What damage is caused by abuse of Vicodin (and other pharmaceutical drugs)

In the area I grew up in, recreational pharmaceutical drug abuse has recently become a widespread epidemic. The biggest problems, from what I understand, are abuse of Oxy-Contin and Vicodin. I know that OC’s are in the same family as heroin and have similar effects and drawbacks. I have had trouble finding much info on the effects of Vicodin (when abused). My kid brother and I were chatting about it and he asked me what his friends who used it were doing to their body. I haven’t been able to find too much info so figured I’d try here.

Feel free to describe the harmful or long term side effects of other popular prescription drugs here as well. These drugs are heavily abused, yet information on the negative effects of legal drugs is much harder to find then those of illegal narcotics. Thanks in advance for any help/insight.

DaLovin’ Dj

Start with this:


Thanks. That site is illustrative of most of what I found on the web in my own search. While it lists the effects of withdrawing and how such drugs may cause death if taken in too high doses (or with other drugs), there is very little on what the drug actually will do as far as long term damage. Should these kids expect liver or kidney problems? Are there any physical ramifications outside of quitting?

DaLovin’ Dj

Vicodin contains both the opiate painkiller hydrocodone, and the non-narcotic pain killer acetaminophen. Too much of either one in a single dose can kill. Opiates, from respiratory arrest, acetaminophen from liver toxicity.

Chronic use of opiates can cause dependence. Detoxification from this is rarely dangerous, but it is uncomfortable. A bigger risk is the trouble a person generally gets into when using opiates (which impair consciousness and judgement), especially on a regular basis.

Chronic use of acetaminophen can damage the liver in a very nasty, potentially fatal way. Stopping acetaminophen use is not a problem.

Feh. Opiates have exactly two physical effects: depression and addiction. “Depression,” here, is physiological, not psychological – reduced heart rate, lassitude, and (if you OD) death; there’s also some constipation. If you don’t OD, and you don’t mind being addicted, there are no long-term harmful physical effects. Of course, if you try to quit, the withdrawal is really, really unpleasant.

The main dangers of opiate use are from its illegality (going to jail really sucks); from its expense (spending all of your money to feed an increasing habit (and it always increases)); and from the social effects of being stoned (especially if your livelihood or other people’s lives depend on your quick thinking or reflexes).

Ooh, I can’t believe I forgot the Vicodin! Yes, the acetominophen in Vicodin is deadly. And both opiates and acetominophen become unpredicatble and lethal when taken with alcohol.

Hydrocodone is a relatively weak opiate, so I suspect that if Vicodin is going to kill you, it’ll be through the acetominophen and the rather nasty things it does to your liver. Although if you mix it with alcohol you’re really asking to die three ways before Sunday.

Another popularly abused prescription drug is Ritalin. Ritalin is a moderate stimulant, and large doses can cause the same sort of problems that large doses of any stimulant can cause. However, the largest risk with Ritalin abuse seems to be that many people who abuse it take the tablets, grind them up, mix them with water or saline, and inject the mixture. This is a remarkably stupid thing to do: tablets contain all sorts of stuff which should never be injected into the bloodstream (although which are perfectly safe when taken orally). People who do this risk sudden, painful death from pulmonary embolism, as well as several other unpleasant consequences.

What are lethal doses? Is the damage caused by acetominophen cumulative or do you have to take a large amount in one dose to hurt yourself?

Thanks, folks. Just the tyoe of answers I was hoping for . . .

So, I’m under the impression there are no physical long term effects of opiate use besides dependance? That’ surprising considering tylenol slowly destroys your liver.

The lethal dose of acetaminophen (Tylenol) is about 7.5 grams (schoolnurse.com). This means the lethal dose is 15 extra strengh tablets. That seems low, but any overdose of acetaminophen is not pleasant -you’ll die slowly from liver failure that goes on up to 2 weeks.

And it’s important to know that the effects of alcohol and acetaminophen on your liver are synergistic. Especially if you are a chronic user of alcohol - there have been documentated cases of chronic drinkers dying after consuming as little as 2 gm of Tylenol. And since people who abuse drugs aren’t usually picky about which drugs they are taking… Let’s just say that your kid brother’s friends are probably playing with fire here.

IIRC, opiates are molecularly quite similar to whatever your body produces naturally to stop pain. So using them is physically less detrimental than most other narcotics. But I guess the psychological impact can be pretty severe.

Not that this helps the situation with your brother, but it is quite easy to separate the APAP in pharmaceutical formulations from Hydrocodone, Codeine, or other opiates by making use of their respective solubility properties in plain ol’ water.

My Davis’s Drug Guide for Nurses lists the overdose for acetaminophen at 10g-20g, with acute liver toxicity as the main sympton. The large variance in the dosage (a 10g difference) I assume is to account for a person’s resistance to the drug and a person’s size and history with liver-damaging substances.
As a former Vicodin addict, I can say that the most problematic side-effect is behavioural. You (and the people around you) can cope with the dazed attitude, the constant sleepiness, the slower speech and mental functions, and the goofy, sometimes amusing, actions when under the influence of Vicodin, but no one can really deal with the violent mood swings. Perhaps it was just me, but when I was either coming down or withdrawing, I was the biggest ahole in the world. I would punch my friends, push strangers then run away, and on one occasion I jumped a total stranger outside of a Subway sandwich place (although, in all fairness, it was supposed to be a joke played on a friend; it just went bad when I lept out of hiding early). But when I was on Vicodin (high, as the kids like to say), I was the nicest guy in the world. I would hug everyone, give anyone whatever money I had if they asked (although I would never share my Vicodin), and be generally the happiest person around. Until I peaked. Then I was an ahole again.
I’m sure mood swings and behavioural problems are an issue with addictions and chronic use to/of all drugs, but it was extremely pronounced when I was on Vicodin.

Also, as a side note, common side-effects of Vicodin (not long-term use, but also potential problems) are nausea (extremely common, especially with higher doses of hydrocodone, as per my experiences), constipation (as someone previously mentioned), lower blood pressure, decreased heart rate, sleepiness, and extremely stupid behaviour.


I’ve tried that with OTC codeine products from New Zealand. The problem I had was that the water/codeine mixture congealed too fast for any significant amount of filtration to occur. Before there was enough liquid codeine to be use for any real purpose…err…to get high from, the white, chalky mixture was as hard as a rock.

Eh, maybe I was doing it wrong.


grrrr…ignore the immediately preceeding post. i hit the wrong button and quoted the wrong post. THIS is the one i meant to quote.
hey, it’s my first day.


Percocet is oxycodone and acetaminophen as opposed to Vicodin’s hydrocodone and acetaminophen. What’s the difference?

I had a friend (no really, it wasn’t me it WAS a friend) who had (and maybe still has) a NASTY Percocet habit. I witnessed him regularly take 5 at a time and chew them up. He would repeat that dosage several times a day, sometimes reaching 30 pills!!!

He quickly developed stones of some type (kidney stones?..my memory fails me) and had to go to the hospital a few times. This is all based on what he told me after the fact, so I can’t really vouch for the validity. But as you’ll see from what I’m about to say, I doubt he would have made this up.

His symptoms were a huge He said that since he was relatively young, the doctor immediately knew the cause of his problems. Apparently there’s something (magnesium?) in Percocet that will accumulate and cause the stones.

You want to know the worst part? The doctor wasn’t very sympathetic and told him that normally they would prescribe pain killers for something like this but “I’m sure you have your own stash at home”!!!

So, I guess the moral of this VERY anecdotal story is that there is a big fat line between drug use and drug abuse. Taking a normal or slightly increased dosage of a prescription pain killer when you don’t really need it on a sporadic basis is drug use. Taking 30 pills (or even half that!) daily when you don’t need it is drug abuse!!!

(Sorry, something rather vital got cut off)

It should read:

His symptoms were a huge painfully swollen penis and intense internal pain…

(Man, I can’t even imagine having to go to the hospital with a problem like that…)

I can,i watched my father suffer with kidney stones.

We are talking serious pain when one became stuck between his kidney and bladder,not even pleasant to see someone like that.
As for the swollen penis,it sounds like a stone became lodged inside the urethra in his penis.

I had to take Vicodin when I was post-surgical; I hated it, and can’t see why anyone would take it for fun, but to each his own. I did end up with horrible constipation, too. The ortho nurse warned me that I could get an impacted bowel if we didn’t deal with the constipation (not tha I was fighting doing so!).

IANAD, but I imagine an impacted bowel could be really nasty, or even fatal if left untreated.

I had to take Vicodin post-surgery as well. The effect for me was kind of like having a stiff cocktail. It made me a little loopy and very, very relaxed. It helped me ignore the fact that I had a hip-to-ankle cast on my left leg and get a good night’s sleep. (I’m a side-sleeper, so having a full-length cast was not a terribly thrilling experience).

I can see why people would use it to get high. It produces a nice mellow feeling in some (like me), and is probably somewhat easier for people to get their hands on than banned narcotics.