Vicodin 301: Why is Vicodin Addictive?

Vicodin is classified as a Schedule III controlled substance, which means it has potential for abuse and may lead to significant psychological dependence. Simply stated, Vicodin is regulated because it is an addictive drug.

But how could your everyday Vicodin be so dangerous? How could Vicodin get a person addicted? Is Vicodin addiction even real?

Vicodin’s effect on the brain

Yes, it’s real. Vicodin, like any other opioid, effects more than just the pain receptors in your body. And just like any other addictive substance, Vicodin changes the function of a critical area of your brain known as the mesolimbic dopamine system, commonly referred to as the reward pathway.

The reward pathway

The reward pathway can be thought of as “your happy place.” It is the area of the brain responsible for producing positive feelings like pleasure, satisfaction and well-being.

Many people associate the reward pathway with the euphoric effects sought by drug abusers. However, the reward pathway is responsible for everyday feelings of pleasure--from the feeling of accomplishment after finishing a hard task to the flush of victory after winning a game of spoons. In essence, a working reward pathway is necessary for a person to feel normal.

But when a drug (like Vicodin) continually interferes with the normal workings of your reward pathway, the system eventually changes so much it does not work normally on its own. Quitting then results in a painful emotional low where you feel depressed, ashamed and guilty. Even though the euphoric effects of the drug are long gone, the chemically dependent person “needs” the drug simply to feel normal.

Vicodin’s effect on the body

All opioids have intensely painful withdrawal symptoms. Even though you are increasingly becoming more tolerant to the drug, you are becoming less tolerant to pain. Thus the sudden removal of opioids from your body’s pain receptors result in extreme pain sensitivity, making the whole body “just hurt.”

The combination of extremely painful withdrawal effects, intense cravings, and depression makes “quitting” beyond the scope of raw determination and willpower. Most times, it requires professional help.

Additional withdrawal effects include

  • Anxiety
  • Aching muscles
  • Stomach pains
  • Nausea
  • Diarrhea
  • Insomnia

What are my chances of getting addicted to Vicodin?

If you’re taking Vicodin for the right reasons and in the right way, then your chances of being addicted to Vicodin (or any other prescription medication) are extremely low—less than 10%.

The risk of addiction is often influenced by other factors, such as

  • Genetics
  • Family history
  • Environmental factors
  • Past history of drug abuse

You can find out more information on this topic by reading, “How risky are prescription drugs?"

However, if an individual is taking Vicodin non-medically or is deliberately misusing it, the chances of addiction are significantly higher.

What if I or somebody I love is addicted to Vicodin?

All the scientific explanation and statistics are very nice, you may say, but what if I or somebody I know is already addicted to Vicodin? Now what do I do? Is there rehab for Vicodin addiction?

Yes, there is—right here at Duffy’s. In fact, about 10% of Duffy’s admissions are treated for Vicodin, Oxycontin, Methadone or other similar prescription opiates, and we ensure the best care and guidance possible for a successful recovery. To find out how Vicodin detox and rehab works, read the last blog in the series on Vicodin: Vicodin 401: Vicodin Detox and Rehab

If you haven't already the first two in the series, you might also want to read the pros and cons of Vicodin (101) and how to die from Vicodin (201)