking it, they may go through a phase of rebound anxiety. This may range from being pretty mild to fairly severe depending on the individual. Do your best to stay relaxed and focus on practicing relaxation if the anxiety is unbearable.
- Appetite changes: Some people lose their appetite within the first few days of stopping this drug. Your appetite may not be very strong during withdrawal and you may feel sick. Do your best to eat healthy and get your body the nutrients that it needs to recover.
- Body aches: Many people report feeling achy throughout their body. You may notice that your joints ache and/or you feel muscle pain. This can be very uncomfortable to deal with, but as your nervous system restores itself, these will subside.
- Chills: This is a symptom that makes withdrawal feel reminiscent of the flu. You may have body chills for a week or two following your last dose. No one wants to feel chilled, but eventually it too will pass.
- Confusion: Many people report feelings of general confusion during withdrawal. It is thought that cognition is impaired while a person readjusts to normative functioning. The brain had been receiving the drug which stimulated endorphin production and influenced neurotransmitters. Taking away the drug can result in clouded thinking and feeling confused.
- Cravings: Some people experience intense cravings for the Vicodin after they’ve quit. These cravings are usually most prevalent within the first couple weeks after quitting, but can last for months following the last dose. Usually they tend to get less intense over time.
- Depersonalization: If you feel unlike your normal self, this could mean that you are “depersonalized.” This state is characterized by feeling emotionally numb and almost as if you are observing yourself from a third person perspective. Usually this is influenced by brain chemicals and is thought to be exacerbated by anxiety.
- Depression: Some people can feel very depressed when they’ve come off of Vicodin. This is a drug that can act in some ways as an antidepressant. Unfortunately, when a person becomes tolerant to the drug, the antidepressant effect wears off. If a person stops taking the drug, they may feel more depressed than they’ve ever felt. Fortunately most people will experience full recovery from this symptom.
- Diarrhea: If you notice that you have a bad case of the runs, it’s likely a result of withdrawal. It is recommended to consider buying some over-the-counter Imodium to help. Since most people are constipated as a result of Vicodin, this is how the body reacts when the drug is stopped.
- Dizziness: You may feel very dizzy and/or as if you are experiencing vertigo once you’ve quit taking the drug. The dizziness can last anywhere from days to weeks after your last dose. It is rare to experience this symptom for longer than a month.
- Fatigue: It may feel as though getting out of bed in the morning is an impossible task. You may be so fatigued that you have a difficult time preparing meals, going to work, and/or doing normal household chores. Realize that your energy levels will eventually recover with enough time.
- Flu-like: Many people report that opiate withdrawal symptoms can feel just like the flu. The combination of chills, nausea, vomiting, dizziness, etc. makes people feel “flu-like.” Fortunately most of these symptoms are acute.
- Headaches: You may notice that once you stop this drug, you have a pounding headache. The headache is a normal part of withdrawal, and should gradually get better with time. Make sure that you are staying hydrated, getting plenty of rest, and engaging in relaxation when you feel overly stressed to minimize headaches.
- Insomnia: Certain individuals really struggle with falling asleep at night when they quit this drug. Although some people become very fatigued, others may have become accustomed to using this drug to help themselves drift off to sleep. In any regard, insomnia can be tough when you discontinue. Consider taking melatonin to help minimize this symptom.
- Itching: Do you feel itchy now that you’ve stopped this drug? Many people report feeling tingling in the skin and/or as if they cannot resist the urge to scratch their body. This may be caused by hypersensitive nerve endings as a result of withdrawal.
- Mood swings: Initially it may feel as if your moods are going through a rollercoaster. Sometimes you may feel depressed, other times you may feel as if you are starting to see the light at the end of the tunnel. Moods will inevitably stabilize over time.
- Nausea: Some people may become highly-nauseated during the first week of withdrawal. The nausea should get better once a person has made it through the acute phase. If the nausea gets bad enough, it could lead to vomiting.
- Palpitations: Does your heart rate feel as if it is beating especially loud or rapidly? You may be experiencing palpitations. These can lead some people to panic or feel as if they are having a heart attack. This is a physical withdrawal reaction that your body is having; do your best to accept it and not panic.
- Panic attacks: Some people have very debilitating anxiety when they come off of this drug. If the anxiety reaches an all-time-high, it may lead to a panic attack. During one of these attacks, the heart races, a person freezes up, and essentially “panics.” If you feel as if your anxiety is overwhelming, some relaxation exercises are recommended to lower arousal.
- Pupil dilation: While on Vicodin, you may have noticed that your pupils constrict, or become smaller. When you stop taking it, your pupils may appear especially large and dilated. This is another natural reaction that your body has to withdrawal.
- Sleep problems: In addition to experiencing insomnia, a person may have trouble staying asleep or may be sleeping too much. Additionally some individuals may feel disoriented and have crazy dreams (possibly nightmares) during withdrawal. Your sleep pattern should correct itself over time.
- Suicidal thinking: If depression gets bad enough during withdrawal, it may lead a person to feel suicidal. If you are feeling suicidal, be sure to seek some sort of professional help. It is unfortunate that this is part of withdrawal, but until your neurotransmitters and endorphins correct themselves, you may feel really down.
- Sweating: If you are sweating profusely throughout the day and wake up from night sweats, this is normal. Keep in mind that it’s merely your body reacting to not having the drug. The sweating will get better as time passes.
- Vomiting: Many people that are coming off of high doses and/or quit cold turkey may vomit during the first week of withdrawal. This is a result of feeling really sick, nauseous, and dizzy. You should notice significant improvement after the first week.
- Yawning: Find yourself yawning when you aren’t even tired? This is something that people withdrawing from Vicodin may experience. If you cannot seem to kick the yawns, put up with them until they go away.
Vicodin Withdrawal Duration: How long will it last?
There’s no exact timeline that can be followed for withdrawal from Vicodin. Your withdrawal experience will likely be fairly individualized. People who have taken the drug at higher dosages for a longer period of time are thought to have longer withdrawals, while those who have been on lower doses for shorter durations are thought to have shorter withdrawals. Additionally some people are more sensitive than others to drug withdrawals, meaning their nervous system takes longer to adapt to sober functioning.
The acute symptoms associated with Vicodin withdrawal tend to last approximately 7 to 10 days following the last dose of the drug. In general, it is thought that the first few days following your last dose is when symptoms tend to be most severe. Acute symptoms are typically powerful and can include an array of debilitating physical and psychological symptoms. Following the first week or two into withdrawal, many people note feeling significantly better.
Although some people feel as if they are almost recovered following the acute phase of withdrawal, others experience what is known as “PAWS” (post-acute withdrawal syndrome). This is characterized as difficult withdrawal symptoms that can last from weeks to months following the acute withdrawals. While not everyone experiences post-acute withdrawals, many have a difficult time coping with continuous symptoms.
Keep in mind that Vicodin itself has a half life of approximately 4 hours, meaning the drug is fully cleared from the body in about 8 hours. Even though the drug is cleared from the body, the nervous system is initially expecting to receive the drug. When the drug is no longer ingested, the nervous system tries to adapt and people experience withdrawals for as long as it takes for homeostatic functioning to resume.
To help speed up withdrawal, it is recommended to make sure you are eating a healthy diet, getting mild exercise, staying productive, socializing, and getting plenty of rest. People who get adequate nutrition and engage in healthy activities during the withdrawal process are thought to experience quicker healing. Have you gone through Vicodin withdrawal and had to deal with symptoms? If so, feel free to share your experience in the comments section below; you may help someone who is going through a similar situation.