Vicodin is a drug that was developed to include a combination of hydrocodone and paracetamol (acetaminophen). It is utilized primarily to provide pain relief for those with moderate to severe pain. It is considered a Schedule II Controlled Substance in the United States, meaning that it has a high potential for abuse and both psychological and physical dependence. Hydrocodone is a narcotic, also known as opioid pain medication. The less potent pain reliever, acetaminophen works to increase the effects of hydrocodone. As is true with any medication, there are risks to its use. All throughout adolescence and into early adulthood, the brain is actively developing and will not reach full development until age twenty-five, at the earliest. A teenager relies heavily on the amygdala (the area of the brain associated with impulses, emotions, aggression, instinctive behavior, and plays a role in sexual activity and libido) when reacting to certain stimuli whereas an adult relies on the last area of the brain to fully develop, known as the prefrontal cortex (the area of the brain that is involved in planning, self-control, and decision making) when reacting to the same stimuli. Therefore, any unnecessary chemical interference during these highly substantial developmental years, can produce unwanted, and in some cases, dangerous outcomes, including:
- Increased propensity for drug abuse: Vicodin abuse occurs when teen ingests Vicodin that had not been prescribed by a medical professional, uses more than the amount prescribed, or uses a different ingestion method then prescribed. Mixing Vicodin, especially when clearly instructed not to, with other drugs and/ or alcohol could also be considered abuse.
- Liver damage: Vicodin can be particularly dangerous for the liver. One study concluded that large doses of acetaminophen “were found to cause severe allergic reactions and liver damage in many people, and several people who took over 325 mg of acetaminophen consistently often ended up in the emergency room due to overdose.”
- Change in the way the brain looks and works: The Brain Injury Association of America suggests that long-term use of opioids can cause changes in the frontal brain region, which results in cognitive impairments.
- Interfere with breathing: Vicodin suppresses parts of the brain stem that control breathing rate. This makes breathing slow and shallow, which can be extremely dangerous. Suppressed breathing can cause too little oxygen to reach the brain, which can lead to permanent brain damage, coma, or death.
- Mental health complications: Research has found that prolonged misuse of Vicodin significantly increases the risk of depression, paranoia, psychosis, anxiety, and mood swings.
However, when taken exactly as directed by a qualified medical professional, Vicodin can be a highly effective medication.
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