Prescription pain medications have become the do-all and end-all remedies for treating most all types of pain symptoms. According to the U. S. Drug Enforcement Administration, hydrocodone prescriptions outnumber all other opiate drugs with over 136 million prescriptions dispensed in 2013 alone.
Whether you’re taking hydrocodone as a pain treatment or using it for recreational purposes, its ability to interact with the brain’s neurochemical makeup poses certain real risks for hydrocodone dependence over time. Knowing what types of signs to watch out for can help prevent the effects of hydrocodone dependence from turning into a full-blown addiction problem.
Hydrocodone Effects in the Brain
Hydrocodone belongs to the opiate class of drugs, best known for their pain relieving properties. Like most all opiates, hydrocodone integrates within the brain’s chemical system without notice since its chemical makeup closely resembles the brain’s own endorphin chemicals. In effect, the brain interacts with hydrocodone as one of its own natural chemicals.
Endorphin chemicals, such as dopamine, norepinephrine and serotonin play key roles in regulating pain and pleasure sensations, movement as well as memory and learning functions. Hydrocodone’s pain-relieving effects stem from its ability to stimulate endorphin production output, which in turn works to prevent pain signal transmissions from reaching the brain.
Hydrocodone stimulates the release of these chemicals in excess amounts. Over time, these effects weaken the brain’s ability to secrete needed endorphin supplies on its own. In essence, hydrocodone dependence develops out of these interactions. Hydrocodone also produces certain unintended side effects like contentment and euphoria, effects that can easily encourage continued drug use.
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Signs of Hydrocodone Dependence
Signs of hydrocodone dependence develop gradually as the drug’s effects offset the brain’s chemical balance and regulatory functions. When this happens, you’ll start experiencing withdrawal symptoms as the brain’s functional capacity wanes. Withdrawal symptoms typically take the form of:
- Restless sleep patterns, inability to get to sleep and/or stay asleep
- Aching muscles
- Feelings of depression
The greater the degree of chemical imbalance the more severe these effects become. Withdrawal episodes increase in frequency as well.
The Hydrocodone Dependence Cycle
When taken in excess or in larger amounts than prescribed, the risk of hydrocodone dependence increases considerably. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, the brain’s chemical environment continues to undergo changes in response to hydrocodone’s effects. The brain also develops an increasing tolerance to hydrocodone, so a person must keep increasing dosage amounts in order to keep experiencing its effects.
The combined effects of withdrawal, unintended side effects (euphoria and contentment) and increasing tolerance levels all feed off one another, creating a cycle of hydrocodone dependence. In the process, it becomes more and more difficult to stop taking the drug at will.
Because of its potential for abuse, prescription pain medications like hydrocodone should only be taken on a short-term basis to prevent the effects of these drugs from taking over essential brain functions. Once hydrocodone dependence takes hold, the sooner a person gets needed treatment help the better as the brain only becomes more so entrenched in the dependence cycle over time.
If you suspect you or someone you know may be struggling with hydrocodone dependence and have questions about treatment options in your area, please feel free to call our toll-free helpline at 800-442-6158 Who Answers? to speak with one of our addictions specialists.