Vicodin is infamous for its ability to alter perceptions and change the rhythms of daily life. People who take very high doses of Vicodin often report that the drug helps them to feel calm and relaxed. Annoyances seem to fade, and physical pain begins to ebb. Instead of feeling jittery, upset or simply overly stimulated, people on Vicodin might feel simply at peace. It’s easy to see why this prescription pain medication would be so popular with addicts. It’s a powerful drug with the ability to help people feel instantly at ease. The drug is also remarkably common and easy for most people to get. According to the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, retail sales of prescription painkillers like Vicodin rose 90 percent between the years 1997 and 2005. With more of these drugs on the street, the more likely it is that people will try them and that addictions will follow.
Sadly, many women get caught up in the web of Vicodin addiction. After all, this is a drug that is widely available through doctors, and more women than men tend to pursue legitimized avenues such as these to support the disease of addiction. While Vicodin addiction in women might be common, and treatment avenues explored by women in the past might not have ended in success, research on Vicodin in women is ongoing, and as a result, researchers know more now than ever before about these addictions, and what can be done to help people heal.
Vicodin Use and Tolerance
Vicodin is designed to help people struggling with moderate, short-term pain. The drug is commonly given to people who have broken bones, sore teeth or torn muscles, and the medication truly can help to soothe and calm those in pain. The narcotic ingredients in the medication help to block the pain signal while the anti-inflammatory ingredient helps to reduce swelling and allow the blood to flow freely. Taken properly, this can be a medication that provides real relief for pain.
While Vicodin was never intended for long-term use, some people do stay on the medication for incredibly long periods of time. Over time, their bodies become accustomed to utilizing the drug, and over time, their bodies may begin to adjust in ways large and small due to the presence of this drug. Receptors for the narcotic become dulled or inactive, meaning that people might be forced to take larger and larger doses of the drug in order to feel the same euphoric effect.
This is where the true danger of Vicodin addiction lies. People who are addicted to the pleasurable symptoms that Vicodin can bring about might be required to take incredibly large doses of the drug in order to make these symptoms appear, and in the process, they may be taking in incredibly large doses of anti-inflammatory medications. According to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, the anti-inflammatory ingredient in Vicodin can damage the liver, when it’s present in very large amounts, and this liver damage can lead to death. Liver damage can lead to symptoms such as:
- Loss of appetite
Many people who feel these symptoms might assume they are caused by the flu or some other transient medical condition, the FDA reports, and this can cause delays in treatment that could lead to death.
Women might first get Vicodin from their doctors, but as their addictions grow, they may need to take very high doses of the drug, and they may find it difficult to obtain these large doses while using their doctors and filling their prescriptions at a normal rate. It was once thought that women who were addicted to Vicodin were shopping, going from doctor to doctor in order to obtain multiple prescriptions for the drug they crave, but according to an article published in the Lancet, this is a small problem. Instead, researchers suggest that people who are addicted to Vicodin supplement the prescriptions they have by talking to their family members and friends. Since Vicodin is so prevalent, it’s likely that addicts know someone else who has the drug, and that other person might be willing to share medications with the addict.
Women might also access Vicodin by:
- Buying the drug from street dealers
- Stealing the drug from family and friends
- Ordering the drug on the Internet
- Feigning illnesses in order to obtain new prescriptions in emergency rooms
All of these steps can keep an addiction alive, but many of these steps are also illegal. Women who engage in this sort of deception could land in jail, as they are accessing a drug they don’t have written authorization to use.
The Link to Mental Illness
Multiple studies suggest that there is a link between Vicodin abuse and mental illness. These studies can be difficult to interpret, as it can be hard for researchers to determine whether the addiction came first or the mental illness was already there and led to the addiction, but it’s clear that the link exists and that it’s profound. For example, a study in the journal Addictive Behaviors: An International Journal found that 13 percent of college students abused prescription drugs, particularly painkillers like Vicodin, and those students who reported feelings of sadness, depression or hopelessness were much more likely to abuse drugs than those students who did not have these feelings.
A study in the Journal of Adolescent Health seems to suggest that, for young people, feelings of depression and hopelessness exist before the Vicodin abuse begins. Here, researchers state that those with mental health disorders are more likely to be prescribed painkillers like Vicodin for chronic pain, when compared to people who do not have mental health disorders. The study goes on to say that those with mental illness who are given these medications are 2.4 times more likely to become long-term users than people who do not have mental illness. This story seems to suggest that people with mental illnesses are taking more Vicodin, and doing so is more dangerous for them.
People who have underlying depression issues and who become addicted to Vicodin might experience a worsening of their depression symptoms. As their bodies become accustomed to the presence of the opiate ingredient in Vicodin, their bodies may produce less natural feel-good chemicals as they may be flooded with these chemicals due to Vicodin. The receptors that pick up these feel-good chemicals might also be stunted and unable to pick up small doses of chemicals. As a result of these changes, people who abuse Vicodin might only feel happy and at ease while on drugs. They might feel incredible despair when they don’t have access. This might explain why opioid pain relievers such as Vicodin have been involved in 14,800 deaths in 2008 alone, according to the National Institutes of Health. People might be simply desperate to take the drug, no matter the consequence, to keep the depression at bay. And as they take larger and larger doses, they come closer and closer to toxic, life-threatening levels of drug intake.
Awareness and Intent to Recover
In order to recover from an addiction to Vicodin, people need to admit that they have a disorder and that they’re willing to do something about it. Unfortunately, it’s quite possible that people who abuse Vicodin don’t realize that their use of the drug is inappropriate. This might be especially true in women who use the drug to control pain. Since they were given the drug by their doctors, they assume that the drug is inherently safe and that it couldn’t possibly cause any negative side effects to take place. When asked about their addictions, many women might simply shrug off the concerns of their families, as they don’t understand why anything that would come from a doctor, or anything that is so widely available, could possibly be considered a real problem that anyone would be worried about.
Unfortunately, families often do see the side effects of a Vicodin addiction in the person they love. In an interview conducted with a family in Los Angeles, a Vicodin addict’s family reports that Vicodin made the woman they love seem sedated, and overly concerned with drugs. The family said, “…now she just wants to be in bed. Everything revolves around her getting her fix that she needs, her pills that she needs to get by every day and not anything else; it’s robbed the person she really is.” Families who see changes like this due to Vicodin abuse might be moved to take action.
In order to help the women they love, families might hold formal interventions in which they point out how the Vicodin addiction is hurting the family, and what the women might need to do in order to heal. These conversations can be difficult, and since so many women who have Vicodin addictions also have mental illnesses, it’s best to hold these conversations with the help of a licensed interventionist. Those families who do hold these conversations may be able to break through the denial and get the women they love into care.
Help at The Orchid
At the end of a successful conversation about addiction, women will enter a treatment program and get the help they’ll need to recover. We hope women will come to The Orchid for that care. If you have had poor luck in the past working inside traditional recovery centers, the reason may be because most such programs are geared toward men. Even programs that claim to provide care designed for women might provide methods that aren’t quite useful for all women. For example, a study in the Journal of Substance Abuse Treatment found that women in recovery programs, “…continue to experience negative stereotyping and sexual harassment as their gender-specific needs remain ignored, silenced, or deemed pathological.” The Orchid was designed to help women to truly recover.
The founders of The Orchid believe that women often do better in environments where powerful interconnectedness and trust among members are encouraged. Although group therapy remains popular across the nation, the relationships at many recovery programs tend to be distant and professional at best. There is a better way. At The Orchid, members are provided with essential emotional tools for a more substantive and lasting recovery. From narrative therapies to group meetings that encourage sharing, everything about the Orchid approach underscores the healing power of community.
It works. Feel fee to look around the site if you want to learn more about the ways in which relational women’s recovery can benefit you. When you are ready to enroll, simply call or email to get answers right away.