Long Term Effects of Hydrocodone on the Body (INFOGRAPHIC)

Nausea and vomiting are common for first time hydrocodone users, as well as dizziness, lightheadedness, and drowsiness. But what about the long term effects of hydrocodone on the body? More here.

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Reviewed by: Dr. Manish Mishra, MBBS

ARTICLE SUMMARY: Hydrocodone is a prescription painkiller prescribed for moderate pain. However, it can also be addictive, causing long term changes in brain function.


Long term Definition

The medical definition for “long-term” prescription can vary. Some experts consider anything more than one month to be “long-term” use. Other markers may be 3-6 months, but usually never more than that. In medical studies, an episode of long-term use is defined as at least 3 prescriptions issued within a 90-day period from the date of an initial prescription. Episodes of long-term use typically end when there is a gap of 6 months or more without a prescription.

Long Term Effects of Hydrocodone on the Body (INFOGRAPHIC)

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Body Effects

Primary effects of hydrocodone on the brain

  • pain relief
  • drowsiness
  • respiratory depression
  • sedation

Secondary effects of hydrocodone on the brain

  • compulsion
  • compromised mental functioning
  • cravings
  • headache
  • mental depression

Cardiovascular system effects

  • blood clotting issues
  • high blood pressure
  • low blood pressure
  • sudden drop of blood pressure

Heart effects

  • cardiac arrest
  • irregular heartbeat
  • rapid heartbeat
  • slowed heart rate

Mouth effects

  • bleeding gums
  • dry mouth
  • pale or blue lips
  • swelling of tongue
  • swelling of lip

Kidney effects

  • decrease in urine volume
  • difficult urination
  • frequent urination
  • kidney problems
  • painful urination

Effects on the Lungs

  • chest tightness
  • difficulty breathing
  • respiratory failure
  • slowed respiration


  • constipation
  • loss of appetite
  • nausea
  • stomach pain
  • vomiting

Skin Effects

  • cold, clammy skin
  • hives
  • itching
  • rash
  • severe allergic reactions
  • swelling
  • yellowing of skin

Liver Effects

  • acute liver failure
  • liver disease

Damage to the Ear, Nose and Throat

  • difficulty swallowing
  • dry throat
  • hearing loss
  • hoarseness
  • impaired hearing
  • nosebleeds
  • swelling of throat


  • back pain
  • muscle weakness
  • tightening of the muscles

Statistics and Over-Prescription

If you’re worried about using hydrocodone and its effects, you are not alone! The 2016 National Survey of Drug Use and Health (NDSUH) found that hydrocodone is one of the most popular prescriptions medications in the U.S. The 2016 NSDUH findings estimate that:

  • 54.8 million people used a medicine containing hydrocodone in the last year.
  • 6.9 million people reported misuse of hydrocodone in the last year.

In fact, this 2014 study published in the American Journal of Epidemiology reported that hydrocodone was reponsible for an increasing number of overdose deaths in the U.S. Further, this IMS Health, National Prescription Audit (NPATM) presentation shows how hydrocodone is over-prescribed. In fact, providers wrote nearly a quarter of a billion painkiller prescriptions in 2013, enough for every American adult to have their own bottle of pills.

Addiction to hydrocodone can happen quickly or can develop slowly, over time. Who’s at risk of a hydrocodone problem?

  • People taking high doses.
  • People who use it to get high.
  • People who doctor shop for more prescriptions.
  • People with a medical history of addiction.

In 2014, nearly two million Americans either abused or were dependent on prescription pain relievers like hydrocodone.

Signs of a Problem

While many people start taking hydrocodone as prescribed, around one in ten people who use this powerful painkiller end addicted to it. Drug dependence makes it even more difficult to quit hydrocodone on your own. So, if you find yourself with a hydrocodone problem, what do you do?

First, you can admit you have a problem. The main signs of a hydrocodone problem are:

  • Increased tolerance.
  • Needing hydrocodone to feel normal.
  • Using hydrocodone despite negative effects on health, home, or work.
  • Using hydrocodone to get high.
  • Quitting, but having difficulty staying quit.

You can find a list of full signs and symptoms of hydrocodone addiction via this Addiction Blog article.

Then, you start looking for help. You can speak with your prescribing doctor for an initial drug addiction assessment. These drug problem screening tools from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services are a good place to start.

No Stigma

Anyone who takes prescription opioids can become addicted to them. So, if you are experiencing problems with hydrocodone…there is nothing to be ashamed of. In fact, this 2009 study published in the medical journal, Drug and Alcohol Dependency reported that, “as many as one in four patients receiving long-term opioid therapy in a primary care setting struggles with opioid addiction.

But once you’re addicted, it can be hard to stop. The brain goes through changes and it continues to seek hydrocodone to regulate its functions and behaviors. If you find yourself in this circle and want to quit, you may need medical help. Hydrocodone addiction is a medical condition. You’ll need a diagnosis before experts know what treatments may be appropriate

What Next?

If you want to get off hydrocodone for good, you have a few options.

1. Seek an addiction diagnosis. You can find help with your prescribing physician, a psychiatrist, an addiction specialist (MD), a licensed clinical psychologist, a licensed clinical social worker, or in an addiction treatment center.

2. Go through hydrocodone detox. If you have become physically dependent on hydrocodone, you’ll need to slowly wean yourself off the pain medication. There are specific tapering guidelines that you can follow during this process. Generally, dose reduction happens over the course of a few weeks with stabilization periods of a few days before you step-down doses.

3. Learn how to cope without hydrocodone. Physical dependence is one thing. Psychological dependence is another. Once you get hydrocodone out of your system, you’ll need to learn without it. Often, this involves behavioral changes in how you deal with stress, anxiety, and/or anger. Life training skills through psychotherapy help. So does exploring past issues related to trauma or emotional problems.

KNOW THIS: You are not alone!

If you’re noticing body changes related to your hydrocodone…get help now. You don’t need to suffer in silence. And, you don’t need to deal with the problem alone.

Reference Sources: DailyMed Hydrocodone Drug Label
NCBI: Trends in long-term opioid prescribing in primary care patients with musculoskeletal conditions: an observational database study
Effects and Risks of Opioid Treatment for Chronic Pain
About the author
Lee Weber is a published author, medical writer, and woman in long-term recovery from addiction. Her latest book, The Definitive Guide to Addiction Interventions is set to reach university bookstores in early 2019.
Medical Reviewers
Dr. Manish Mishra, MBBS serves as the Chief Medical Officer of the Texas Healt...

All of the information on this page has been reviewed and verified by a licensed medical professional.


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  1. I’ve been taking 5/325 for 7 years to counter the pain my adjunct cancer medication causes. It feels like my legs, and sometimes my hips, have been beaten with baseball bats. I have not increased the dosage in 7 years, and take them mainly ay bedtime, 2 am, 4 am and 9am. I can somewhat ignore the pain during the day while I’m working, but my legs throb and wear me down. I hate that I take even 5mg opioid. Should I be concerned, or is my dosage and use ok?

  2. I’ve been taking hydrocodone for about 3yrs and am now experiencing kidney problems, I’m very worried but as always it’s hurry up and wait to see the next doctor.

    1. Hi Edith. I believe that in this situation it is best to see all doctors that you need to see and follow through with tests and physical examinations required. This is necessary to ensure appropriate pain relief while limiting serious and potentially preventable adverse effects – such as respiratory depression, hypotension, or central nervous system (CNS) toxicity – from either hydrocodone or its metabolites.

      As for your continued use of hydrocodone, you may be able to continue therapy. In fact, it has been estimated that up to one-third of patients with renal dysfunction (defined as creatinine clearance [CrCl] < 50 mL/min) also receive opioids to relieve pain, including hydrocodone. Doctors will just need to be extra careful in determining your dose intake amount and frequency.

  3. My father had kidney cancer in late 70s and had one kidney removed.Then later in life was prescribed hydrocodone 7.5 mg 4x daily and took them routine for chronic pain for about 10 years then suffered with chronic kidney failure and now has diaylsis three times a week can the long term use of them cause the kidney failure?

    1. Hi Amber. I’m really sorry for your loss. Autopsy report will tell you the real cause of death.

    1. Hi Pete. Hydrocodone detection times are unknown for blood and sweat screens. However, hydrocodone can be present in the saliva 12 to 36 hours after last dose or 2 to 4 days in the urine. Hydrocodone is also present in the hair for up to 90 days after last dose.

  4. I take 3 to 7 Tylenol #4 tablets daily with alcohol, what withdrawal symptoms will I experience if I stop & what physical/mental side effects will occur if I continue taking these amounts!

    1. Hi Pete. Depends on how much alcohol you mix with them. I’d suggest you go to a doctor and get a referral to a detox center. Withdrawing on a combination of meds can be serious and risky.

  5. My Doctor prescribed Hydrocodone 7.5/325 MG 3 times a day in 2015 for pain in my back caused from several herniated discs. I am monitored monthly by visiting my Doctors office. My question is I am plagued by chronic sleepiness. I sleep 10 t0 12 hours a day. I have spoke to my Doctor about this problem. Also I have days of severe depression, and feeling angry about my quality of life. Sleeping so much has caused my metabolism to become sluggish and I have gained 20 pounds. Is there a drug I can take which will be much easier on my body and still give me the results of diminishing my pain?

    1. Hi Nikki. Did you try with the command “save image as” directly on the infographic by clicking the right button of the mouse?

  6. I have been off Hydrocodone 10/325 Times 6 a day if needed, It took me 6 weeks to get off that dose after taking it for seven years. I had very little constipation, but my colon just all of a sudden my became sluggish ,and I could feel the food pass through for many months, now it appears my muscles around the colon periodically become tight and uncomfortable a half hour after I eat, and I get a pounding in my back [RT] side after eating, I have severe low back/Lumbar stenosis. I Had a CT scan in Feb 2015 and an ultra sound, Liver function and other blood test to rule out any bowel disease, All my test are quite normal, but I could never get an answer as to why the my outer back on the right side would always get very uncomfortable from both my primary MD and Gastro MD. As long shot or guess I could have these symptoms coming from my Stenosis? I remain off all narcotics and never have had the urge to take any , I’m certainly glad I’m off of them, other over the counter meds work just fine most of the time, Thanks for listening/Jerry

  7. Hello Tidyup. If you suspect long term side effects, speak with your prescribing doctor about your concerns and look for new options or alternatives for pain control.

    Hello Bonnie. After long term use of 6 months or more, protracted withdrawal symptoms (PAWS) such as those you describe can occur. Check out tips for hydrocodone withdrawal and how to deal with symptoms here:


  8. I was taken off hydrocodone 325/5 , 3 times daily, pramipexole and trazadone after 8 years of use. I have been in a living he’ll for over 7 weeks (no sleep, confusion, falling, dropping things, extreme pain, inability to complete the easiest task on and on). How long can I expect this will last?

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