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  • Hydrocodone is an opioid that treats mild to severe pain. Depending on the prescription, Hydrocodone stays in your system anywhere between 20 to 40 hours after ingestion.

    As a prescription opioid, hydrocodone comes in single-ingredient capsules and tablets. It is also combined with acetaminophen in tablets, capsules, and liquid solutions. 

    Brand name prescription drugs with hydrocodone as a primary ingredient include Zohydro ER, Lortab, TussiCaps, Norco, and most notably, Vicodin.

    The amount of time hydrocodone stays in your system depends on the brand prescribed and certain individual factors.

    How Long Does It Take For Hydrocodone To Kick In?

    “Tmax” refers to the amount of time it takes for a drug to reach maximum concentration in your body after ingestion. The Tmax of hydrocodone depends on the brand prescribed.

    Liquid hydrocodone has a Tmax of about 50 to 80 minutes. Fast-acting hydrocodone (Vicodin) has a Tmax of 60 to 90 minutes. Extended release hydrocodone tablets have a Tmax of about 14 to 16 hours. 

    When Tmax is reached, a person on hydrocodone will feel its effects. Other factors, such as body fat and frequency of use, may also affect Tmax. After Tmax is reached, the effects of hydrocodone will wear off over time.

    Effects Of Hydrocodone

    Like other opioid drugs (codeine, oxycodone) Hydrocodone offers pain relief. It binds to opioid receptors in the central nervous system, causing analgesia and sedation.

    A person using hydrocodone can expect to feel these effects until the drug wears off. The time until the drug wears off can be estimated by its half-life.

    Hydrocodone Half-Life

    Half-life refers to the length of time it takes for a drug to decrease to half of its maximum concentration (Tmax). Half-life is used to calculate the amount of time before a drug is completely eliminated from the body.

    The half-life of hydrocodone is slightly under 4 hours. This time is consistent regardless of brand or combination of drugs. This is because hydrocodone is absorbed in the body separately from other drugs.

    After 5 half-life periods, most drugs have been completely eliminated from the body. Hydrocodone reaches this point about 20 hours after Tmax. However, the elimination time across Hydrocodone products is not consistent.

    Why Are Hydrocodone Elimination Times Different?

    Elimination times vary based on age, metabolism, genetics, and frequency of use.

    Different prescriptions of hydrocodone also reach Tmax at different times. Depending on the prescription, hydrocodone will be eliminated from the body at different times. 

    Fast-acting hydrocodone products will exit the body after about 20 hours. The Tmax of these products is low, allowing the drug to decrease from peak concentration sooner.

    Extended-release products will exit the body after about 40 hours. The Tmax of these products is much higher than fast-acting ones, and the drug will take longer to kick in before exiting.

    Hydrocodone & Drug Tests

    Different types of drug tests can detect hydrocodone in your system even after its effects have worn off. Studies have shown that hydrocodone can be detected through urine tests, saliva tests, and blood tests. Hydrocodone can even stay in hair follicles for months after the last dose.

    Drug tests check the body for metabolites, which are unique parts of each drug. Hydrocodone’s unique metabolites are hydromorphone and norhydrocodone. If these are present, hydrocodone has been inside the body at some point.

    Hydrocodone Abuse Potential

    Hydrocodone is classified as a Schedule II drug by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration. It has a high potential for substance abuse. 

    Hydrocodone stays in the body for a long time even between doses. The brain may be used to operating with the chemical present, and may react when deprived of it, resulting in withdrawal symptoms. The long-lasting effects of hydrocodone may also cause opioid addiction. 

    Hydrocodone has other potential side effects, such as constipation, drowsiness, and changes in blood pressure. Talk to your doctor or a healthcare professional if you’re using hydrocodone without a prescription.

    To learn about our addiction treatment options, including detox, please contact us today.

    Written by Ark Behavioral Health Editorial Team
    ©2023 Ark National Holdings, LLC. | All Rights Reserved.
    This page does not provide medical advice.

    DailyMed - DailyMed - lortab - Hydrocodone Bitartrate and Acetaminophen tablet
    Mayo Clinic - Drug Testing: Opiates - Mayo Clinic Laboratories
    U.S. National Library of Medicine - Disposition of hydrocodone in hair - PubMed
    U.S. National Library of Medicine - Half Life- StatPearls - NCBI Bookshelf
    U.S. National Library of Medicine - Hydrocodone Combination Products: Medline Plus Drug Information
    U.S. National Library of Medicine - Hydrocodone: MedlinePlus Drug Information
    U.S. National Library of Medicine - Hydrocodone | C18H21NO3 - Pubchem
    Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration - oxycodone and hydrocodone - SAMHSA

    Medically Reviewed by
    Kimberly Langdon M.D.
    on March 21, 2022
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