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How to Stop Vicodin Cravings, Prevent Relapse, and Find Help

Managing Vicodin Cravings

Vicodin (hydrocodone/acetaminophen) is an opioid medication used to treat pain. It is one of the most commonly abused painkillers, and its abuse can lead to addiction and tolerance. Users who become addicted experience cravings to continue using the drug or to avoid withdrawal symptoms.

This article examines Vicodin cravings, management of cravings, and how to avoid a relapse. It covers:

Vicodin Cravings Signs and Symptoms

Cravings are strong urges to use a substance and are a sign of addiction. They typically occur during withdrawal or in response to a trigger.

People who are addicted to Vicodin develop a physical dependence to the drug. Their brains and bodies adapt to function with a certain level of the drug in their system. As the drug begins to leave their system, the brain and the body crave the drug to maintain equilibrium. Users may also experience unpleasant withdrawal symptoms such as nausea, muscle aches, and headaches when attempting to quit or when they haven’t taken the drug for some time. They may crave the drug to make the symptoms go away.

Triggers are people, places, things, or memories that can cause someone to want to use Vicodin again. Examples of triggers are pill bottles, drug-using friends, being in certain environments, and emotions such as boredom or even happiness.

Signs and symptoms of cravings include:

  • Feelings in the stomach.
  • Racing heart.
  • Believing you can “smell” the drug.
  • Inability to stop thinking about the drug.
  • Anxiety.
  • Dreaming about the drug.

How Long Do Cravings Last?

Cravings during the withdrawal phase usually develop within 6 to 12 hours after the last dose, peak within 1 to 3 days, and gradually subside within 5 to 7 days. 3 However, users may continue to experience cravings after this period depending on how long they were using, how much they were using, and how regularly they were using.

Users should accept cravings as part of the recovery process and find ways to cope with them when they do occur.

Treatments and Therapies for Vicodin Cravings

Cravings can be overwhelming and difficult to manage alone. Many different treatments and therapies are available to help recovering Vicodin users control cravings and avoid relapse.

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy

Cognitive behavioral therapy is a common form of therapy used in addiction treatment programs, as well as in group and individual therapy. It uses a number of techniques to help users manage cravings, including:

  • Mindfulness – Mindfulness focuses on awareness and acceptance of cravings. It encourages users to stay with the craving instead of trying to ignore it. Users do not react to the craving, but simply become aware of it. Studies have shown a reduction in cravings with this technique. 1
  • Urge surfing – Similar to mindfulness, urge surfing teaches users how to ride out the craving instead of giving in to it. Users learn how to sit with the craving and allow it to peak in intensity and subside. Users may focus on the craving, including where they feel it in their body, and describe how the craving feels out loud to themselves.
  • Self-talk – Users learn how to identify the thoughts they have about a craving and work on changing those thoughts. For example, a user might think, “I have to use to get rid of this craving.” The user would replace that thought with, “I don’t have to use. The craving will eventually pass.”
  • Focusing on negative consequences – The therapist helps the user recall negative consequences from Vicodin use. The user then focuses on these experiences when tempted to use.
  • Identifying and avoiding triggers – Users think of the people, places, and things that make them want to use, and then figure out how to avoid them or cope with them when they do occur.

Treatment Programs

Users who are having trouble managing cravings on their own or are worried about relapse can seek professional help at a treatment program or from a therapist. Common treatment options for Vicodin addiction and cravings include:

  • Inpatient treatment – Inpatient or residential treatment can include medically supervised detox, individual and group therapy, 12-step meetings, recreational activities, and aftercare planning. Users may be given medications during withdrawal to help with cravings, and learn relapse prevention techniques through therapy and interactions with other users who may be further along in the recovery process. Inpatient treatment requires you to live at the facility while you are receiving treatment, and most programs last between 28 days and 90 days.
  • Outpatient treatment – Outpatient treatment is conducted on a part-time basis. Most programs include individual and group therapy, and some include detox.
  • Individual therapy – Working one-on-one with a therapist can provide more focused and targeted interventions for addiction. Users can work on a number of different issues related to addiction, including social skills, relationships, relapse prevention, and mental health issues.
  • Group therapy – Group therapy brings together a small number of people who are struggling with similar addiction problems. Participants can share their struggles, give and receive feedback, and get a sense that they are not alone in their struggles to remain clean and sober.
  • 12-step groups –
    Twelve-step programs are free and offer a proven program of recovery as well as peer support. In many cases, 12-step group participants will choose a sponsor whom they can call if they feel an urge to use. Twelve-step meetings and group therapy sessions both offer opportunities for users to learn from the experiences of others.

Medications Used to Curb Vicodin Cravings

Medication-assisted treatment (MAT) is often used to help people detox from opioids such as Vicodin. It can be effective in curbing cravings.

A physician prescribes a medication and then gradually reduces the dose over time (tapering) or maintains the user on a certain dose. The medication is usually combined with behavioral therapy. 2

Below is a list of commonly used medications to treat opioid abuse and prevent relapse.

  • Methadone – Methadone is a long-acting opioid drug that can help reduce cravings and withdrawal symptoms. 2 It helps users stabilize and engage in treatment.
  • Buprenorphine – Buprenorphine is a partial opioid agonist that does not produce as intense a “high” as Vicodin and can be used to help reduce cravings. 2 It is combined with naloxone, an opioid antagonist, in a brand name formulation known as Suboxone.
  • Naltrexone – Naltrexone is an opioid antagonist that blocks the effects of other opioids and can be used to prevent relapse. 2
  • Clonidine- This antihypertensive medication is commonly used to manage anxiety and other withdrawal symptoms associated with opioid detox, such as sweating, runny nose, muscle aches, cramping, and agitation.

How to Stop Cravings Naturally

In addition to treatment, there are other ways that you can help stop or minimize Vicodin cravings at home, such as:

  • Find a hobby – Finding new, fulfilling ways to occupy your time can help distract you from cravings and prevent boredom, which can be a trigger to use.
  • Exercise – Exercise can release endorphins that can relieve stress and lead to feelings of wellbeing. They can help curb cravings and also help improve feelings of depression and anxiety, which may reinforce addiction.
  • Talk it out – Call a friend, family member, or 12-step sponsor when you experience a craving. Often, just talking about the craving can cause it to subside.
  • Leave the situation – If possible, remove yourself from the situation that is causing the craving.
  • Breathe – Deep breathing techniques can help calm down your body and your mind and help prevent you from giving in to a craving. You can learn these techniques from a therapist or do some research online.
  • Meditate or do yoga – These two techniques can also help calm down your mind and help you become aware of the craving without acting on it. Yoga can also help distract you from the craving.

Cravings and Relapse

Cravings are a common cause of relapse. Sometimes, a user may be moving toward a relapse and not even realize it.

Here are a few relapse warning signs to be aware of as you work to maintain long-term recovery:

  • Thinking of how you can obtain Vicodin.
  • Believing you can use Vicodin or other drugs “just once.”
  • Reducing participation in a recovery program or 12-step group.
  • Experiencing a stressful event, such as a death or a break-up, and not reaching out for support.
  • Isolating from others.
  • Reaching out to friends you used Vicodin with.
  • Reminiscing about the “good old days” of using Vicodin.
  • Losing interest in hobbies or other activities.

Don’t ignore these signs. They can lead to a return to use if they are not dealt with.

How to Prevent a Relapse

If you notice these signs in yourself or a loved one, here are some steps you can take to relapse.

  • Have an aftercare plan – Work with the treatment team at your rehab facility to set up follow-up aftercare after you discharge. Some form of ongoing support can go a long way toward preventing a relapse. Aftercare can include 12-step meetings, individual or group therapy, sober living, or a support group.
  • Build a support system – Find friends, family, and other people in recovery you can trust and who support your recovery. Reach out to them when you are going through a hard time or feel a craving.
  • Call a sponsor – If you are in a 12-step program and have a sponsor, reach out to that person when you feel an urge to use. These people can be great sources of support and encouragement.
  • Avoid all triggers – Know your triggers and avoid them if possible. For example, stay away from friends who are still using drugs, and take a different route to avoid a dealer’s neighborhood.

Find a Recovery Center for Vicodin

Recovery from Vicodin addiction can be difficult, and it’s OK to reach out for support. If you or someone you know needs help with cravings or addiction, call anytime. A treatment support specialist can confirm your insurance coverage over the phone.

[1]. Marcus, M. T., & Zgierska, A. (2009). Mindfulness-based therapies for substance use disorders: Part 1. Substance Abuse 30(4):263.

[2]. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. (2015). Medication and Counseling Treatment.

[3]. American Psychiatric Association. (2013). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders (5th ed.). Arlington, VA: American Psychiatric Publishing.