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How Long Does Hydrocodone Stay in Your System?

Trace amounts of hydrocodone can stay with the body for a long time, but hydrocodone use is typically only detectable through testing for about three days, often less.[1] 

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The most common test used to detect hydrocodone is a urine drug test. Hair testing has the potential to detect opioid use for longer, with a detection window of up to 90 days, but this type of testing has some limitations and is less commonly used due to it being considered invasive.

How Long Does Hydrocodone’s Effects Last?

Hydrocodone has a half-life of 3.4 to 8.8 hours, which makes it a short-acting opioid, although one which lasts longer in the body than some other opioids like heroin or hydromorphone.[1] 

It typically takes four to five half-lives for most of a drug to be eliminated from a person’s body, but the actual noticeable effects of hydrocodone will last for significantly less time.[2] One can expect hydrocodone to provide pain relief and otherwise affect the body for about a quarter of the day, sometimes a few hours less.

Detection Timeline

The exact detection window for a person’s hydrocodone use will depend on a variety of factors, but the most important is the type of test used. The most common type of drug testing, urine testing, will detect hydrocodone and other types of short-acting opioid use for up to three days.[1] 

The only other type of testing that will typically have a longer testing window is hair testing. This type of drug test can potentially detect hydrocodone use for up to 90 days but with several important caveats discussed later.

Note that specific parameters of testing can sometimes be adjusted to extend one’s detection window but at the risk of increasing the risk of a false positive. One of the reasons common tests have detection windows they do is to prevent falsely identifying individuals as having misused drugs when they have not, which has the potential to have serious consequences depending on why the test was conducted. 

Testing for Hydrocodone Use

The following describes the different hydrocodone detection windows one can expect from various types of drug testing:[3]

Urine Testing

The hydrocodone detection window for urine testing is typically one to three days.[1] Urine testing is the most common way individuals are tested for opioid use. It is often used as part of drug testing for employment, in the criminal justice system, or as part of addiction treatment programs.

It has a good detection window compared to alternative solutions, is relatively non-invasive, and produces reasonably accurate results.

Blood Testing

Blood testing for hydrocodone use is fairly rare, as it has a shorter (although comparable) detection window compared to urine testing. It is generally considered significantly more invasive than urine testing. 

It also requires a phlebotomist to extract a sample. One can expect the detection window to at best be a couple of days.

Saliva Testing

Saliva testing is relatively rare for opioid use. For short-acting opioids like hydrocodone, the detection window is up to 36 hours.[3] This type of testing only has a few benefits. The first is that it is generally harder to manipulate the results, whereas urine testing can be manipulated if the person is allowed privacy (which they typically are to prevent testing from being especially invasive). 

Saliva testing doesn’t usually require privacy. Thus, a person can be watched to make sure the sample given isn’t fake or tainted. 

Hair Testing

The detection window for most opioids, hydrocodone included, is typically up to 90 days for hair testing, but with several caveats. First, it takes time for hair to grow enough that opioid use cannot be detected at all. A hair test done immediately after someone has used opioids is unlikely to detect any opioid use. 

Second, different haircuts can affect the actual length of a given person’s detection window. Shorter haircuts shorten the length of time drugs can be detected in hair samples.[2]

Hair testing is fairly uncommon. It is considered often unduly invasive, as it requires some of a person’s hair to be cut off for testing.

Factors That Impact How Long Hydrocodone Stays in Your System

Several factors can impact how long hydrocodone is present and detectable in a person’s system. Method of use is a major factor.[5] For example, if you inject hydrocodone, you’ll feel its effects faster than if you swallow the pill (as intended), and it moves through your digestive system. As a result, the drug will also exit your system more quickly when it is injected.

Personal metabolism also plays a role in how long hydrocodone stays in your system.[6] While most people have relatively comparable rates when it comes to how they metabolize drugs, some genetic factors, coexisting disorders, and drug interactions can all affect metabolism. For example, advanced heart failure or certain liver problems can cause the body to metabolize drugs more slowly.[7] 

This also highlights why it is important to be honest with a medical professional when getting prescribed medication. They should be aware of any drugs you’re taking and any health conditions you may have. Putting aside other concerns, like the potential for drugs to interact dangerously, your medical professional also needs to know if your body will process a drug more slowly or quickly, so they can adjust your dosing accordingly.

Getting Help for Hydrocodone Abuse

As with all opioids, misuse of hydrocodone can quickly lead to addiction. It can be incredibly challenging to stop the misuse of any opioid without professional help. Medication-assisted treatment, which combines the use of methadone or buprenorphine with therapy, is generally the recommended course of care for opioid use disorder. 

Reach out today to learn more about our offerings here at Boca Recovery Center, including medical detox, residential treatment, and outpatient programs

Updated December 21, 2023
Resources
  1. Drug plasma half-life and urine detection window. ARUP Laboratories. Published September 2022. Accessed November 25, 2023.
  2. Half Life. Hallare J, Gerriets V. StatPearls. Published June 23, 2022. Accessed November 25, 2023.
  3. Half Life. Opioid Testing. Testing.com. Published August 27, 2021. Accessed November 25, 2023.
  4. Drug metabolism. Merck Manuals Professional Edition. Published 2018. Accessed November 25, 2023.
  5. Comparing injection and non-injection routes of administration for heroin, methamphetamine, and cocaine users in the United States. Novak SP, Kral AH. Journal of Addictive Diseases. 2011;30(3):248-257.
  6. Opioid metabolism. Smith HS. Mayo Clinic Proceedings. 2009;84(7):613-624.
  7. Opioid drugs in patients with liver disease: A systematic review. Soleimanpour H, Safari S, Shahsavari Nia K, Sanaie S, Alavian SM. Hepatitis Monthly. 2016;16(4).
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