Dilaudid is the brand name for the prescription drug called hydromorphone. It’s in the opioid class of drugs, and it’s created by altering morphine. It’s considered hydrogenated ketone of morphine, which makes it more water soluble. This makes it unique when it comes to creating solutions for medications. It’s used to treat pain symptoms in a medical setting, like other opioids, but it’s chemical properties make it different from other options. It’s almost always administered intravenously because it isn’t absorbed into fat and tissue very easily. That means taking it orally will make it difficult for it to reach the bloodstream. However, when it’s taken intravenously, it passes the blood-brain barrier (the barrier that stops everything in your blood from reaching your brain) very easily.
Once Dilaudid is in the brain, it binds to opioid receptors as an opioid agonist. That means it activates the receptors, which are designed to relieve pain, and it also reduces excitability in the nervous system. In other words, you feel relaxed, and any pain you are experiencing will start to feel better. However, Dilaudid stops working faster than morphine. It starts working within 30 minutes, and it may only last for about five hours.
Dilaudid has a high dependence liability. Overuse or abuse can lead to chemical dependence and addiction. Opioid addiction is notoriously difficult to overcome and has no known cure. However, it can be treated through evidence-based therapies with the help of licensed therapists. Abuse of prescription opioids has also shown to increase a person’s risk factors for illicit heroin use and addiction. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), as many as 75 percent of people who seek treatment for heroin addiction started by using prescription opioids like Dilaudid.
Since the drug is most commonly administered intravenously and is much less effective in pill form, it’s mostly prescribed in hospital settings. This means that it’s less likely to lead to abuse and addiction when compared to other opioids that are prescribed for home use.
Addiction may come with signs and symptoms that can tell you that your opioid use has become a problem. Learning to recognize the signs can help you or a loved one get the help they need as soon as possible. Addiction can cause some serious long-term consequences. Getting help quickly after a substance use disorder starts can help you avoid some of the most serious consequences like legal issues, financial problems, long-term health concerns, and infectious diseases.
A substance use disorder often starts with a growing tolerance level. Tolerance can happen even with the normal use of medication. If you take it consistently and feel like your standard dose is getting weaker, it can mean your body is getting used to the substance. Tolerance is more likely to occur with abuse, and if you continue using or compensate for tolerance with a higher dose, you risk becoming chemically dependent. If you start to notice a growing tolerance, talk to your doctor about switching medications or cutting back.
Chemical dependence is the next sign of a growing substance use disorder. Dependence means that your brain has started to adapt to Dilaudid and has come to rely on it to maintain normal functioning. If you stop using, you will experience opioid withdrawal symptoms that often mimic the flu, causing sweating, nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea.
Addiction is considered a severe substance use disorder. It’s characterized by continuous, compulsive use of a drug, even if drug use has caused serious consequences. Someone who’s addicted to a drug may even be aware that their drug use is a problem and still have trouble resisting cravings. Addiction can be hidden at first, but it soon gets out of control, taking over multiple areas of a person’s life. Someone who’s struggling with addiction may also be in denial that their substance use has become a problem, which is why there are several therapy options designed to increase a person’s awareness of their own addiction and encourage their readiness to change.
Addiction to opioids like Dilaudid can be a serious and complicated disease. Addiction can come with a wide variety of underlying causes, and it can cause a wide variety of consequences. Each person who enters addiction treatment may have a unique set of needs that have to be addressed for treatment to be successful. For that reason, addiction treatment should be tailored to your individual needs. When you first enter treatment, you’ll go through an intake an assessment process that’s intended to help clinicians place you in the right level of care.
They may use a six-dimension assessment called the ASAM Criteria, which was outlined by the American Society of Addiction Medicine. You may also go through a biopsychosocial assessment with your therapist. This is a more comprehensive look at your biological, psychological, and social needs.
If you have pressing medical needs, you’ll start treatment with medical detox. Detox involves 24-hour medically managed care every day for about a week. Through this process, your body will adjust your brain chemistry to the absence of the drug you were dependent on. Opioid withdrawal isn’t known to be life-threatening like other drugs, but it can be extremely uncomfortable, and it can make getting through it without using again difficult. In some cases, withdrawal symptoms can lead to dehydration, which can cause medical complications.
After medical detox, you may progress to the next level of care that’s right for your needs. Clinicians will help determine your needs and the therapies that might be able to help. This can involve inpatient care (if you have ongoing medical concerns), intensive outpatient services, and outpatient services.
Though Dilaudid is weaker than other opioids, it still has adverse effects. The most common side effects are lightheadedness, dizziness, sedation, constipation, nausea, perspiration and hallucinations. If the drug is taken in high amounts, it can lead to an overdose, which can cause respiratory depression. As your nervous system is suppressed to dangerous levels, your breathing may start to slow down or even stop, causing brain damage, coma, and death. A fatal overdose is more likely if you mix Dilaudid with other opioids, benzodiazepines, or alcohol.
Like other prescriptions drugs, Dilaudid use can increase your risk of opioid addiction, leading to the use of illicit heroin. Illicit drug use comes with some inherent dangers. Heroin can have a variety of adulterants in it, including fentanyl, an extremely powerful opioid. Intravenous use of illicit drugs can also significantly increase your chances of contracting an infectious disease like HIV or hepatitis.
ASAM. (n.d.). American Society of Addiction Medicine. from https://www.asam.org/resources/the-asam-criteria/about
CDC. (2018, October 03). Opioid Overdose. from https://www.cdc.gov/drugoverdose/maps/rxrate-maps.html
National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2018, January). Prescription opioid use is a risk factor for heroin use. from https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/research-reports/relationship-between-prescription-drug-heroin-abuse/prescription-opioid-use-risk-factor-heroin-use
US National Library of Medicine. (n.d.). Hydromorphone. from https://pubchem.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/compound/hydromorphone
NIDA. "Overdose Death Rates." National Institute on Drug Abuse, 29 Jan. 2019, (Figure 3) from https://www.drugabuse.gov/related-topics/trends-statistics/overdose-death-rates