Vicodin is the brand name for a narcotic analgesic medication that is prescribed to alleviate moderate-to-severe pain. It contains a combination of hydrocodone (semi-synthetic opioid) that acts on the central nervous system (CNS) to relieve pain, and acetaminophen (pain reliever and fever reducer) that works to increase the effects of hydrocodone. The United States Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) has classified Vicodin as a Schedule II Substance, which are defined as “drugs with a high potential for abuse, with use potentially leading to severe psychological or physical dependence.” Vicodin elicits a pain-relieving effect by binding to opioid receptors, which are in one’s brain, spinal cord, gastrointestinal tract, etc., and depressing the CNS, thereby adjusting the amount of information surrounding pain that is relayed to various areas of one’s body. Abrupt cessation of any opioid a teenager has grown physically dependent on leaves the potential for dangerous symptoms and side effects.
Vicodin withdrawal symptoms are generally considered unpleasant but not life-threatening, however death can, and does, occur. Death is an uncommon, but catastrophic, outcome of Vicodin withdrawal. Without proper management or care, the teenage body cannot handle removing a substance to which it is physically addicted. For some teenagers, Vicodin withdrawal symptoms can be so severe that the body ceases to function or operates at a highly diminished capacity. An increase in heart rate, for example, can lead to fatal heart attacks, even in a healthy cardiac system. As blood pressure rises, so does the risk of a stroke. Heart attacks and strokes are the most common reasons for death during withdrawal. The complications of Vicodin withdrawal are often underestimated and monitored inadequately.
Unlike other substances, it is generally recommended for a teenager to taper off Vicodin as opposed to stopping abruptly. The tapering-off method entails gradually decreasing the total daily dose of an abused substance, typically with the goal of discontinuing the drug entirely. This process can take anywhere from days to weeks (and possibly months) depending on drug-specific factors and the teen’s response to the decreased dose. The timeline to wean off Vicodin will be different for each young person as it will be greatly informed by the teenager and his or her unique situation. Tapering off drugs can be successfully accomplished with ample medical supervision, and it is often the recommended method for safely removing certain substances, such as Vicodin, from one’s system.
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