Opioid addiction is nothing new – the word itself comes from opium, a substance garnered from the poppy plant and made both as a recreational drug and an ancient form of anesthesia. Before then, the earliest sedative known to man was another drug – alcohol. Other ancient sedatives include ethanol, coca leaves, and cannabis vapors. However, opium has been in use both medically and non-medically for a solid five millennia. Through conquests, wars and intercontinental trade, the Arab cultivation of opium in antiquity made it to the rest of Asia and to Europe, where it flourished as well.
As our understanding of natural sciences progressed, so did the need to study and research everything. To better understand this plant and its power to sedate and cause joy, scientists began trying to isolate the compounds within opium that made it so powerful. Then, in 1803, German chemist Friedrich Sertürner isolated morphine from opium, thus introducing an incredibly powerful painkiller. At the time, opium’s use as both an analgesic and an anesthetic was without a proper alternative, albeit also highly unreliable. A young Sertürner decided that this was because opium had an active compound, and spent years running tests to discover what it might be.
Developed separately from the realm of anesthesia, where drugs like nitrous oxide and chloroform were proving more successful, morphine was explored as an analgesic for patients undergoing extreme pain from injuries sustained both on the battlefield and in civilian life. Because it is synthesized from opium itself, morphine is ten times stronger than the original drug, and was widely used to treat soldiers in the US Civil War. As a result, an estimated 400,000 became addicted to morphine.
Doctors began to tackle the issue of morphine’s addictiveness, leading to the discovery of heroin in the late 19th century as a potentially less addictive form of morphine, despite heroin’s high addictiveness. Since then, morphine has been synthesized into countless other opioids – including hydrocodone, or Vicodin.
What is Vicodin?
Vicodin is a prescription painkiller, composed mostly of the painkiller hydrocodone. Hydrocodone was synthesized in 1920 in Germany, and quickly became popular in North America. Marketed first as Dicodid, it eventually received its current name Vicodin due to being six times as potent as codeine. However, although it is synthesized from morphine, hydrocodone is only roughly 59% as strong as morphine.
Like all opioids, Vicodin binds itself to opioid receptors in the brain and blocks out pain, while inducing a mild feeling of euphoria. Listed side-effects for Vicodin include nausea, dry throat, mood swings, and dizziness. An overdose of the drug begins with shallow breathing, widened pupils and a slowed heartbeat, and can be fatal due to respiratory problems and heart failure. Blue skin and seizures are other dangerous symptoms of an overdose.
Outside of its dangers and potential for addiction, Vicodin remains a common painkiller for a variety of injuries and conditions due to a reduced potency and reduced addictiveness. It is similarly addictive to morphine, but less addictive than oxycodone, another common prescription opioid.
Identifying a Vicodin Addiction
Like other forms of addiction, a Vicodin addiction is marked by an inability to stop using without symptoms of withdrawal, or extremely aggressive and destructive behavior. An addict may also engage in dangerous or risky behavior to acquire more Vicodin as their addiction progresses, given that continuous drug use leads to drug tolerance, and demands higher dosages to achieve a semblance of normalcy or combat the effects of withdrawal.
A Vicodin addiction often begins either due to a prescription to Vicodin for post-injury pain, or because of using a friend or family member’s Vicodin for the sake of experimentation. As a potent opioid, Vicodin’s addictiveness is not to be underestimated, even if the drug is less potent than oxycodone or similar opioids.
Physical dependence on Vicodin can be difficult to treat but must be addressed as soon as possible. Continuous use of the drug often leads to organ damage or an overdose, and an overdose can lead to massive long-term consequences such as paralysis, or even cause death.
Treating Vicodin Addiction
As an opioid, Vicodin overdose is often treated with an opioid antagonist such as naloxone or naltrexone, and Vicodin cravings can be cut using drugs like buprenorphine, methadone, and clonidine.
However, medication-assisted treatment is not a given necessity for Vicodin addiction, and while it is useful during the detoxification stage of treatment, recovery still involves the use of therapy and specialized programs – from outpatient programs to sober living homes – to help patients adjust to life without Vicodin.
A physical dependence to drugs can be treated, but that treatment needs to be contextualized with a better understanding of addiction, both for the addict and their friends and family.
First: while addiction science is an ever-evolving field, the current approach to treating addiction considers it a reoccurring brain disease, a chronic condition that, much like diabetes, has the potential to arrive and needs to be managed as much as it needs to be treated. Although diabetes and addiction are not related, the point of the analogy is to make it clear that the recovery process is not a quick one and will last an entire lifetime.
That does not mean that an addiction patient will never again live their life without professional and medical help. Instead, it means that if you have struggled with addiction, there are certain things you will need to do and keep in mind to stay clean. Stress management techniques become vital, to maintain a sense of peace and order in chaotic times.
It has also important to be near loved ones, so help and support are never too far away on particularly hard days. There are times when life will throw a curveball at us and hit us when we least expect it – with a history of addiction, there is always the danger that when those days arrive, they come coupled with a potential relapse. Understanding the dangers of high-stress situations and knowing what is most likely to trigger a relapse can help a patient get through tough times without resorting to drugs again.
Addiction must be treated early on. This means helping an addict get away from their drug use and get sober long enough to feel the cravings begin to subside. From there, treatment options are meant to help addicts create a live for themselves that keeps them sober and clean even when things are hard and gives them sources of happiness and contentment without drugs. The long-term management of an addiction requires a lot of soul-searching, and with the help of therapy, group meetings, and close friends, all crises can be managed without having to return to old habits.