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Shooting Hydrocodone, Lortabs or Vicodin Dangers and Side Effects

Taking prescription drugs without a prescription is always dangerous, and the practice can lead to addictions, overdoses or other major complications. Sometimes, the method you use in order to take in the medication can hold its own special kind of risks, above and beyond the risks represented by the active ingredient in the drugs.

If you’re addicted to prescription pills like hydrocodone, Lortab or Vicodin – and if you shoot those drugs – you could experience a number of devastating consequences.

What Is Hydrocodone?

Hydrocodone is a semisynthetic opioid and a strong pain reliever. Hydrocodone is often combined with the following over-the-counter drugs to relieve pain:

  • Acetaminophen.
  • Ibuprofen.
  • Aspirin

Hydrocodone is available through hundreds of prescription formulas – including generic and brand name drugs. The most frequently prescribed hydrocodone products are:

  1. Lortab.
  2. Vicodin.

Both of these drugs contain a combination of hydrocodone and acetaminophen.1

Due to hydrocodone’s properties, it can also be used to help treat coughs and is commonly prescribed as a cough suppressant.

Widespread Use and Abuse of Hydrocodone

Hydrocodone is the most frequently prescribed opioid in the U.S. Unfortunately, this prescription drug is also heavily abused by its users – much to the detriment of their own health and lives.

Consider the alarming facts about widespread hydrocodone use and abuse in the U.S.1-3:

  • In 2013, doctors wrote over 136 million prescriptions for hydrocodone and hydrocodone combination products (HCPs).
  • Everyday, more than 1,000 people visit the emergency room due to misusing prescription opioids.
  • In 2011, an estimated 82,480 emergency department visits were associated with hydrocodone use.

While the FDA is continually trying to approve versions of hydrocodone that will prevent drug abuse – and while new formulations of the drug are difficult to crush, break or dissolve – people have still found ways to dangerously abuse this drug when not used as prescribed.4

Where Do People Get Hydrocodone?

Hydrocodone users were less likely to get drugs through a dealer, reporting they usually used or forged a prescription to get the drug.5

And although roughly 20% of users report they received a prescription for these drugs from a doctor, tablets are still also sold on the street and traded among friends and family. According to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH), 50.5% of people who misused painkillers reported that they got the drugs for free from a friend or relative.6

How Is Hydrocodone Abused?

The way that you take a drug into your body plays a role in how quickly it is absorbed into the bloodstream. Hydrocodone is most often taken orally. Some people choose to alternatively inhale or inject the drug into their system for a quicker “high.”

Below are some common methods in which hydrocodone, Lortab, and Vicodin are administered into the body by those who abuse this drug:

  1. Shooting. Some people choose to “shoot” hydrocodone. These individuals crush the pills, dissolve them in water, and then inject them into their body. Injecting hydrocodone is an incredibly dangerous mode of ingestion. Dissolving hydrocodone tablets can cause potentially fatal doses of the drug in the system. And when taken in large doses, the combination of hydrocodone and acetaminophen can cause severe liver damage.7
  2. Swallowing tablets. Hydrocodone, Lortab, and Vicodin are all prescribed in tablet form, and many individuals choose to abuse the drug in its original pill form.
  3. Snorting. Some hydrocodone users crush the tablets and inhale or snort the drug. One study of prescription opioid use found that among rural drug users, snorting was the most frequent route of administration for hydrocodone.8 Another study found that men were much more likely than women to crush and snort opioids.9

In a nationwide survey of opioid drug abusers, researchers found that hydrocodone users were more likely to take hydrocodone and HCPs orally and less likely to inject or snort the drugs, with roughly5:

  • 95% of users reporting that they swallowed the pills.
  • 26% of users reporting that they crushed the tablets and inhaled them.
  • Less than 5% of users reporting they dissolved the drug in water and injected the substance intravenously.

What Are the Health Effects of Hydrocodone?

There are a number of dangerous and unpleasant side effects you can expect from using hydrocodone:

  • Depressant activity. Opiates work in the central nervous system as a depressant. Depressants are known to slow down the heart rate, the breathing rate, and the brain activity of the user. The severity of respiratory depression experienced depends on the amount of drugs used.
  • Decreased sex drive and appetite. Side effects from opiates can also include a reduction in sex drive and appetite.
  • Nausea and vomiting. Hydrocodone, Lortab, and Vicodin are known to cause nausea in the user. The drugs activate the chemoreceptor trigger zone (CTZ), which sends signals to the body’s vomiting center and triggers a vomiting reflex.10
  • Constipation. Constipation is also a common side effect of opioid use since opioid receptors are located along the gastrointestinal (GI) tract in the body.
  • Drowsiness. People often experience varying degrees of drowsiness, sleepiness, and feelings of relaxation when taking hydrocodone.11

Long-term Abuse of Hydrocodone

Long-term use of hydrocodone and HCPs can cause more serious side effects.


If you use these drugs on a regular basis, your body’s tolerance to these drugs will increase – meaning that you would have to take more and more of these drugs to feel the same desired effects you felt the first time you used them.

The development of tolerance can lead to the onset of unpleasant withdrawal symptoms when a user stops taking the drug – which often only reinforces the user’s drug dependence.

Long-term Effects

Long-term effects of hydrocodone and HCPs can include12-14:

  • Loss of hearing.
  • Sleep disorders.
  • Osteoporosis.
  • Chronic constipation and dysfunctional bowels.
  • Irregular heart rhythms.
  • Slowed breathing and low oxygen levels.
  • Coma.
  • Permanent brain damage.

Dangers of Hydrocodone with Acetaminophen

Abusing the drug combination of both hydrocodone and acetaminophen poses severe health risks. Hydrocodone and HCPs can vary with regards to the amount of acetaminophen in each pill. Typical amounts of acetaminophen per pill usually range from 300-325mg.

If adults take a high dose of Lortab or Vicodin in one sitting or over the course of a day, the dosage could push them over the body’s maximum daily acetaminophen limit (4 grams) and put them at an increased risk for liver toxicity.

Risky Behavior

Hydrocodone, Lortab and Vicodin all contain an opioid ingredient that can make you feel relaxed and at ease. When you inject these drugs – and you feel the impact of the drugs all at once – you may be coaxed into doing things and making choices you might never make while sober.

Shared Needles & Casual Sex

In one study published in the journal Addiction15:

  • 29% of people who injected opioids had shared needles.
  • 20.7% of people had casual sex without a condom in the month prior.

Either of these actions could lead to infections with HIV/AIDS. Casual sex could also result in hepatitis, gonorrhea, or syphilis.

Gateway Drug to Heroin Abuse

Shooting hydrocodone may also make you more comfortable with the concept of injecting other drugs – including heroin.

This transition from opioid pain meds to heroin appears to be a common transition. A study in the journal Drug and Alcohol Dependence found that 24% of people who abused prescription opioids also abused heroin later in life.16

Special Risks from Shooting Hydrocodone

If you choose to abuse hydrocodone or HCPs by injecting the drugs into your system, you additionally increase your risks of:

  • Developing blood vessel damage and skin infections – such as abscesses – to the injection site.
  • Acquiring an infectious disease – such as HIV, hepatitis B, or hepatitis C – from sharing needles.

Addiction Treatment Facilities

When you are ready to get your life back on track and want to start considering your treatment options, it will be helpful for you to be aware of a few of the different treatment facility types that are available to you.

  • Luxury treatment facilities provide residential addiction treatment in addition to an array of plush, resort-like amenities that can make your recovery process extra comfortable.
  • Executive treatment facilities also offer residential addiction treatment alongside high-end amenities – but these facilities also provide the resources and structure that allow busy professionals to maintain an active involvement in the workplace throughout the recovery process.
  • Standard treatment facilities offer quality addiction treatment in both residential (“inpatient”) and non-residential (“outpatient”) settings. While these facilities do not offer the same variety of high-end amenities as do luxury and executive programs, they do come at lower, more affordable prices for those on more of a limited budget.

Find Help for Your Addiction

Each time you inject drugs, and each time you become a little more comfortable with a needle – you make that transition to a dangerous addiction just a little easier to accomplish. If you’d like to break the cycle, please call us at 1-888-744-0789. We would love to help you find a treatment program for your addiction and help you learn how to maintain your sobriety for the rest of your life.

A Closer Look at Hydrocodone

In the U.S., there are five categories for controlled substances: Schedule I through Schedule V. The classification of drugs is determined by eight factors – including the drug’s potential for abuse or misuse, and whether the drug is used for medical purposes.

Hydrocodone, itself, is a Schedule II drug. In 2014, HCPs became labeled as Schedule II controlled substances as well.17

Hydrocodone is categorized as Schedule II because it has a high potential for misuse and can lead to drug dependence. In fact, hydrocodone and HCPs were involved in as many as 82,480 visits to the emergency room in 2011.18

Despite it’s potential for abuse, hydrocodone remains a useful drug to treat pain. When determining the scheduling of drugs such as hydrocodone, the medical benefits are weighed alongside the risk for abuse – allowing these drugs to remain at their Schedule II classification.

How Does Hydrocodone Work?

Hydrocodone is an opioid receptor activator (or “agonist”). When hydrocodone binds to the opioid receptor, it decreases the release of neurotransmitters that have a role in pain sensation.

There are a few different types of opioid receptors in the body, including:

  • Mu receptors.
  • Delta receptors.
  • Kappa receptors.

Hydrocodone works primarily on the kappa receptor.

Blocking the release of these neurotransmitters helps to decrease pain in the user. But it can also block important chemical pathways – leading to dangerous and uncomfortable side effects such as:

  • Respiratory arrest.
  • Constipation.
  • Mitosis.
  • Depressed cognition.

How the Body Metabolizes Hydrocodone

Hydrocodone – like other opiates – is metabolized in the liver.

If you drink alcohol while using hydrocodone and HCPs, you can decrease your body’s threshold for liver damage. Even a few drinks can alter the way your body responds to the drugs in the system and increase your risk of serious side effects.

Special Populations at Risk from Hydrocodone Abuse

Hydrocodone and HCPs can also cause specific risks to different groups of people.

Pregnant Women & Newborns

Among women, hydrocodone is the most frequently prescribed opioid.19 According to the CDC, an average of 25% of women enrolled in Medicaid had prescriptions for the drug.

Pregnant women who abuse hydrocodone, Lortab, or Vicodin are at increased risk for causing adverse outcomes in the newborn, including20:

  • Prematurity
  • Low birth weight.
  • Higher mortality.
  • Birth defects.
  • Neonatal abstinence syndrome (NAS).

While studies have found that women can detox during pregnancy, relapse rates among these individuals are high.21

Newborn Abstinence Syndrome (NAS)

When newborns are exposed to opioids in utero, they can go through withdrawal shortly after birth. The effects of withdrawal on their systems include:

  1. Tremors.
  2. Excessive crying.
  3. Diarrhea.
  4. Sweating.

Collectively, these symptoms characterize NAS.

From a public health standpoint, NAS is a major issue due to healthcare costs, and the majority of hospital costs are paid for by the state through Medicaid programs.22

Elderly Populations

In 2010, it was reported that pain relievers such as Vicodin were the most commonly involved drugs in elderly adults’ visits to the emergency department – making up 43.5% of this population’s drug-related ER visits.23

On average, older Americans are more likely to go to the doctor with complaints of achy joints and muscle pain than other age groups. Hydrocodone, Lortab, and Vicodin are commonly prescribed to older individuals to help treat pain.

Use of opioids in this population can lead to24:

  • Increased sedation.
  • Respiratory depression.
  • Impaired vision.
  • Impaired coordination.
  • Increased falls.


Teens may be at an increased risk for developing an addiction to hydrocodone and HCPs. Prescription opioids are some of the most commonly abused drugs – second only to marijuana – among young people who initiate illicit drug use.25

According to the National Institute for Drug Abuse (NIDA), 4% of senior high school students reported using Vicodin in the past year.26 This figure is alarming when you consider that the use of opioids such as hydrocodone can quickly lead to dependence and overdose among teens.

In a nationally representative study of high school seniors, researchers found that opioid abusers were more likely to be27:

  • Male.
  • White.
  • Lower performers in school.

High Hepatitis C Risk Among Teenagers

The incidence rate of the hepatitis C virus is increasing among young injection drug users, with one 2011 study reporting 30.9% of young injection drug to be positive for HCV.28

Sharing non-sterile needles to inject hydrocodone and HCPs increases one’s risk of contracting HCV – a chronic, infectious disease that can potentially lead to life-threatening bodily complications.

In one study of 791 opioid abusers, young people ages 18-24 were much more likely than the general population to use dirty needles to inject opioids – putting this population at special risk for contracting HCV.29

Learn More and Find Treatment

If you’d like to learn more about hydrocodone addiction and treatment, call us at 1-888-744-0789. We would love to help answer your questions and walk you through which treatment options might best suit your unique needs and circumstances.


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  2. Drug Abuse Warning Network. (2013). Highlights of the 2011 Drug Abuse Warning Network (DAWN) findings on drug-related emergency department visits. The DAWN Report. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.
  3. Whistler, J. L. (2012). Examining the role of mu opioid receptor endocytosis in the beneficial and side-effects of prolonged opioid use: from a symposium on new concepts in mu-opioid pharmacology. Drug and alcohol dependence,121(3), 189-204.
  4. FDA approves extended-release, single-entity hydrocodone product with abuse-deterrent properities. (2014). U. S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA).
  5. Cicero, T. J., Ellis, M. S., Surratt, H. L., Kurtz, S. P. (2013). Factors influencing the selection of hydrocodone and oxycodone as primary opioids in substance abusers seeking treatment in the United States.Pain,154(12), 2639-2648.
  6. (2016). Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.
  7. (2016). U.S. National Library of Medicine.
  8. Young, A. M., Havens, J. R., Leukefeld, C. G. (2010). Route of administration for illicit prescription opioids: a comparison of rural and urban drug users. Harm reduction journal7(1), 1.
  9. Back, S. E., Lawson, K. M., Singleton, L. M., Brady, K. T. (2011). Characteristics and correlates of men and women with prescription opioid dependence.Addictive behaviors, 36(8), 829-834.
  10. Chau, D. L., Walker, V., Pai, L., Cho, L. M. (2008). Opiates and elderly: use and side effects. Clinical interventions in aging,3(2), 273.
  11. Hydrocodone and acetaminophen (oral route). (2016). Mayo Clinic.
  12. Ho, T., Vrabec, J. T., Burton, A. W. (2007). Hydrocodone use and sensorineural hearing loss. Pain Physician, 10(3), 467-72.
  13. Risks of long-term opioid use. University of Utah Health Care, Pain Center.
  14. What are the possible consequences of opioid use and abuse? (2014). National Institute on Drug Abuse.
  15. Darke, S., Hall, W., Carless, J. (2006). Drug use, injecting practices and sexual behavior of opioid users in Sydney, Australia. British Journal of Addiction, 85(12), 1603-09.
  16. Brands, B., Blake, J., Sproule, B., Gourlay, D., Busto, U. (2004). Prescription opioid abuse in patients presenting for methadone maintenance treatment. Drug and Alcohol Dependence, 73(2), 199-207.
  17. Coleman, J. Rescheduling hydrocodone combination products: addressing the abuse of America’s favorite opioid. (2015). American Society of Addiction Medicine (ASAM).
  18. Crane, E. H. (2015).The CBHSQ Report: Emergency Department Visits Involving Narcotic Pain Relievers. Rockville, MD: Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, Center for Behavioral Health Statistics and Quality.
  19. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2015). Opioid prescription claims among women of reproductive age — United States, 2008–2012. Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report.
  20. Zuckerman, B. (1991). Drug-exposed infants: understanding the medical risk. The Future of Children, 1(1), 26-35.
  21. Bell, J., Towers, C. V., Hennessy, M. D., Heitzman, C., Smith, B., Chattin, K. (2016). Detoxification from opiate drugs during pregnancy. American Journal of Obstetrics & Gynecology, 214(1), S68.
  22. Patrick, S. W., Schumacher, R. E., Benneyworth, B. D., Krans, E. E., McAllister, J. M., Davis, M. M. (2012). Neonatal abstinence syndrome and associated health care expenditures. JAMA 307(18), 1934-40.
  23. Administration on Aging (AOA). (2012). Older Americans behavioral health – issue brief 5: prescription medication misuse and abuse among older adults. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Administration.
  24. Leipzig, R. M., Cumming, R.G., Tinetti, M.E. (1999). Drugs and falls in older people: a systematic review and meta-analysis: I. Psychotropic drugs. Journal of the American Geriatrics Society, 47(1):30-39. 16
  25. DrugFacts: nationwide trends. (2015). National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA).
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  27. McCabe, S. E., Boyd, C. J., Teter, C. J. (2005). Illicit use of opioid analgesics by high school seniors. Journal of Substance Abuse Treatment, 28(3), 225-230.
  28. Lankenau, S. E., Kecojevic, A., Silva, K. (2015). Associations between prescription opioid injection and Hepatitis C virus among young injection drug users. Drugs (Abingdon Engl), 22(1), 35-42.
  29. Surratt, H., Kurtz, S. P., Cicero, T. J. (2011). Alternate routes of administration and risk for HIV among prescription opioid abusers. Journal of Addictive Diseases, 30(4), 334-341.

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