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Chemistry of Vicodin

Vicodin is a strong and highly addictive opioid painkiller. It is a hydrogenated derivative of codeine and has analgesic effects. In this page, we describe the chemistry of Vicodin and how it affects the body and mind.

What is an opioid?

Opioids are a category of drug that are found naturally in a part of the opium poppy plant. Opioid drugs are made, in part, by extracting from the poppy plant. In some opioids, the plant is used directly in the process whereas in others it is possible to create a similar or identical chemical structure artificially in a laboratory.

What is it about opioids that makes them so widely used?

Opioids are important in medical applications because they contain specific chemicals that are able to relax the body and provide a strong alleviation of symptoms of pain. For people who have illnesses that lead to chronic pain, such as after major surgery, opioid painkillers make their daily lives manageable.

What happens to the brain when you take an opioid like Vicodin?

Opioids operate by binding to receptors that exist in parts of the brain, organs in the body and in areas of the spinal cord. Key to the effects felt when under the influence of opioids is the fact that many of the opioid receptors that are bound to are ones that influence feelings of pleasure, relaxation and happiness.

When an opioid binds to such a receptor, it inhibits its ability to send any pain signals to the brain. At the same time, the receptor releases large amounts of dopamine throughout the body, which plays a major role in sensations of pleasure and is, in essence, a signal to the brain to reward and encourage repetition of the act that released the dopamine. An example of this is the release of dopamine naturally during exercise.

What does this all mean in simpler terms?

In short, the manner in which Vicodin affects the body makes it highly addictive and dangerous to use. When prescribed by a medical professional, the addictive effects are minimised by educating the individual on the nature of the substance and by providing it in a prescription that steadily reduces in quantity over time.

Vicodin is dangerous to withdraw from without medical assistance. Opioid drugs can be fatal to withdraw from and, in cases of addiction and dependency, similar drugs with less addictive properties are often provided to help wean the individual off the main substance. Vicodin has serious withdrawal symptoms that affect the user physically and mentally; these may be fatal.

Is Vicodin easy to get addicted to?

Yes. Vicodin is a highly addictive substance. Opioid painkillers operate by binding to receptors in the brain in a manner that spikes the release of dopamine in the brain. Dopamine, while being involved in the creation of feelings of pleasure, primarily acts as a way for our brain to motivate and encourage certain behaviour. When you exercise heavily, you release dopamine which makes you feel good, reinforcing the idea of doing more exercise being beneficial.

This same process occurs during the consumption of opioid painkillers such as Vicodin. Thousands lose their lives each year to overdoses from Vicodin consumption. Because the withdrawal symptoms of Vicodin are so strong, a person will be compelled to continue obtaining and using Vicodin just to avoid feeling those symptoms. This often occurs during the period in which a person is prescribed an opioid painkiller for the treatment of strong pain symptoms, such as is common following a major medical operation. In such a case, a person can become addicted even though they had no intention of ever taking drugs illegally or recreationally.

If you or someone you know are worried about addiction to Vicodin or any other substance or activity, please contact Help Me Stop immediately. We will be happy to talk to you at no obligation and to suggest solutions to your issues.