Vicodin Addiction and Depression: Why Comprehensive Treatment Is Key to Recovery

When Vicodin use becomes an addiction, it’s often accompanied by depression. While the uneasy relationship between Vicodin addiction and depression may have several underlying explanations, there’s a clear path forward in treatment. Comprehensive treatment of both conditions at once is necessary to break the connection and find the key to recovery.

Following a painful molar extraction, Jake’s dentist prescribed Vicodin, a prescription painkiller comprised of the opioid hydrocodone and acetaminophen. Jake, who’d struggled with depression off and on throughout his adult life, had been under a great deal of stress and anxiety from an acrimonious divorce; he found taking Vicodin not only relieved his mouth and jaw pain, but also provided him with a pleasant sense of euphoria and a temporary relief from his worries. He continued taking Vicodin long after his mouth pain healed, purchasing it without a prescription through an illegal online pharmacy.

Before long, Jake found himself addicted to the effects of Vicodin, consuming larger and larger doses in order to achieve the same euphoric effect. His depression had returned, too; far from being soothed by his opioid use, he’d often find himself feeling exhausted and defeated. Increasing his self-administered dosage helped for a bit—and then his depression would inevitably return, worse than ever.

Jake isn’t alone. As many Vicodin users have discovered, there’s an uneasy relationship between depression and opioid addiction. Seeking comprehensive professional treatment for both conditions is vital for overall health and lasting recovery.

How Vicodin Use Becomes an Addiction


Hydrocodone, the key ingredient of Vicodin, provides a level of pain relief similar to morphine, which makes it an effective painkiller when used in an appropriate manner. The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) estimates that in 2013, 136 million prescriptions were issued for hydrocodone, making it the most frequently prescribed opiate in the United States. Hydrocodone interacts with the opioid receptors located throughout the body to lower pain; it also creates a sense of euphoria and helps users feel calm and relaxed. Because of these pleasant effects, it’s frequently misused. Vicodin and other prescription medications containing hydrocodone are categorized as Schedule II controlled substances, which means they have a high potential for abuse.

Long-term use of Vicodin builds up a tolerance to its effects, meaning more and more must be taken to experience its effects; this can lead to memory problems and irritability, plus an increased sensitivity toward pain. Because Vicodin is partially composed of acetaminophen, sustained or excessive use carries a very real chance of liver damage. Vicodin addiction is characterized by the lengths users will go to in order to acquire more of it, which may include illegally modifying prescriptions, going to multiple doctors for multiple prescriptions, borrowing it from others, buying it illegally, or stealing it; physical signs of addiction include a slowed heart rate, breathing difficulties, and anxiety. For those who have built up a dependency, abruptly halting Vicodin use will cause an assortment of painful or unpleasant withdrawal symptoms, including body aches, vomiting, and diarrhea.

A Vicodin overdose may bring about the following effects:

  • Uncontrolled vomiting
  • Weak heartbeat
  • Difficulty breathing or an inability to breathe
  • A blue tint to fingers and lips caused by lack of oxygen
  • Coma

As an overdose can be fatal, immediately seek emergency aid if you suspect you or anyone you know is overdosing on Vicodin.

The Uneasy Relationship Between Vicodin Addiction and Depression


In addition to all of the above symptoms and effects, Vicodin addiction is also linked to higher rates of depression. A study shows that people who took opioids for ninety to 180 days had their risk of depression increase by 25%; those who took them for longer than 180 days saw their depression risk increase by 53%. Possible explanations as to why this connection exists include the following:

  • Pain and depression are reciprocal conditions that can fuel each other: Depression can cause physical pain, such as headaches or back pain, and chronic pain can cause depression. Those who take painkillers like Vicodin for pain management may also have pain-related depression.
  • People with depression may self-medicate with Vicodin, relying on the sense of euphoria created when opioids flood the brain with dopamine to temporarily alleviate their symptoms.
  • Vicodin use may spur on depression by altering brain chemistry. The euphoria caused by Vicodin may fade into dysphoria, triggering the onset of depression.

Whatever the individual reason or reasons for the connection, the link between depression and Vicodin addiction is real and, for those suffering from both conditions, potentially painful and damaging. Professional integrated treatment is required to encourage proper healing from both disorders.

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Comprehensive Treatment Is Necessary to Break the Connection


When Vicodin addiction and depression co-occur, the best way to recover is to seek comprehensive and simultaneous treatment of both conditions. A residential addiction treatment center with a medical staff qualified to address both substance use disorders and mental health disorders provides a safe, supportive environment in which to heal. Vicodin addiction treatment will generally begin with a medically-supervised detox, in which withdrawal symptoms are managed with medications while a client receives around-the-clock care in a comfortable and protective setting until all traces of the drug have left the body. Following that, a controlled combination of medication and therapy will be used to treat both the addiction and the depression. Psychotherapy will help clients understand and address the root causes of their addiction and their depression; it will also enable them to learn useful coping strategies to increase functionality. Family therapy may also be integrated into treatment to repair interpersonal relationships damaged by either addiction or depression.

When Vicodin addiction and depression co-occur, it can create great stress and unhappiness while posing a very real threat to an individual’s physical and mental health. However, hope is on the horizon: Through simultaneous treatment of both conditions, the debilitating effects of depression and addiction may be overcome, bringing about a healthier, happier life.

Alta Mira offers comprehensive treatment for people struggling with drug and alcohol addiction as well as co-occurring mental health disorders and process addictions. Contact us to learn more about our renowned Bay Area programs and how we can help you or your loved one start the journey toward lasting recovery.