Hydrocodone is a combination prescription pain medication classified as an opioid. As a Schedule II controlled substance, it is generally reserved to treat severe pain. However, when combined with the antihistamine chlorpheniramine, it is also prescribed to treat cough. If you or a loved one are prescribed hydrocodone, it is important to be able to estimate how long the drug will stay in your system.

What Is Hydrocodone Used For and What Does It Do?

Hydrocodone is an opioid prescribed to treat acute, severe pain. It is sometimes prescribed in a cough syrup along with the antihistamine chlorpheniramine. 

When used for pain, hydrocodone works by binding to mu opioid receptors in the central nervous system. This changes the person’s emotional response to pain and produces analgesia, a lessening or absence of pain. When used to treat cough, hydrocodone acts directly on the brain’s cough center in the medulla oblongata at the base of the brain. This prevents the cough reflex, relieving cough.

Like all drugs, hydrocodone can cause some side effects. When a person takes hydrocodone, they may initially feel a sense of euphoria and then, because of the depressant effects, they may feel drowsy or even nod off. Some other common side effects of hydrocodone include:

  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Slow breathing
  • Slow heartbeat
  • Confusion
  • Dry mouth
  • Blurred vision

Fight hydrocodone addiction with evidence-based, expert care.

How Long Does It Take for Hydrocodone to Kick In?

When someone takes hydrocodone orally, it has to first go through the digestive system before it can cross the brain-blood barrier and a person feels the effects. Hydrocodone starts to work in the body quickly, although the peak effects for the short-acting version of the drug occur about an hour and a half after it’s been taken. When used for cough, hydrocodone reaches its peak effect in about 3.5 hours

Hydrocodone also comes in an extended-release dosage form that takes longer to kick in. This can take around five hours for the long-acting capsule form of the drug and anywhere from 6 to 30 hours for the long-acting tablet form.

Notably, however, if someone uses the drug regularly and has a tolerance to hydrocodone, it may take longer for that person to feel the effects.

How Long Does Hydrocodone Last?

The short-acting dosage forms of hydrocodone last around four to six hours. As you may expect from the name, the longer-acting dosage forms of hydrocodone can last much longer — 12 hours or more in some cases. 

Many factors can influence how long hydrocodone’s effects last, including:

  • The dosage form: Longer-acting dosage forms will typically last much longer than quick-acting dosage forms.
  • Drug interactions: Hydrocodone is mainly broken down by the liver enzymes CYP3A4 and CYP2D6 in the body. Some other medications may interfere with these liver enzymes, leading hydrocodone to last a longer or shorter period than expected.
  • Age: Hydrocodone’s effects can last longer in the elderly than in younger people.
  • Liver and kidney health: A person with a healthy liver and kidneys can break down hydrocodone quicker than a person with an unhealthy liver or kidneys.

Half-Life of Hydrocodone

The half-life of a drug refers to how long it takes for half of a single dose to be eliminated by your body. Typically, it takes five half-lives to fully rid your system of a drug. 

The half-life of hydrocodone depends on whether you are taking a short- or long-acting form of the drug. The half-life of short-acting hydrocodone is 3.8 to 4.5 hours, meaning it can stay in your body for almost an entire day. In contrast, the half-life of long-acting hydrocodone is seven to nine hours, meaning it can linger in your body for about two days.

Hydrocodone and Drug Testing

People get tested for drugs for many reasons, including employment and legal reasons. Hydrocodone shows up on drug tests. However, the amount of time the drug can be expected to show up on a drug test depends on what part of the body is being tested. Urine, blood, hair and saliva tests can all be conducted for hydrocodone and can detect the drug for different periods of time.

How Long Does Hydrocodone Stay In Urine?

Hydrocodone and its breakdown product norhydrocodone can both be found in urine and are detectable for up to three days following the last use.

How Long Does Hydrocodone Stay In Blood?

Both hydrocodone and its breakdown product norhydrocodone can be found in blood for up to 8.8 hours after the last use.

How Long Does Hydrocodone Stay In Hair?

Hydrocodone can be found in the hair for a longer time than it can be found in any other drug test. A 1.5-inch hair sample can be used to detect hydrocodone for up to 90 days after the last use.

How Long Does Hydrocodone Stay In Saliva?

Hydrocodone can be found in the saliva for up to two days following the last use.

How To Get Hydrocodone Out of Your System

Once you have taken hydrocodone, there is no way to speed up the process of getting the drug out of your body. Because it needs to be broken down by specific enzymes produced by your liver, you need to wait until your liver has been able to process the drug, which can take days in some cases.

If you are worried about failing a drug test for hydrocodone, this may be a red flag that you are developing a struggle with the medication. Hydrocodone may be a prescription medication, but hydrocodone addiction can still develop. Instead of quitting hydrocodone cold turkey, which can cause uncomfortable opioid withdrawal symptoms, you may instead benefit from medical detox to help wean you off the drug, followed by inpatient or outpatient rehab.

If you’re struggling with hydrocodone addiction, reach out to Orlando Recovery Center and learn more about our opioid addiction treatment programs. Don’t wait: contact us today to see how we can help.

Editor – Abby Doty
Abby Doty graduated from Hamline University in 2021 with a Bachelor's in English and Psychology. She has written and edited creative and literary work as well as academic pieces focused primarily on psychology and mental health. Read more
Medically Reviewed By – Dr. Jessica Pyhtila, PharmD
Dr. Jessica Pyhtila is a Clinical Pharmacy Specialist based in Baltimore, Maryland with practice sites in inpatient palliative care and outpatient primary care at the Department of Veteran Affairs. Read more

Drugs.com. “Hydrocodone.” March 29, 2021. Accessed July 31, 2022.

Drugs.com. “Hydrocodone and Chlorpheniramine.” March 22, 2022. Accessed July 31, 2022.

Hallare, Jericho & Gerriets, Valerie. “Half Life.” StatPearls, June 23, 2022. Accessed July 31, 2022.

Gryczynski, Jan, et al. “Hair Drug Testing Results and Self-repor[…]isk Illicit Drug Use.” Drug and Alcohol Dependence, May 17, 2014. Accessed July 31, 2022.

ARUP Laboratories. “Drug Plasma Half-Life and Urine Detection Window.” October 2021. Accessed July 31, 2022.

Cansford Laboratories. “Oral Fluid (Saliva) Testing.”  Accessed July 31, 2022.

Medical Disclaimer

The Recovery Village aims to improve the quality of life for people struggling with a substance use or mental health disorder with fact-based content about the nature of behavioral health conditions, treatment options and their related outcomes. We publish material that is researched, cited, edited and reviewed by licensed medical professionals. The information we provide is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It should not be used in place of the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare provider.