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Common Side Effects of Hydrocodone

Hydrocodone is an opioid prescribed for the treatment of moderate to moderately severe pain that produces certain side effects in those who use it. Side effects can be experienced even when using hydrocodone as prescribed by a medical professional.

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If an individual has become physically dependent on the drug, side effects can be aggravated and prolonged

Common side effects of hydrocodone include the following:

  • Stomach cramps or stomach pain
  • Dry mouth (also known as cottonmouth)
  • Sleepiness 
  • Swelling of the extremities, such as the foot, ankle, and legs
  • Shakiness (generally located in a single area of the body)
  • Painful urination
  • Compromised sleep
  • Back pain
  • Headaches

Serious Side Effects Linked to Hydrocodone Use

Although the side effects listed above are the most common, there are also more serious side effects linked to hydrocodone use that you should report to a medical professional immediately if experienced. These are serious side effects of hydrocodone:

  • Chest pain or heart palpitations
  • Irregular menstruation
  • Decreased sex drive or sexual desire
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Hallucinations
  • Respiratory issues or difficulty breathing
  • Swelling, especially of the face, eyes, mouth, lips, tongue, or throat
  • Itchiness or hives

Long-Term Side Effects

Given that hydrocodone is an opioid, if an individual uses it for an extended period of time or ends up ultimately abusing this medication, there can be lasting side effects and consequences related to hydrocodone use.

Certain chronic health problems can occur, such as gastrointestinal harm, damage to the respiratory and endocrine systems, and permanent brain damage.

In addition, people who use hydrocodone and other opioids for an extended period of time may develop hyperalgesia, a condition where individuals experience increased sensitivity to pain. With hyperalgesia, the body responds extremely to any sort of pain. It is usually the result of nerve damage or harm to the nerve pathways responsible for feeling pain.

Are Side Effects of Hydrocodone Reversible or Permanent?

More common side effects related to hydrocodone, such as stomach pain, painful urination, decreased sex drive, and compromised sleep patterns will generally subside once the individual stops using the drug. 

However, if an individual has become physically dependent on the drug, side effects can be aggravated and prolonged. Some side effects can last weeks or months after discontinuing hydrocodone use.

Long-term side effects like gastrointestinal damage, respiratory system damage, and brain damage tend to be permanent. As a result, it’s important to only use hydrocodone as prescribed by a doctor. Using hydrocodone or any opioid drug recreationally and for extended periods of time can lead to chronic health problems, some of which may be permanent.

It’s important to weigh the risks and serious consequences of long-term use of opioid analgesics when compared to the possible benefits. Most doctors will only recommend sustained use of opioids if other pain management methods have proven unsuccessful. 

Alternatives to Hydrocodone

There are a wide variety of pain medications that are not classified as opioids. Alternative pain medications include the following:

  • Ibuprofen (Advil or Motrin)
  • Acetaminophen (Tylenol)
  • Aspirin (Bayer)
  • Steroids

Pharmaceutical companies are currently researching and developing non-opioid pain pills in response to the current opioid crisis. Once clinical trials have been conducted, this may be another option for individuals who need pain relief and want to avoid using opioids.

If you do not wish to use medication to alleviate pain, there are natural alternatives you can try, such as acupuncture, yoga, and mindfulness techniques. These have all been shown to be beneficial when it comes to pain management. 

Profile image for Dr. Alison Tarlow
Medically Reviewed By Dr. Alison Tarlow

Dr. Alison Tarlow is a Licensed Clinical Psychologist in the States of Florida and Pennsylvania, and a Certified Addictions Professional (CAP). She has been a practicing psychologist for over 15 years. Sh... Read More

Updated October 13, 2023
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