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Effects of Hydrocodone Abuse on the Immune System

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Hydrocodone is a narcotic painkiller that contains synthetic opium. It is sold under the names Vicodin, Lorcet and Lortab. Hydrocodone affects dopamine levels in the brain, changing how the central nervous system (CNS) reacts to pain. Although it can be a lifesaver for people who need help managing pain, it can be deadly for people who abuse it to get high.

Recognizing Drug Abuse and Addiction

Prescription drug abuse is defined by the following behaviors:

  • Taking medication prescribed for someone else
  • Taking your own medication at a dosage or in a way other than how it was prescribed
  • Taking a medication for the feeling it induces1

At high doses, hydrocodone creates a sense of euphoria. People who take it in excess amounts can become addicted within one to four weeks, depending on individual tolerance.

Signs of physical addiction include:

  • Anxiety
  • Constricted pupils
  • Lethargy and drowsiness
  • Euphoria
  • Inability to concentrate

Symptoms of psychological dependence include the following:

  • Mood swings
  • Continued use despite negative consequences
  • Preoccupation with finding and using drugs
  • Depression or anxiety when not able to take drugs
  • Loss of motivation
  • Inability to handle typical pressures
  • Loss of interest in activities previously enjoyed2

Overcoming hydrocodone addiction takes courage and commitment. With professional help, it is possible to break the habit and live a drug-free life.


Negative Effects of Hydrocodone on the Immune System

Another sign of painkiller addiction is frequent illness. Both short and long-term use of painkillers results in poor health because drugs such as hydrocodone weaken the immune system.3 They depress the function of every cell and block its ability to attack viral and bacterial invaders. That leaves addicted individuals with little defense against sickness. Narcotics also compromise the immune system in the following ways:

  • Suppress the activity of natural killer cells that fight cellular toxins
  • Enhance the growth of implanted tumors
  • Trigger spleen atrophy
  • Trigger thymus gland atrophy
  • Decrease levels of interferon, a protein produced by cells in response to virus infection that inhibits viral replication
  • Increase susceptibility to infections
  • Decrease helpful T-Lymphocyte numbers
  • Decrease T-cell function
  • Inhibit B-cell activity

Individuals who become addicted to painkillers after sustaining an injury or having surgery may do even more damage to their bodies than recreational users. In addition to increasing their susceptibility to illness and infection, they prevent their bodies from recovering from the original trauma. Without an intact immune system, the body’s ability to heal structural weakness and damage is compromised.

Building Immunity and Fighting Addiction

New research is now showing that a strong immune system can actually help individuals fighting opioid addiction. So whereas opioid abuse can weaken immunity, protecting your immune system can help you recovery from addiction.4 Recovery from hydrocodone abuse is not easy, but it is possible. With professional treatment, many individuals fully recover and learn healthful ways to manage pain.

Recovery from Hydrocodone Addiction

If you or someone you love struggles with hydrocodone abuse, you are not alone. Admissions coordinators at our toll-free, 24-hour helpline can answer all your questions about treatment and pursuing a healthy life. You never have to go back to a life of addiction. Please call 269.280.4673 today to start your recovery.


1 Misuse of Prescription Drugs.” National Institute on Drug Abuse. 28 January 2018.

2 “Warning Signs of Drug Abuse and Addiction.” Indian Health Services. Accessed 28 October 2018.

3 “What Are the Side Effects of Pain Medication?” 23 January 2018.

4 Hall, H, “Immune system emerges as partner in opioid cravings fight.”, September 5, 2018.