How Long Does Vicodin Stay in Your System?

The process of metabolism is the real detoxification process that occurs within the human body. The terms medical detox and detox are often used to refer to a process where a physician or some other trained professional assists an individual in safely managing withdrawal symptoms associated with the development of physical dependence on alcohol or drugs. The detoxification process occurs whether or not one is trying to stop using any drug. The process of metabolism occurs in an individual’s system as a result of the need to break down substances that are ingested into usable components and eliminate any waste products. The elimination of waste products from the system is often referred to asdetoxification. Attempts to assist an individual during withdrawal are more aptly termed as withdrawal management programs.

How Detox Works

Detoxification is a natural process that occurs primarily as a function of the liver, and in most cases, it is not significantly altered by any medication or behavioral intervention. Advertisements claiming to help individuals “detoxify” from drugs or to remove other impurities from their systems are inaccurate and misleading.

The human body metabolizes different types of drugs at different rates, depending on the type of the drug, and for the most part, that rate is relatively stable. For example, drugs that are water-soluble are generally metabolized much more quickly than drugs that are fat-soluble. Some specific strategies may facilitate the process, such as avoiding alcohol (The liver tends to metabolize alcohol over all other substances, and this can slow down the metabolizing of other substances in the body, including food.), drinking plenty of water, eating a healthy diet, etc. Moreover, methods to determine how long a particular drug remains in the body will be different dependent on the mechanism or method that one chooses to use. For example, drugs are often detectable via urinalysis for much shorter periods of time than by some other methods, such as the analysis of the hair.

For most drugs of abuse, the standard measure of the length of time the drug remains in the system is based on the drug’s half-life, which is a measure of how long it takes an individual’s metabolism to typically reduce the concentration of the drug in the system by half its original concentration. For some drugs, such as alcohol, this measure is not applicable; however, for most drugs of abuse, it is the standard measure used to determine how long a drug is estimated to remain in the system of most people.

Vicodin’s Timeline for Exiting Your System

Opiate drugs are substances that are derived from the poppy plant and typically used to control the subjective experience of pain. A number of opiate drugs have other uses as well.

Vicodin is a combination of the opiate drug hydrocodone and the over-the-counter pain reliever acetaminophen. Hydrocodone shares a number of similarities with other opiate drugs that attach to specific neurons in the brain that are involved in the natural suppression of pain, stress, and anxiety; they also active the neurons that are also involved in learning from reinforcement. Hydrocodone is a component of various other drugs, such as Lortab and Norco.

The DEA lists hydrocodone as a Schedule II controlled substance, indicating that while the drug has a number of useful medicinal purposes, it is also a drug that has a high potential to be abused and to produce physical dependence in people who take the drug for more than a few weeks.
Drugs that contain hydrocodone are strongly monitored by the DEA and other organizations as a result of increasing prescription medication abuse in the US.
Attempts to determine how long Vicodin remains in one’s system are generally focused on determining the presence of hydrocodone in the system as acetaminophen is not a controlled substance and does not produce significant withdrawal symptoms when use is discontinued. In general, the half-life of hydrocodone is approximately four hours, although there can be quite a bit of individual variation in this.

 It is typically detectable in urine for 2-5 days following discontinuation of the drug; however, certain metabolites of hydrocodone (substances that are produced when the body breaks down some other substance) may be detectable for significantly longer periods of time. Other methods of detection will result in variability in the window of time that hydrocodone may be detected in the system.

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How Individual Variation Affects the Process

A number of factors will influence how long hydrocodone remains in the system.

Some of these factors include:

  • The length of time the individual used the drug, the amount of the drug they typically used, and the manner in which they took the drug: Taking the drug for a longer period of time or in significant amounts will most often result in the drug remaining in the system for longer periods of time. Individuals who snort, smoke, or inject drugs retain them in their systems significantly longer than those who take them orally.
  • How the individual stopped taking the drug: Individuals who abruptly quit using a drug will retain the drug in their system for shorter period of time than individuals who slowly taper down the amount they take.
  • Physical factors: Individual variations in metabolism, weight, and gender can affect the length of time that one retains a drug in the system.
  • Use of other drugs: Generally, use of other drugs will prolong the amount of time hydrocodone remains in the system.

Vicodin Withdrawal

Depending on the above factors, most people who abruptly discontinue Vicodin may begin experiencing withdrawal symptoms within several hours to several days.

For most individuals, withdrawal symptoms will begin to occur within 1-2 days after they stop using the drug. The total length of the withdrawal syndrome typically lasts 7-10 days, although it certainly can be quite variable in different cases.

The typical length of the withdrawal process from hydrocodone occurs over the following course:

  • An initial acute phase of withdrawal: The onset of symptoms associated with discontinuation of hydrocodone can begin relatively quickly in individuals who have used large amounts of the drug and developed significant tolerance to it. The symptoms can occur within a few hours of discontinuation of Vicodin and will often begin within 12-16 hours following abrupt discontinuation; in severe cases, it can occur much quicker. The acute phase of withdrawal consists of a number of symptoms that can include muscle aches, chills, fever, perspiration, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, difficulty sleeping, clammy skin, anxiety, depression, confusion, irritability, pinpoint pupils, and cravings to use hydrocodone products. In rare cases, some individuals may begin to experience hallucinations or have other psychotic-0type symptoms; however, these are rare as a result of the withdrawal process from hydrocodone alone. Their presence often indicates that the individual is suffering from polydrug abuse or has some other co-occurring psychiatric disorder.
  • An extended period of withdrawal: The symptoms that occur in the acute phase of withdrawal from Vicodin will most often begin to decrease in their intensity within 2-5 days after their onset. Individuals will transition into a more extended period of withdrawal where the symptoms are far less severe but may linger. Most often, the symptoms resemble the flu or the common cold, and include mood swings, fatigue, sleep difficulties, problems with motivation, and continued cravings.
  • A lengthier residual period of withdrawal: Ten days after discontinuing Vicodin, many of the withdrawal symptoms will have subsided; however, some individuals often experience longer-term residual symptoms that can include intermittent issues with depression, anxiety, pain, muscle weakness, insomnia, and mild nausea or headache. Reports of the so-called protracted withdrawal syndrome or post-acute withdrawal syndrome that can last for months to years, and occurs in individuals who have discontinued a number of different drugs, are most likely related to other psychological factors. The research has not reliably demonstrated that this syndrome exists or that it is a part of a formal withdrawal process. Thus, the syndrome is not listed by the American Psychiatric Association, the American Society of Addiction Medicine, or the National Institute on Drug Abuse as a formal manifestation of the withdrawal process, although many people in recovery do experience long-term issues with mood, motivation, and increased relapse potential.

Symptoms of withdrawal from Vicodin are not considered to be potentially physically dangerous; however, they can be very distressing and intense. As a result, they can lead to the individual making poor decisions, being prone to potentially serious accidents, relapsing (which in an emotionally distraught individual increases their potential to overdose), and even becoming suicidal. For these reasons, it is strongly suggested that individuals who are attempting to discontinue any opiate drug, including Vicodin, consult with an addiction medicine physician before doing so.
 Engagement in a physician-assisted withdrawal management program will lengthen the withdrawal timeline, but will also result in the individual not experiencing any significant withdrawal symptoms. This will significantly decrease the risk that the individual will relapse or suffer other serious consequences as a result of withdrawing from Vicodin.

About The Contributor

Editorial Staff
Editorial Staff

Editorial Staff, American Addiction Centers

The editorial staff of Oxford Treatment Center is comprised of addiction content experts from American Addiction Centers. Our editors and medical reviewers have over a decade of cumulative experience in medical content editing and have reviewed... Read More

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