girl discussing how long hydrocodone stays in your system

How Long Does Hydrocodone Stay in Your System?

Like many medications, hydrocodone can stay in your body longer than you might think. How long does hydrocodone stay in your system? Well, it varies from one person to another. Age and genetics play a role in how quickly this drug is excreted. Dosage and formulation type affect the elimination process as well.

Drug test results can also vary by testing method. For example, you might get a positive result with urine and hair tests but a negative result with blood and saliva testing. Generally speaking, hydrocodone has a half-life between four and nine hours. The short-acting formulation can be detected in the body for at least 20 hours after the last dose. The long-acting formulation can remain in the body for up to 45 hours.

What is Hydrocodone Used For?

Hydrocodone is an opioid painkiller used to treat moderate to severe pain. In spite of its reputation for producing euphoria, many people find the effects of hydrocodone to be unpleasant, at least initially.

The drug can cause nausea and vomiting in some individuals, although these effects usually subside over time.

How Popular is Hydrocodone?

Hydrocodone is the most commonly prescribed opioid painkiller in the US. To accurately answer the question of how long does hydrocodone stay in your urine or blood, it’s good to have a basic understanding of how this drug works.

Many people believe that you can pass a drug test as long as you don’t use any of what you’re being tested for on the same day as the test. This is a risky business. You might come up clean, but you might not. If the test results are important to you, it would pay to be careful.

One person might test negative for hydrocodone after 24 hours. Another person might still test positive after three days. The test results are affected by how much hydrocodone you typically take and how often you typically take it.

There is also the pain factor to consider. If your physician has been prescribing hydrocodone for moderate to severe pain, your pain levels can escalate dramatically after missing just one dose. In general, the more of this drug you are using, the more intense the pain when you stop using it.

Symptoms associated with opioid withdrawal can be another fly in the ointment, and they are nothing to sneeze at. Passing a drug test under these conditions can be a harrowing experience. It can also be dangerous.

If you are on a high dose of hydrocodone, and you have to go without it to pass a drug test, it’s important to get medical supervision during the abstinence period.

Short-acting Hydrocodone

Hydrocodone is usually prescribed in short-term doses that last from a few hours to a full day. It’s available with acetaminophen or with ibuprofen. It’s commonly prescribed as Tylenol with codeine, Dilaudid, Vicodin, and Percocet

If you’re taking any of these medicines, the effects kick in within an hour. They peak at about two hours and then remain at a stable level for about four to six hours.

Short-acting hydrocodone has a half-life of about four hours. A drug’s half-life is how long it takes your body to eliminate half of it.

With hydrocodone, it usually takes your body about five half-lives to completely excrete it. That translates into about 20 hours after the last dose.

Long-Acting Hydrocodone

Long-acting hydrocodone is an opioid analgesic prescription painkiller used to manage severe pain. The patient needs daily long-term and around-the-clock pain relief for which other treatments have proven ineffective.

Long-acting hydrocodone is sold under the brand names Zohydro ER, Hysingla ER, and Vantrela ER. The long-acting formulation takes longer to flush out than its short-acting cousin.

These powerful pain medications achieve maximum pain relief in about five hours. They maintain that level of effectiveness for up to 30 hours. Medication half-life can be as high as nine hours, so you might have to wait up to 45 hours before it’s all excreted.

What Determines How Long Hydrocodone Stays in Your System?

A variety of factors influence how long this medication remains in your body. Here are some of the factors we know about. There may be others:

  • Genes. Among other things, researchers have found that genes influence how an individual processes hydrocodone in the body. Researchers have also established a genetic basis for addiction.
  • Age. The younger your body, the easier it is to clear out your system.
  • Kidney and liver health. These two major organs are responsible for processing and eliminating drugs from your system. If either organ is damaged, it will typically slow down elimination.
  • Frequency of use and typical dosage. If you’ve been taking this medication for months or years, it will take longer to clear things out than if you had only taken one dose.

Which Tests Are Used to Detect Hydrocodone?

There are several tests available to detect the presence of hydrocodone in your system:

  • Urine tests
  • Blood tests
  • Hair tests
  • Saliva tests

What You Should Know About Hydrocodone Drug Testing

Many people mistakenly believe that if they can’t feel the effects of a drug, then it has all exited the body. This is not the case. Hydrocodone can still be detected in your body whether you feel the effects or not.

A drug test measures the amount of drug breakdown product in the body. Norhydrocodone is one of hydrocodone’s breakdown products, and it remains in the system for up to three days after the last dose. The detection cutoff level depends on the test used for measurement and on the lab that performs the test.

How Long Does Hydrocodone Stay in Your Urine?

The urine test is the most common hydrocodone detection tool. Norhydrocodone is readily detectable in the urine, so a urine test can reveal whether you’ve taken hydrocodone in the last three days.

How Long Does Hydrocodone Stay in Your Hair?

The hair test can reveal whether you’ve ingested any hydrocodone in the last 90 days. Just a half-inch of hair is all that’s needed to conduct the test and determine the results.

How Long Does Hydrocodone Saliva Stay in Your Saliva?

Testing can detect the presence of hydrocodone in saliva within 12 to 36 hours after the last dose.

How Long Does Hydrocodone Stay in Your Blood?

How long does hydrocodone stay in your blood? Hydrocodone blood levels peak at about 1.3 hours. These levels are detectable in the blood for up to 24 hours after intake.

Does Hydrocodone Really Cause Euphoria?

Newer studies suggest that for the average person, this opioid does not deliver a state of euphoria as traditionally believed. Moreover, the first time they try hydrocodone, many patients report feeling worse, not better. Cognitive neuroscientist Siri Leknes recently performed this study to find out whether hydrocodone induces euphoria. 

Older studies seemed to confirm that the opioid experience was perceived as pleasurable, if not euphoric. Study participants described the opioid high as a warm and fuzzy state. However, the study participants were by and large active or recovering addicts.

Dr. Leknes wanted to explore “whether the average healthy person finds bliss while hooked to an opioid drip.” The study included 160 participants who received remifentanil, a strong opioid drug used to relax patients before they underwent minor surgery.

All patients reported feeling “high” after ingesting remifentanil. However, on average, they felt 0.5 points worse on a 10-point scale after taking the drug.

The effects were not perceived as euphoric for a majority of patients. Study participants who had never taken opioids before experienced more discomfort than those who had taken opioids at least once.

A small minority of patients reported feeling better after receiving remifentanil. However, it wasn’t by much, and even those patients rated their overall experience as only a “five” on a scale of one to 10.

This study suggests that the euphoria commonly associated with hydrocodone may be overrated. Euphoria that occurs after ingesting this medication might be better described as the relief people feel when pain and withdrawal symptoms cease.

Know the Risks of Taking Hydrocodone

Hydrocodone is a Schedule II controlled substance. As such, it has a high potential for abuse and addiction. This is true even when it’s prescribed by a doctor for legitimate pain and used only as directed. Additionally, people with genetic markers for addiction are more at risk for opioid use disorder than others.

The latest studies indicate that not only genetic markers but also environmental factors conspire to produce addiction. In other words, a predisposition at the genetic level combined with high levels of environmental stress are most likely to elicit drug-seeking and drug-taking behaviors.

The researchers theorized that early childhood trauma may reduce coping ability when a child is faced with exceptionally high levels of environmental stress. Genes may be able to predict not only the likelihood of becoming addicted but also the severity of the addiction.

Hydrocodone Recovery Options in Fair Lawn, New Jersey

Would you like to learn more about treatment for hydrocodone addiction? The team at North Jersey Recovery Center is here for you 24/7. You can visit us online as well. We accept most private and commercial insurance plans.

We offer a comprehensive array of recovery services. Our programs cover everything from detox and dual diagnosis to inpatient, outpatient, and partial care.

Reviewed for Medical & Clinical Accuracy by Laura Riley

Medical Reviewer

Laura comes to NJRC with 23 years of vast clinical experience in hospital, residential, outpatient, and community outreach settings where she has worked, supervised clinical teams, and volunteered. She has provided substance abuse and mental health counseling, clinical coordination, and advocacy to individuals, families and groups, and specializes in co-occurring disorders for both adults and adolescents.