Hydrocodone Withdrawal Symptoms & Timeline
Last Updated Dec 2, 2021
Hydrocodone is considered a Schedule II semisynthetic opioid, a medication utilized to treat pain. Given that hydrocodone is an opioid and in the narcotic analgesics medicine group, dependency can come as the result of extended use.
As a person develops tolerance to hydrocodone or any opioid, physical dependence is often the result. When a person becomes physically dependent on an opioid and then quits suddenly, they will more than likely experience withdrawal symptoms, such as these:
- Body aches
- Mood swings
- Night sweats
- Cravings for opioids
- Suicidal ideation
What Is Hydrocodone?
Hydrocodone, an antitussive (often termed a cough suppressant), is a narcotic analgesic medication that is prescribed by medical professionals to treat pain. When pain is moderate to moderately severe, a doctor may prescribe hydrocodone to make the patient more comfortable.
According to the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), hydrocodone is the most frequently prescribed opioid in the United States. The DEA also reports that hydrocodone has been the second most frequently encountered opioid pharmaceutical in drug evidence since 2009.
How Long Does Withdrawal From Hydrocodone Take?
If a person is dependent on hydrocodone, withdrawal symptoms can present as early as 6 to 12 hours after the last dose of the drug. Withdrawal symptoms will generally be at their worst and most severe at around the 72-hour mark.
Once severe withdrawal symptoms subside, drug cravings and some emotional side effects can often be present for a month or even longer.
How often a person uses hydrocodone and the dosage they are used to will play a role in how long withdrawal symptoms are present.
If you use hydrocodone only to relieve pain from an injury and in recommended dosage amounts, you may not experience withdrawal symptoms since you are likely not dependent on the drug. People who abuse hydrocodone and use it outside of prescription guidelines tend to experience more severe withdrawal symptoms.
Quitting Cold Turkey vs. Tapering Use
In lieu of abruptly quitting hydrocodone, many medical professionals recommend tapering off the medication. This involves taking lower doses over time. Since this involves a weaning process, it reduces the likelihood that severe withdrawal symptoms will occur.
Certain medications are available for those who suffer from physical dependence on opioids. Most often, one of three drugs is prescribed to treat opioid use disorder (OUD):
Methadone is a long-acting opioid that has long been used to aid treatment for opioid use disorder.
Methadone has been shown to reduce cravings and withdrawal symptoms, though it does come with its own risk of abuse. If you are using methadone as part of a medication-assisted treatment (MAT) program, you must visit a clinic every day to get your methadone dose.
Naltrexone is an opioid antagonist that shuts down opioid receptor sites, helping to prevent relapse after physical detox has been achieved. Brand names include ReVia and Vivitrol.
Buprenorphine is an opioid agonist, which partially activates opioid receptor sites, so individuals don’t experience withdrawal symptoms or cravings for opioids. Most often, buprenorphine is prescribed along with naloxone (an abuse-deterrent) in the medication Suboxone.
Signs That Someone Is Going Through Hydrocodone Withdrawal
If someone is going through hydrocodone withdrawal, they may exhibit the following signs:
- Antisocial behavior
- Depression or anxiety
- Sweating profusely
- Sensitivity to physical touch
- Dilated pupils
- Complaining of stomach cramps
- Engaging in drug-seeking behavior
- Forging prescriptions
Hydrocodone withdrawal is an indication of physical dependence, which is often a side effect of drug abuse or addiction. If you have been misusing opioids in any way, it’s important to get help immediately.
Though opioid withdrawal is not generally life-threatening, it can be incredibly uncomfortable. Many people return to opioid use in an effort to make withdrawal symptoms go away. If they return to prior dosage levels after a period of sobriety, overdose is more likely, and this could result in death.
Treatment Options for Opioid Withdrawal
Medication-assisted treatment is generally recommended to treat opioid addiction. The medications described above can greatly aid the recovery process, managing severe effects of withdrawal and preventing relapse in many cases.
It is not recommended that individuals attempt to go through hydrocodone withdrawal at home, independent of professional medical assistance. While it’s possible to detox on your own, relapse is much more likely. You also run the risk of dealing with various physical issues without support, such as dehydration or severe discomfort.
If you participate in a comprehensive rehabilitation program, you’ll have support throughout the entire detox and ongoing recovery process. You’ll get to the roots of why you began misusing hydrocodone in the first place, and you’ll develop coping mechanisms, so you know what to do when you are tempted to relapse in the future.
If you don’t develop a strong foundation in recovery, it’s likely you’ll return to hydrocodone abuse when tempted in the future. The work you do in therapy will be vital to ensuring you maintain recovery for the long term.
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Methadone Treatment of Opiate Addiction: A Systematic Review of Comparative Studies. (August 2017). Innovations in Clinical Neuroscience.
New Directions in the Treatment of Opioid Withdrawal. (July 2020). Lancet.
New Directions in the Treatment of Opioid Withdrawal. (June 2020). Lancet.
Medication-Assisted Treatment of Opioid Use Disorder. (March–April 2015). Harvard Review of Psychiatry.
Medication-Assisted Treatment for Opioid Addiction in the United States: Critique and Commentary. (September 2017). Substance Use & Misuse.
Preclinical and Clinical Pharmacology of Hydrocodone for Chronic Pain: A Mini Review. (October 2018). Frontiers in Psychopharmacology.
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