The Hidden Secrets About How Long Does Hydrocodone Stay in Your System

December 28, 2017

Anna Chen

The Hidden Secrets About How Long Does Hydrocodone Stay in Your System

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Each year, hundred millions of American abuse prescription opioid drugs for many purposes, even when it is not necessary to use. Hydrocodone, a narcotic analgesic, is not an exception. So, what is hydrocodone exactly? And how long does hydrocodone stay in your system?

This article will provide you the overview of this drug, as well as many related things. Please drag down and keep seeking the most useful information!

What is hydrocodone?

Hydrocodone, or dihydro-codeinone as it called, is synthesized from codeine and used to manage the pain that ranges from moderate to severe levels.

Belonging to the opioid pain manager group also means that hydrocodone is a narcotic analgesic. Not only works in the pain control field, but this medication is also beneficial in chronic cough suppressant.

Despite the fact that the uses of hydrocodone are not very common in many countries, the United State is the dominant market of this narcotic drug in particular. According to the International Narcotics Control Board in 2007, about 99% of the hydrocodone supply was consumed in America.

Does hydrocodone have codeine in it?

This is one of the most common questions. Many people who are sensitive to codeine that cannot tolerate this compound wonder if they could use hydrocodone to manage the pain.

So, does hydrocodone have codeine in it?

Although it is synthesized from codeine and belongs to the opioid class, there is no codeine in the ingredients of the drug.

Both codeine and hydrocodone work on opioid receptors all over the body to block the pain signals from transferring to our brain. Among painkillers, this mechanism is the fastest and most effective way to relieve the pain feeling.

Actually, hydrocodone can combine with codeine or some other analgesics (ex. Acetaminophen or Ibuprofen) to boost the effectiveness and reach the expected outcome. As the available dosage and time release of these two painkillers are different, codeine and hydrocodone should not be misunderstood.

Here is some information to help you distinguish codeine from hydrocodone.


Generally, both codeine and hydrocodone are useful for the treatment of pain that ranges from mild to severe levels. However, the prescription of codeine is for less severe cases, as doctors usually indicate this drug in some mild to moderate pain condition.

The codeine dosage available on the drug store is 15 mg, 30 mg, and 60 mg uncoated tablet with immediate release effect. In case needed, you need to take one tablet every four hours. The maximum dosage is 360 mg per day.

Besides the adverse effects that both drugs can cause (dizziness, stomach upset, sleepy, and constipation), the patients can react with codeine with these symptoms:

  • Sweating
  • A headache
  • Short breath


Obviously, hydrocodone is prescribed mostly in severe pains.

The pure form of hydrocodone (HYSINGLA ER) is supplied in 20 mg, 30 mg, 40 mg, 60 mg, 80 mg, 100 mg, and 120 mg film-coated tablet with extended-release only. Doctors recommend using one tablet every 12 hours, or 24 hours depending on the patient’s tolerability. The extended-release hydrocodone tablet can cause severe effects on children, even threaten their lives, so it needs to be kept under the supervision of an expert.

Since it is combined with other ingredients, hydrocodone is available in immediate release form. It takes account for 2.5 mg, 5 mg, 7.5 mg, and 10 mg in each tablet. To reduce the pain, you will should one pill after every 4-6 hours.

Unlike codeine, hydrocodone has its own side effects, including:

  • Itching in some parts of the body
  • Loss of appetite

For the shake of patients, doctors will decide to use which type of painkillers, and whether you should take one drug alone or combine with something else.

Please take a look at this table to remind the difference between codeine and hydrocodone, so it is no need to ask “Does hydrocodone have codeine in it?”

hydrocodone vs codeine

How does hydrocodone work?

Knowing the working mechanism of hydrocodone will help you understand why this analgesic medication is considered one of the strongest drug. But before we start, let’s talk about the pain control ladder and find out where hydrocodone stays.

The pain ladder

The pain ladder or the analgesic ladder consists of three principal steps to control different levels of pain [1].

Since its first publication in 1986, the pain ladder has been a guideline for all clinical physicians to access and manage the pain symptom in all diseases, especially cancer pain. It starts with the most common, over the counter drugs and moves to strong opioids gradually.

Step 1. When the patient first experiences the pain, you should try to reduce it by some non-opioid drugs (ex. Paracetamol or Aspirin), combine with nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) or COX-2 inhibitors.

If the pain does not improve or even increase, you need to move to step 2.

Step 2. Combine with the medications above are some weak opioids such as codeine, dihydrocodeine or tramadol. This method is most preferred and shows a potential response from the patients. But if the goal of pain relieving is not achieved, the doctors may need to move to the last rung of the pain ladder.

Step 3. The sensation of pain that needs the management of this level is considered a severe situation. In these cases, active opioids will replace the weak ones, which are known as morphine, fentanyl, oxycodone, and hydrocodone.

Sometimes, if the patients are in a severe pain or their life are in danger due to some other conditions combined with pain, the doctors will not follow this ladder strictly. They can move to step 3 right away to make sure the patients receive the best management.

What does hydrocodone do?

When a person contacts with a pain-cause factor from the environment, the pain message is then transferred through the peripheral nervous system to the brain, where it meets the specific receptors. After a complicated process, the brain then sends other signals to the active nerves and cause the responses (through the muscle contraction).

Hydrocodone in particular, and strong opioids in general blocks these receptors thus intervenes the pain signals path. That is why this drug can make the patients feel no more painful at all, as the brain receives no pain messages.

Along with the pain control center, the same part of the brain also takes responsibility for some psychological symptoms, including:

  • Anxiety and depression
  • Personality trait disorders
  • Behavioral compulsions

Using hydrocodone can temporarily reduce the mental disorders above as it deactivated the receptors. In many cases, the patients also receive the treatment for their psychological disorders by chance even they do not know hydrocodone can do that.

So you may wonder: How long does it take for hydrocodone to work?

The process of hydrocodone working includes: entering the body, dissolving, being absorbed into the bloodstream and distributing to the receptor sites.

When you take a hydrocodone tablet, the stomach then dissolves it into small molecules before transferring them to the gut. There, they are absorbed into the bloodstream through tiny capillaries on the lines of the intestines and follow the blood to the targeted destinations.

In general, it takes up to an hour since hydrocodone first entered the body to gain its effectiveness, and about 1.3 hours to reach the peak in the plasma. For the extended-release form, the peak plasma occurs after 6-30 hours since a single tablet was taken [2].

However, many external factors can affect the onset of hydrocodone. How long does hydrocodone take to kick in depends on:

  • Drug form: a capsule or pill taken orally has a slower release compared to a solution or liquid form. Similarly, when you crush or snort the tablet, it takes a short time for hydrocodone to kick in. But do this without guidance can lead to danger sometimes.
  • Concentration: We are talking about the combination of hydrocodone with other compounds in one tablet. The higher concentration of hydrocodone is, the faster and longer it will work. For the pure form, it is apparent that the higher dosage will bring up a faster outcome compared to small dosage.
  • Hydrocodone types: As mentioned above, there are two types of hydrocodone: extended release and immediate release. It takes time for the extended release form to kick in, but it will last for longer compared to the immediate ones.

Why do you have to care about how long does hydrocodone stay in your system?

What is the “half-life” of drugs?

When mentioning about the duration of the action of any drugs in the human body, there comes a brand new concept: half-life. So, what does “half-life” mean exactly and how does it mean to us?

After consumed into the human body, the time required for the concentration of medicine to reduce to one half is considered a half-life of the drug. The amount of drug we are talking here is measured in the plasma. Leaving the plasma does not mean that it will get out of our body entirely, in fact, there are several other ways:

  • The drug then translocates to somebody fluid, such as intracellular fluid, saliva or urine
  • It is destroyed inside the bloodstream
  • It is eliminated from our body

Now, you are clear about the hydrocodone half-life definition. Let’s come back to the topic “How long does hydrocodone stay in your system?”.

So, why do you have to care about it?

The misuse and abuse of the addictive drug, mostly opioid analgesics, has risen up uncontrollably over the past two decades in the USA. This fact has rung an alarm for the government in every state, as the number of deaths due to poisoning and overdose drug has increased significantly.

That is why they have to use laboratory tests to detect opioid misuse and measure the intoxicated level of the patients. There are two specific ways in the laboratories to achieve this goal, including:

  • The immunoassay methods
  • The chromatography methods

They collect the samples through urine screening (the traditional way), saliva, sweat, and hair analyzing. To ensure the result of the test is accurate, you need to stop using hydrocodone before performing the test.

Using laboratory testing helps control the prescription of opioid therapy efficiently, but it also means that there are more and more challenges incoming. Since the two different opioids can transform to another during the drug metabolism, the physicians now have to be precise in measuring and giving diagnoses.

The exact information of how long does hydrocodone stay in your system remains controversial: some concluded that the detection of hydrocodone is equivalent to morphine, while others claim that it needs the double or triple amount of hydrocodone to create a similar traces of morphine with 300ng/ml concentration [3].

Due to the available evidence, here we just mention the length of the pure form of hydrocodone tablet (HYSINGLA ER) that stay in the human system, so do not misunderstand it with other medications.

How long does hydrocodone stay in your system?

hydrocodone half-life

According to the American Society of Health-System Pharmacists (ASHP) in 2015, the estimated half-life of hydrocodone in a healthy adult is about 3.8 hours [4]. It also means that after you take a single dose of hydrocodone, it takes less than 4 hours for the body to excrete 50% of the initial dose.

Some other studies provide a more variable result compare to the ASHP, as the half-life of hydrocodone is ranging from 3.5 hours to 4.1 hours. This result indicates that some people are able to clear the medicine out of their system more quickly than the average population, while others prolong their clearance periods.

How long does hydrocodone stay in your blood?

Hydrocodone in particular and opiates in general usually have short half-lives, which means they leave out of the system quickly. But it does not mean that the effectiveness will end after it leaves the system. You can still receive the benefits of hydrocodone and other opiates for a few hours even when the measurement of hydrocodone concentration is almost zero.

In your blood, the presence of hydrocodone may last for 1.3-24 hours since the last dosage.

How long does hydrocodone stay in urine?

Along with the blood, urine is the second bio-fluid location of hydrocodone and is usually collected to detect the drug traces.

Despite being the most frequent test sample, the presence of hydrocodone in the urine is not easy to measure. In fact, some research proved that a low to moderate concentration of hydrocodone in the urine test is likely undetectable.

With a high enough of concentration, the urine test can interpret hydrocodone for 2-4 days [5].

How long does hydrocodone stay in your system: hair follicles?

As the bloodstream supplies nutrition for the hair to grow, the drug misuse or abuse is detected easily by analyzing a hair strain. It can recognize up to 90 days since the last dose of hydrocodone was taken.

Possible factors that affect the length of hydrocodone in your system

How long does hydrocodone stay in your system exactly? The exact period that hydrocodone stay in your system varies depending on many internal and external factors. They consist of the patient’s anthropometric index, organs function, and the medicated condition.


Aging is one of the primary factors that affect how long does hydrocodone stay in your system. Compared to the youngsters, the metabolism and excretion of drugs in the elderlies are often slower, as the function of liver and kidney (the two major organs for drugs clearance) decreases through time.  

Besides, the older people often receive other medications as there are many complicated health issues are available. This condition sometimes intervenes the excretion of hydrocodone in particular, and other drugs in general.

Body mass index (BMI)

When looking at the guidance of any drugs, or whenever the doctor prescribes the medications, you will see that the dosage depends on the patient’s weight, especially in children. Actually, the anthropometric index such as height, weight, and fat can affect how long does hydrocodone stay in your system.

Hydrocodone and other opiates are fat soluble, so they will stay for a long period in a person with high-fat mass level and excrete slowly. For instance, a 10mg tablet of hydrocodone will release more slowly in a fat and tall person rather than in a thin and short person.


Many studies have provided evidence that shows the link between the genes and drug metabolism, including hydrocodone. It is the genetics that decides whether hydrocodone clearance rate is slower or quicker than the average estimation, thus influence how long does hydrocodone stay in your system.

The contribution of this internal factor in the drug excretion process explains why many people are “rapid metabolizers,” while others are “poor metabolizers.”

Frequency and quantity of hydrocodone intake

If you take a large dose of hydrocodone at one time, plus with a regular frequency, it is likely that it will leave behind visible traces through laboratory tests. The traces may be still available after a long time.

Metabolic rate

In scientific words, it means the basal metabolic rate (BMR) – which is measured by the rate of energy spending per unit of time when your body is in the rest condition [6].

How long does hydrocodone stay in your system in particular, and how long do medications stay in your body in general, depends on the BMR of each person. People who have fast BMR tend to burn calories easier, as well as metabolize food, supplements, and drugs more quickly than the average, and vice versa. Genetics traits are the primary factors that determine the BMR, but it is also influenced by external factors, such as diet, physical exercises, and medicated conditions.

A complete guidance of using hydrocodone – How to take hydrocodone correctly?

how to take hydrocodone

As hydrocodone is one of the most abused prescription opioids in the USA, anyone who is going to take this drug should pay attention to the medication guide and consult the pharmacists or doctors carefully before using.

To help you use this drug properly, please read this warning list before taking hydrocodone:

  1.    Each time purchasing or getting a refill, make sure you have consulted your doctor so he/she could give you the suitable dosage. Don’t hesitate to ask if you have any adverse effects from the previous use.
  2.    You can take the tablet independently with the meal. However, if any side effects occur and cause stomach upset (such as nausea or vomiting), you may need to take it with food. To reduce nausea, you can lie down and do not move the head for 15-30 minutes.
  3.    If you prefer liquid form rather than a capsule, please use a measuring cup to take the exact amount, or you will overdose. Do not measure by a spoon because it is not correct.
  4.    Always follow the prescription. Do not decide to increase/decrease the dosage or stop using it on your own. Remember, the most proper dosage is based on your weight, and available condition, so only your doctor can decide how much should you use.
  5.    If hydrocodone-only works for a few moments before the pain start rising (ex. cancer pain), you may be indicated an extended release one combines with NSAIDs, but only when necessary.
  6.  Like other opioids medications, if you stop using hydrocodone immediately, it is likely that you will experience unwanted effects (such as sweating, nausea, or muscles pain). That is why you need your doctor to adjust the proper dosage and reduce the amount gradually, of course under strict supervision.
  7.    When using hydrocodone for a long time, the usual dosage may not work well anymore. If you start feeling the pain comes more frequently than normal, please ask your doctor of the pharmacist as soon as possible.  

Who needs hydrocodone testing?

The standard opioid drug screenings often test the presence of morphine and some other addictive drugs that metabolize to morphine. Hydrocodone, in contrast, does not transform to morphine, thus is not included in the normal tests. This unique test is suitable for people who are suspected of abusing prescribed opioid drugs, which in this cases are hydrocodone and its metabolites.

These people often care about how long does hydrocodone stay in your system and are associated with hydrocodone abusing:


The most frequent screens for athletes usually consist of morphine and its metabolites detection. Although hydrocodone is often passed, some big and long-lasting sports events still require an intensive screening. There, they will detect the amount of norhydrocodone in the athlete’s body.

Drug rehab people

Rehab people need to be under a strict control and monitor of the doctors to prevent relapsing. But sometimes, they still come to opioids such as hydrocodone as a solution.

So, to make sure rehab patients will not abuse drugs and become addicted again, they may need to perform a hydrocodone test when suspected.

Specific careers

Some companies ask their employees to take opioids testings periodily, for instance: van drivers, machinists or any careers that require high concentration and accuracy. Since hydrocodone can influence the work of the brain and cause some adverse effects on the mental health, it may be a danger for the employees if they are working in a drowsiness condition.

Military people

People who are serving in the military are often required to perform obliged tests periodically, as they need to be alert and ready all the time. Any influence of opioid drugs can intervene them from promoting devices and vehicles accurately, and cause severe mistakes. That is why they will be punished or delisted right away if the opioid test result is positive.

How many types of hydrocodone test?

Since hydrocodone can transform into many parts of the human body after being taken, they have investigated many laboratory tests to detect the drug. Each method has its own beneficial aspects as well as the drawbacks, and the results are often variable.

Among the available ways (urine, blood, saliva, and hair test), the most preferred method is collecting urine samples.

Urine test

After collecting, the urine is analyzed in the laboratory. According to pharmacologists, the liver takes responsibility for the metabolism of hydrocodone, while the excretion is in the urine. As most of the hydrocodone consumption will excrete via the urine, people often think that it can detect the traces of hydrocodone earliest. But it is not what it seems.

In fact, hydrocodone does not show up in the urine within the first 24 hours. It will transform to norhydrocodone, which appears in the urine up to 2-4 days. When performing a test to know whether the person had used hydrocodone or not, they will look for the presence of a norhydrocodone compound in the urine.

A test in the woman may show a positive test result for a longer period than man, as they tend to form norhydrocodone easier.

Hair test

It may sound a little bit strange, but the human hair is one of the most effective ways to detect the drug use, as collecting the sample is quite easy and they can perform it anywhere. If you want to know how long does hydrocodone stay in your system after a long time since the last taken, hair test is the most effective method.

The patient needs to send about 20-50 hair follicles, 3-6cm for each strain to the laboratory to analyze. The benefit of hair test is that it can detect the presence of hydrocodone for longest compared to other methods. However, it is not able to find the recent concentrate of the drug, as only when the new hair grows after taking hydrocodone that the test can be performed.

The hair test is less common than using the urine samples due to the long waiting time. But it is very effective in tracing even a tiny amount of hydrocodone.

Saliva test

The drug does not remain for long in either oral cavity or oral fluid, so it is not easy to find the presence of hydrocodone and its metabolite there. Another drawback is that the concentration of hydrocodone and its metabolite in the saliva is pretty much lower than in the urine. That is why people less prefer saliva test than others.

However, this method can provide a positive result within some hours after using hydrocodone, and the accurate level may last for up to one day. Meanwhile, norhydrocodone – the metabolite compound may be available in the saliva samples within 2 days [7].

Blood test

The presence of hydrocodone in the blood is variable. As the detection window is short, people do not choose this testing method as the first option.

However, blood tests are very useful while performing at whom are staying at the hospitals, because there are full of facilities and medical staffs. Especially in patients with drug overdose condition, taking a blood sample and analyze it can be very quickly.

Hydrocodone dependence and addiction: What is the difference?

Sometimes, you may be confused between hydrocodone dependency and addiction. So how to distinguish these two concepts?

Hydrocodone dependency refers to the physical need: the patients need to use the drug to be normal. You can experience the withdrawal syndrome if stop using or lessen the usutakal dosage immediately, which lead to the lack of hydrocodone in your system.

As the drug blocks the pain receptors and influence the same part of the brain that controls the depressants, hydrocodone dependency results in the disorders of those functions.

The withdrawal symptoms may range from mild to moderate levels, including:

  • Muscles aches
  • Cold symptoms (a runny nose, headache, and dizziness)
  • Sweating
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Anxiety and depression
  • Irritated bowels
  • Fast heartbeats

Meanwhile, hydrocodone addiction is more than the withdrawal syndrome. Not only the physical need is available, but it is the psychological dependence we want to mention here. Hydrocodone addiction is associated with cravings and obsessive thought of using the drug no matter what it takes.

People with hydrocodone addiction tend to seek the drug compulsively because they think that they cannot survive without it. Sometimes, they cannot control their behaviors, and it could lead them and the social to some dangerous situations, even murder or suicide behavior.

How long does it take to get addicted to hydrocodone?

hydrocodone addiction

The response of each person to hydrocodone is different, but you could become dependence on hydrocodone just after some weeks of using hydrocodone continually. The period from dependency to addiction varies in people, some become addicted after a few weeks, but others just experience dependency.

After the last dose taken, it takes about 6-12 hours to develop the withdrawal symptoms. These signs reach the peak after 72 hours, then last for up to a month if there is no proper control. If the drug cravings appear, it may take more than one month to suffer these uncomfortable symptoms. Now it’s the time to call for help from your psychologist; you may need some mental therapies to get rid of this condition.

What to do when you are addicted to hydrocodone?

When you are dependence on hydrocodone, or even addicted to it, detox is the only way to remove the substance from the system, with a supervision of a medical expert. People often come to the detox center, where they meet other patients with the same condition, so they could share their stories and have a motivation to detox.

Besides, detox by medication always come along with the psychological methods, as it can minimize the withdrawal symptoms and prevent relapse. In most cases, you need to follow a week of using medications to become stable, combine with some pharmaceutical options [8].

First and foremost, the usual dose of hydrocodone will be reduced gradually so your body will adapt to the changes without reacting severely. There are some medications that proved to be effective in reducing the withdrawal symptoms, for instance:


It contains buprenorphine – a partial opioid agonist that connects with the opioid receptors in the brain thus you are not likely to feel “hungry” of opioids. Compared to hydrocodone, it has a longer acting effect, which means it stays in the system for a longer period. One important thing is that this drug does not cause the patients to get “high” like another opioid, because its effect remains plateau after taking.


As muscles aches are the most common symptoms of hydrocodone withdrawal, using painkillers can help you get rid of those uncomfortable feelings. In these cases, you can pick some over the counter analgesics, such as Ibuprofen or Paracetamol and take it after a meal every four hours. But do not take more than eight pills per day because it may have bad side effects on your liver function.


Although it can do nothing to ease the drug cravings, cloidine can decrease the problem of anxiety, sweating, and flu symptoms. It is also effective in stomach upset, such as nausea, vomiting and diarrhea.


To prevent relapse, you may need the help of naltrexone. It is one of the supported prescriptions for both alcohol and opioid addiction.

This opioid antagonist blocks the effects of hydrocodone as well as other opioids medications. It keeps you away from the feeling the need of using hydrocodone, but it is not a cure for drug addiction.

Naltrexone is available on the pharmacy in both form: pills or injection. If you experience the withdrawal syndrome over and over, a long-term treatment of naltrexone is indicated.

How to get hydrocodone out of your system?

Many people, especially athletes, are curious about the topic: How to get hydrocodone out of your system quickly? Actually, this question has raised many controversial opinions on the internet.

Let we make everything clear: you took a pill of hydrocodone last night, and you gonna have, like, a urine test for opioids detection today. So, how to turn the test result to negative within 24 hours?

There are many remedies on the internet to deal with this issue, including drinking lots of water and hope that it will excrete through the urine quickly. But in fact, there is no possible way to kick hydrocodone out of your body that fast. Your urine test result will still be positive until the amount of hydrocodone reduces to a tiny quantity that the test is unable to trace.

You should stay awake from the unapproved websites that claimed to help you get rid of hydrocodone in your system, as they may suggest using a diuretic to dilute your urine sample. For example, Lasix is the most common diuretic that used to treat heart failure and it is likely that it will reduce the amount of drug in the urine. But Lasix is still available in the sample and could be found easily, so the people work in the lab is smart enough not to be cheated. Besides, the diuretics leave behind many side effects, such as electrolytes disorders, which harms your health severely.

Otherwise, you can visit more articles about medicine from our website such as: HOW LONG DOES IT TAKE FOR OXYCODONE TO KICK IN?


Ok, now you are no longer confuse “What is hydrocodone? And how long does hydrocodone stay in your system?”, because here is everything you need to read. Hydrocodone is an effective way to deal with the pain, but please use it smartly. Everything has two sides, isn’t it?

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