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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.
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.
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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A number of factors will influence how long hydrocodone remains in the system.
Some of these factors include:
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:
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.