Vicodin is a commonly prescribed pain reliever for those recovering from surgery due to illness or injury. It contains hydrocodone, a synthetic form of codeine and acetaminophen. It is classified as an opioid which means that taking it may lead to tolerance and dependence on the drug which may later lead to an addiction. Within six to twelve hours after taking the last dose of this pain reliever, Vicodin withdrawal symptoms manifest.
Vicodin withdrawal works this way:
It stops your brain from receiving pain signals. So if you miss a prescribed dose of Vicodin, your brain will begin receiving pain signals again. Pain is uncomfortable and often unbearable. What most people do the minute they perceive pain is to reach for Vicodin to stop the pain.
What most people do not understand is that opiates and opioids like Vicodin is well- tolerated by the body. The body easily gets used to being happily pain-free. But being well-tolerated also means that as the body gets used to being happily pain – free, the body will need an increasing dosage of Vicodin to achieve the same level of pain relief.
When a regular dose of Vicodin is late, or when you have finished a month’s supply of Vicodin in just two weeks as you will need more and more Vicodin to reach the same freedom from pain; your body will crave for the Vicodin. You cannot rest, be relieved or be happy without Vicodin. Sadly, Vicodin is habit-forming very much like a bad relationship you want to be rid of but are afraid to be without.
So what happens when you stop taking Vicodin? Your body goes into Vicodin withdrawal. Withdrawal is an assortment of changes in your body, in your mood or in your behavior after you stop taking an opiate such as Vicodin. Withdrawal can be physical and it can also be both emotional and psychological.
The first sign of Vicodin withdrawal is the vengeful return of the pain (for which you were prescribed the Vicodin in the first place). It could be real pain, but it can also be imaginary pain, or it may be just the pain of the withdrawal itself.
Your whole body tenses up and your muscles ache. You start shaking and you break out in cold sweat. It feels like you’re about to have a bad case of the flu: you get muscle and joint pains; you become feverish; and your heart starts to race.
Because your heart rate increases, your blood pressure also increases. You feel like screaming and running but if you get up, you feel like throwing up. Your stomach hurts and you are dizzy and nauseous. With all that going on, the Vicodin withdrawal symptoms themselves cause you to lose sleep. It is really difficult to sleep with your stomach churning, your head spinning and your leg jerking. You lose sleep because of the withdrawal symptoms; but then later, insomnia becomes a regular symptom of Vicodin withdrawal. Your mind is alert to all the sensations of pain and discomfort but you are trapped in a shaking and tremulous body. It’s not a wonder that you lose sleep.
When you quit cold-turkey on Vicodin, these withdrawal symptoms will manifest within 6-12 hours from the last dosage. But these Vicodin withdrawal symptoms are mild compared with the full-blown withdrawal you will experience within 24 to 36 hours from quitting Vicodin.
Why are there two stages of Vicodin withdrawal? This is because even after your body rapidly metabolizes and uses up the Vicodin, some of its active ingredients are still freely circulating in your blood and stored in your liver. To stop the awful pain and tremors, your body will use up the Vicodin you’ve stored up—hence the mild withdrawal within 6-12 hours. But when the stored up Vicodin is all gone, full-blown
Vicodin withdrawal begins—hence the onset of terrifying withdrawal symptoms.
Most doctors do not prescribe quitting Vicodin cold-turkey: patients are scared of going into full-blown Vicodin withdrawal. They instead recommend a gradual “weaning” from Vicodin. A gradual weaning may just prolong your agony.
How long does Vicodin withdrawal last? The acute withdrawal symptoms can last from three to five days. This is the worst. But after these three to five days where the Vicodin withdrawal symptoms are mostly physical, the post-acute Vicodin withdrawal stage begins.
The post-acute Vicodin withdrawal stage is different from the acute Vicodin withdrawal stage in that it is episodic. It comes and goes and life feels like a roller-coaster ride. The physical symptoms may lessen, only to be replaced with gnawing emotional and psychological symptoms: the craving for Vicodin nags at you; the anxiety, agitation and restlessness of your mind and your emotions feel like random panic attacks. You often fear that you are losing control, losing your mind.
How long does this post-acute Vicodin withdrawal stage last? It lasts until the body can manufacture its own endorphins again. Endorphins are your “feel good” hormones. In a non-addicted person, endorphins are released by your brain when, for example, you kiss the one you love; when you smell your baby’s clothes; when you laugh watching a good movie; or when you get a promotion at work.
The post-acute Vicodin withdrawal stage can last for months. And this is where insomnia hits you hardest. As you wrestle with feelings of shame, guilt, anxiety and agitation, sleep becomes an impossible dream and an unreachable star. Post-acute Vicodin withdrawal makes you sleep deprived.
How can you relieve post-acute Vicodin withdrawal symptoms that cause sleep deprivation?
- You can practice deep breathing: controlling your breath will calm you down and stem the agitation.
- You can engage in regular physical exercise such as running: it will use up your energies in the daytime and get you tired enough to want to sleep.
- You can try listening to classical music to help you relax.
- You can take herb teas that help ease tension and relax muscles such as passionflower, ginger, and peppermint.
- You can try getting a massage to relax you.
- You can take a hot bath just before bedtime.
- You can see your doctor and ask him about the benefits of the anti- hypertension drug Clonidine. It eases the racing of the heart and the pounding in your ears as blood rushes in your head.
The withdrawal symptoms associated with quitting Vicodin are daunting and intimidating. Realizing that the withdrawal symptoms are not short-lived but will go on for months is staggering. All this may weaken your resolve to quit. But hang on in there!
Your body will adjust to the absence of Vicodin. When because of Vicodin withdrawal you find yourself awake in bed, don’t bulldoze your way through to get some snooze. Relax and go with the flow. Read, watch TV, listen to your favourite CD, watch a chick-flick and cry your eyes out. Find a friend from another time zone and talk through the episode. Think of Vicodin withdrawal as breaking up and falling out of love with Vicodin: it is painful, but it does free you to move on to better things in life. You can get past this rough patch. Hang tough!