Wednesday April 1st 2015

Can you die from taking hydrocodone?

Can you die from taking hydrocodone?

Yes. Taking too much hydrocodone can kill you.

More on the risks and dangers associated with taking hydrocodone narcotics below. And we invite your questions and feedback about hydrocodone use at the end.

Systems affected by hydrocodone

Hydrocodone is a central nervous system depressant and an antitussive medication. Hydrocodone affects the brain causing drowsiness.  Hydrocodone can also affect the lungs.

Dangers of hydrocodone ingredients

Like all opiates, hydrocodone is addictive and can create compulsive drug-seeking behavior in users. It is also easy to develop a physical tolerance to the medication (which is different than addicytion), which require higher or more frequent doses of hydrocodone for same effect. Physical dependence is also indicated when you experience withdrawal symptoms during dose reduction or elimination.

Some of the serious side effects caused by hydrocodone are equally concerning. Hydrocodone in large amounts can slow breathing to the point where users lose consciousness or die. When combined with acetaminophen, hydrocodone overdose can cause severe liver damage.

Hydrocodone combined with other drugs

Hydrocodone is an opiate painkiller found in many different pain medications, usually in conjunction with acetaminophen (for example, Vicodin). Hydrocodone is also combined with aspirin or antihistamines, and is sometimes used in prescription cough medications. Because hydrocodone is only legally available combined with other drugs, the risk of overdose is compounded because often, the other drugs come with significant dangers of large doses.

Serious adverse side effects of hydrocodone

In moderate amounts, hydrocodone can cause dizziness, nausea, and related side effects. In high doses, hydrocodone can make breathing difficult. Withdrawals from the medication can make a hydrocodone dependent person seriously ill – causing insomnia, pain, and gastrointestinal issues. How long hydrocodone withdrawal take?  Ususally symptoms peak 2-3 days after last dose, although some hydrocodone withdrawal cases can last for days to weeks after this.

Signs of hydrocodone overdose

There are a few telltale signs of a hydrocodone overdose. These include three main symptoms:

  • breathing problems
  • extreme sleepiness
  • small (“pinpoint”) pupils

How to treat hydrocodone overdose

If you suspect you’ve taken too much hydrocodone, consult a poison control center or go to a hospital right away. If someone near you has overdosed on hydrocodone, seek professional medical help immediately or call 911. In some cases, all that’s needed is to monitor the person’s breathing until the medication wears off. Sometimes, however, oxygen or an antidote to the opiate will need to be administered. Prompt medical attention is very important, as a lack of oxygen can cause permanent brain damage.

Are you taking too much hydrocodone?

There are many reasons why someone might take high levels of hydrocodone. They may suffer from chronic pain and find that their prescribed dose does not help with symptoms. They may be abusing it to experience a “high.” If you’re a patient with a hydrocodone prescription and you find you’re having to take large doses for pain relief, speak to your doctor about adjusting your dosage or trying a different medication, so that you can avoid the risk of accidental overdose on hydrocodone or any of the other drugs in your medication.

And if think that you’re addicted to narcotics, there are support groups and medical treatments available to help. Please leave us your questions about taking hydrocodone, and its abuse here. We are happy to respond to all questions with a personal and prompt reply.


Reference Sources: Drug Enforcement Administration: Hydrocodone
PubMed Health: Hydrocodone
Medline Plus: Hydrocodone and acetaminophen overdose

Photo credit: Andrew Mason

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11 Responses to “Can you die from taking hydrocodone?
2:58 pm October 17th, 2012

I was just curious if taking half a pill a day for my lower back issues will cause long term effects, and if so what are they. I do notice slow breathing even when I only take half a pill, is that dangerous?

12:49 pm October 18th, 2012

Hello Juan. Thanks for your question. I would certainly report this side effect to your prescribing doctor. Slowed breathing is a signal that hydrocodone may be too strong an opioid for your body and central nervous system. Or you may need to adjust dosage.

Long term effects of opioids are unknown at the moment, although hydrocodone may affect the liver. Check in also with your doctor about where to look up studies on the long term effects of hydrocodone…and let us know how it goes!

John B
2:22 am December 17th, 2012

I was given Hydrocodone 5/325 to take 2 pills three times a day, about three months ago. Well, I have been taking the prescribed dose and a half pill, and I sometimes take two or three half pills about an hour apart after taking the prescribed dose. I usually don’t take any more Hydrocodone for that day. I have been experiencing some pain and discomfort in the upper quadrant of my abdomen for some time, but it usually subsides when I lessen the doses. I have had blood and urine tests and x-rays several times. Each time, everything came out normal; no damage detected. I am currently still taking the medicine and doing the same as before. I would like to add here that I have been prescribed Oxycontin and Vicodin over the past several years; always the pain in the abdominal area.

9:16 am December 18th, 2012

Hi John. Opioids like hydrocodone and oxycodone reduce motility by increasing smooth muscle tone in the stomach and duodenum. In the small intestine, digestion of food is delayed by decreases in propulsive contractions. Other opioid effects include contraction of biliary tract smooth muscle, spasm of the Sphincter of Oddi, increased ureteral and bladder sphincter tone, and a reduction in uterine tone. While this may explain the discomfort in your abdomen, it doesn’t really help you practically. Have your prescribing doctors noted these effects?

11:18 pm January 23rd, 2014

Hi my husband has been taking pain pills for alon time now maybe about 3 years on and off,he is addictive to it,but has slowed down on takin them,he usually takes a lot in one day,he has been having a lot of stomach aches,and also said he’s been having bloody noise,and been getting bad migraines that even with the pain pills they won’t go away,I am afraid that he will die from taking it,I know their is something wrong with his health but he also suffers from anxiety attacks (panic attacks) telling him that I think hes really sick will make him freak out an cause him a panic attack an they are no joke,it gets to a point where he thinks he’s gonna die he calls the ambulance,I don’t know what to do please help me I don’t want to loose him

12:55 pm January 24th, 2014

Hello Lisette. Have you consulted with a licensed psychologist or psychiatrist about this issue? Your husband may require professional help in order to stop…and doctors can set up tapering plans that make sense. I’d suggest a medical consult ASAP.

3:47 am April 29th, 2014

I have been taking one dose or another of hydrocodone for about 11 years. My current dosage is 10/325 3 x’s daily. Could this be the cause of my sleep apnea or my low oxygen levels while l sleep?

Mr. Anonymoose
7:01 am October 17th, 2014

I’m badly addicted to hydro. I don’t know what to do. I have a 1 year old and a great wife. They don’t know of my habit but it has to STOP. I can’t even get out of bed without them and I run a full time business. No judging would be nice. I have tried quitting CTurkey but failed. I want my life back.

11:12 am October 20th, 2014

Hi Mr. Anonymoose. It’s difficult to quit hydrocodone cold turkey. Why don’t you try slowly tapering off of the drug? By doing so, the withdrawal symptom’s severity will be lowered and the chances for success increased. Here are two links from related articles that can give you more information:

Carol Ann
1:45 am October 27th, 2014

My sister’s autopsy revealed a toxic level of Hydrocodone. She died at 4PM but blood was not drawn until 9AM the next day. Does Hydrocodone continue to metabolize after death?

9:25 pm November 1st, 2014

Hi Carol Ann. I’m sorry for your loss. But, I believe it’s impossible, since death is declared when the heart and brain stop functioning. Without them the body cannot secrete important hormones needed to keep biological processes, including gastric, kidney and immune functions. Thus, metabolic functions aren’t possible.

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