What is Hydromorphone and How Does it Work?

Discover the effects of hydromorphone, its potential for addiction, and treatment for lasting recovery here.

What is a Hydromorphone?

Hydromorphone, also known as Dilaudid, is a powerful prescription opioid medication. It belongs to a class of drugs called narcotic analgesics. They work by changing the way your brain and nervous system respond to pain.1

Doctors primarily prescribe Dilaudid to manage moderate to severe pain. It’s often prescribed after surgery or for cancer patients. It can also be used for other types of chronic pain when milder pain relievers aren’t effective. It is available in various forms, including tablets, liquid solutions, and injectables.


How it Works

A hydromorphone works by attaching to specific proteins in your brain and spinal cord called opioid receptors. When the drug binds to these receptors, it reduces the intensity of pain signals reaching your brain, thus alleviating the pain you feel.

How Long Does it Take to Metabolize?

The duration of effects depends on the form in which it’s administered. When taken orally, its pain-relieving effects begin within 15 to 30 minutes and last for about 4 to 6 hours. For injectable forms, the effects are more rapid, starting within 5 minutes and lasting up to 4 hours.2

Your body metabolizes the drug primarily in the liver. Then it eliminates the drug and its byproducts through the kidneys. Most of the drug is removed from your system within 24 hours. But, traces may remain detectable in urine tests for up to 3 days.

Prescribed Use

It is important to take any medication as prescribed by your doctor. Hydromorphone is prescribed to treat moderate to severe pain, often in cases where other pain relievers have proven ineffective. It is used for post-surgical pain, cancer-related pain, or other chronic pain conditions.3

Dosage and Administration

The prescribed dose depends on factors such as the severity of pain, the patient’s age, weight, and overall health. It’s important to follow your doctor’s instructions and take the medication as directed. Depending on the patient’s needs and medical condition, it can be taken as a tablet, liquid, or injection.

Precautions and Contraindications

There are certain situations in which the drug should not be used or used with caution. Some precautions and contraindications include:
  • Allergies: If you are allergic to hydromorphone or other opioid medications, inform your doctor to avoid potential allergic reactions.
  • Respiratory issues: The drug may worsen breathing problems. People with asthma, sleep apnea, or other respiratory conditions should use it with caution.
  • Pregnancy and breastfeeding: It can affect unborn babies and may pass into breast milk. Talk to your doctor if you are pregnant, planning to become pregnant, or are breastfeeding your baby.
  • Drug interactions: Some medications can interact with hydromorphone, causing harmful effects. Inform your doctor about all your current medications, supplements, and over-the-counter products.
Always consult your healthcare provider before starting or stopping any medication.

Recreational Use

Some people misuse opioids for their ability to produce feelings of euphoria and relaxation. These pleasurable effects can be enticing. This leads individuals to use the drug without a prescription or in higher doses than prescribed.

Methods of Misuse

Recreational users may consume the drug in various ways, such as taking higher doses, crushing and snorting tablets, or dissolving the drug and injecting it. These methods can lead to faster, more intense effects. It’s also increasing the risk of addiction and other health complications.
Misusing hydromorphone can have severe health consequences, including:
  • Overdose: Taking it too much can cause life-threatening symptoms such as slow or stopped breathing, extreme drowsiness, and loss of consciousness.
  • Dependence and addiction: Recreational use increases the risk of developing a physical dependence or addiction. This can significantly impact an individual’s mental and physical health, relationships, and overall quality of life.
  • Long-term health effects: Long-term health effects from chronic misuse of the drug can lead to respiratory issues, liver damage, and other health problems. It’s essential to use any drug only as prescribed by a healthcare professional. Seek help if you suspect a problem with misuse or addiction.

Impact on Mind and Body

Hydromorphone’s impact on the user’s mental and physical health will eventually show itself, creating unwanted and potentially long-lasting effects. Not every side effect will happen, so if they do and become serious, it is essential to seek medical attention.

Short-Term Effects

When taken as prescribed, hydromorphone effectively relieves pain. However, it can also cause some short-term side effects. These include drowsiness, dizziness, nausea, vomiting, constipation, and itching. These effects are usually mild and tend to subside as your body adjusts to the medication.4

Long-Term Effects

Prolonged use of hydromorphone can lead to more serious health issues. Some long-term effects include hormonal imbalances, a weakened immune system, increased sensitivity to pain, and digestive problems like chronic constipation.

Mild to Severe Side Effects

While many side effects are mild, some can be more severe and require immediate medical attention. Severe side effects may include:
  • Slow or shallow breathing
  • Seizures
  • Fainting or severe dizziness
  • Confusion or hallucinations
  • Severe constipation or stomach pain
If you experience any severe side effects, contact your healthcare provider immediately. It’s crucial to follow your doctor’s instructions and use drugs responsibly. This way, you minimize the risk of adverse effects.

Addiction and Dependence

Taking hydromorphone has its risks, so be careful when taking it. It is also easy to be dependent on the drug, but every individual is different regarding withdrawal symptoms. If you or a loved one is experiencing any kind of the following symptoms, consider seeking treatment and support.

Risk Factors for Addiction

Some factors can increase the likelihood of developing an addiction to hydromorphone. These include a personal or family history of substance abuse, mental health issues, prolonged drug use, and using it recreationally or in higher doses than prescribed.

Signs and Symptoms of Addiction

If you or someone you know is struggling with addiction, watch for these signs:
  • Using the drug without a prescription or taking more than prescribed
  • Doctor shopping to obtain multiple prescriptions
  • Neglecting responsibilities at work, school, or home
  • Changes in mood or behavior, such as increased anxiety, irritability, or depression
  • Withdrawal from social activities or hobbies
  • Developing a tolerance, needing more of the drug to achieve the same effects
  • Unsuccessful attempts to cut down or stop using the drug

Withdrawal Symptoms

Suddenly stopping hydromorphone can lead to withdrawal symptoms. It can be an uncomfortable and sometimes dangerous experience. Withdrawal symptoms may include:
  • Restlessness and anxiety
  • Muscle aches and joint pain
  • Insomnia
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Rapid heartbeat and increased blood pressure

If you suspect an addiction, it’s essential to seek professional help to manage withdrawal symptoms safely and effectively.

Treatment Options for Hydromorphone Addiction

There are various types of treatment options for anyone struggling with a hydromorphone addiction. The following treatment opportunities provide access to specialized care and support for those willing to go through the treatment process:

Medical Detoxification

The first step in treating hydromorphone addiction is often medical detoxification. This process involves gradually reducing the drug’s dosage or using medications to manage withdrawal symptoms. It should be supervised by healthcare professionals to ensure safety and comfort.

Behavioral Therapies

Various therapy approaches can help individuals understand the root causes of their addiction and develop healthier coping strategies. Cognitive-behavioral therapy, motivational interviewing, and family therapy are common options that can address addiction and co-occurring mental health issues.

Medication-Assisted Treatment

Certain medications, such as methadone, buprenorphine, and naltrexone, can help reduce cravings and maintain long-term sobriety. These medications should be combined with counseling and behavioral therapies for the best results.

Support Groups and Aftercare

Ongoing support is crucial for maintaining sobriety and preventing relapse. Support groups like Narcotics Anonymous and SMART Recovery can provide a sense of community and accountability. Aftercare programs, including outpatient counseling, sober living facilities, and regular check-ins with healthcare providers, can further support long-term recovery. 

Begin Recovery Today With Essence

Opioid detox can be scary and tough to handle alone. At Essence, we focus on your care and safety during this sensitive time. We offer medical detox, subacute detox, and medication-assisted treatment programs. With our high staff-to-patient ratio, you can trust you’ll be in good hands. We know that treatment isn’t one-size-fits-all. At Essence, we create unique programs for each person, using a mix of therapeutic techniques.

Recovery is a long journey, so having a caring, supportive place is key to success. At Essence, you’re not just a patient – you’re family. We make sure you feel at home in our facilities.

Reaching Out

Hydromorphone is a potent pain reliever. It can effectively manage moderate to severe pain. Yet, its potential for misuse and addiction makes it essential to use the drug responsibly. If you or someone you care about is struggling with hydromorphone addiction, it’s crucial to seek help immediately. Timely intervention can prevent long-term health complications.

Essence Healthcare is here to support you on your recovery journey. Our team of compassionate professionals will work with you to develop an individualized treatment plan that addresses your unique needs. Don’t hesitate to reach out and take the first step toward a healthier, happier future.

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Questions About Treatment?

We are a patient-first substance abuse and mental health treatment facility located in Los Angeles, California. At Essence Healthcare, we provide different levels of care from detoxification to drug rehab aftercare. Our team is standing by to address your questions. Your call is confidential and no obligation is required.