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Updated on September 27, 2021

Difference Between Hydrocodone and Oxycodone

What's the Difference Between Hydrocodone and Oxycodone?

Both hydrocodone and oxycodone are prescription drugs used for acute severe pain relief. For example, if you break a bone or get a tooth pulled, you may be prescribed hydrocodone or oxycodone to treat the pain.

Both oxycodone and hydrocodone are semi-synthetics. But, oxycodone is synthesized from thebaine, which is an opium alkaloid, while hydrocodone is derived from codeine. Hydrocodone also has cough suppressant properties.

While there is a difference between hydrocodone and oxycodone, there is no known difference in how effective hydrocodone and oxycodone are in managing acute pain like sprains, strains, and fractures in adults.9 

What is Hydrocodone? 

Hydrocodone is a pain reliever that is used to treat pain, sometimes in conjunction with other drugs. It is mostly used to relieve severe pain and, typically, chronic pain. It should not be used to treat pain that can be relieved with medication taken on an as-needed basis.3

Hydrocodone is part of a class of medications called opiate (narcotic) analgesics. It comes in the form of extended-release, long-acting capsules, or tablets. Hydrocodone works by altering the way your brain and nervous system respond to pain.3

What Does it Treat?

Hydrocodone, in combination with acetaminophen, is one of many narcotic pain medications  that treat acute or chronic pain.2 Doctors may prescribe hydrocodone pain relievers to a patient who has a broken bone.

In combination with antihistamines or anticholinergics, hydrocodone is also used to treat coughs.2

Common Side Effects of Hydrocodone

Common side effects of hydrocodone include, but are not limited to: 3

  • Stomach pain
  • Back pain
  • Head pain
  • Muscle pain
  • Dry mouth
  • Fatigue
  • Frequent and/or painful urination
  • Insomnia
  • Ringing in the ears
  • Leg and foot swelling
  • Shaking

If you are experiencing any of these side effects, consult your doctor. They may prescribe you other pain medications instead.

It is also important to note that hydrocodone is a “DEA Schedule II controlled substance,” which means that it has high potential for abuse.2 It is possible to develop a psychological or physical dependence on hydrocodone. If you use hydrocodone for a long time, it can become habit-forming.1

How Long Does Hydrocodone Stay in Your System?

Hydrocodone stays in your system for a few days. For example, a urine test may be able to detect hydrocodone in your system four days after you have taken it. But the half-life of hydrocodone is about three to four hours.

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What is Oxycodone? 

Oxycodone is a semi-synthetic opioid drug. It is also prescribed to treat pain. It may come in the form of Tylox, Percodan, or OxyContin.6

Oxycodone works by exerting analgesic activity, binding to the central nervous system’s mu-receptors.7 It mimics the effects of endogenous opioids and inhibits the release of somatostatin, insulin, glucagon, and vasopressin. It also reduces neuronal excitability so you feel less pain.

You should not take higher doses of oxycodone or take it more often than directed by your doctor.8

What Does it Treat?

Oxycodone also treats acute and chronic pain. Similar to hydrocodone, a doctor may prescribe a patient oxycodone if they fracture a bone.

Common Side Effects of Oxycodone

Common side effects of oxycodone include, but are not limited to: 8

  • Stomach pain
  • Drowsiness
  • Head pain
  • Chest pain
  • Dry mouth
  • Nausea with or without vomiting
  • Mood changes
  • Flushing of the skin
  • Hives, rash, or itching
  • Difficulty breathing or swallowing
  • Seizures
  • Swelling of the face, throat, legs, or feet
  • Irregular menstruation
  • Low libidio
  • Agitation
  • Hallucinations

Again, if you are experiencing any of these side effects, consult your doctor. Your doctor may prescribe you other pain medications instead.

Like hydrocodone, oxycodone is also a “DEA Schedule II controlled substance” that has high abuse potential.6 In other words, it is a very addicting drug. Beyond pain relief, oxycodone promotes feelings of euphoria and relaxation.

How Long Does Oxycodone Stay in Your System?

Oxycodone has a half-life of about three to five hours, but it may be detected in your system for much longer than that.5

Similarities Between Hydrocodone and Oxycodone

Both hydrocodone and oxycodone treat acute and chronic pain. They both do so by altering your central nervous system.

Likewise, both prescription drugs can be addictive. It is important to take both drugs exactly as prescribed. Do not take any more or less than your doctor has prescribed. Also, do not stop your treatment course without talking to your doctor. 

Talk to your doctor about other medications you may be taking that can potentially interact with either of these drugs, as well. 

Lastly, consult your doctor if you are taking either of these pain medications but your pain worsens or changes over time.

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Is Oxycodone Stronger Than Hydrocodone?

Both hydrocodone and oxycodone are considered equally effective in managing acute pain in adults.4 Both drugs have successfully helped patients manage pain. That said, oxycodone is a stronger drug than hydrocodone.

While oxycodone may be stronger, both drugs have the potential to become addictive. With long-term use of either drug, patients may become reliant long after the pain has stopped. 

Hydrocodone vs. Oxycodone: Addiction Potential

Both hydrocodone and oxycodone are considered to be potentially addictive. With long-term use, they can take a psychological toll.

It is important that you do not take either drug any more or for any longer without consulting your doctor. If you or someone you know are worried about developing an addiction to hydrocodone or oxycodone, talk to your doctor about other options. 

If you are worried that you have already developed an addiction, reach out for medical support immediately.

Symptoms of Hydrocodone Addiction

The symptoms of a hydrocodone addiction include, but are not limited to:

  • Craving the drug to feel better, even after pain has subsided
  • Using the drug even after pain has subsided
  • Lying about or making excuses for using the drug
  • Taking the drug more often than prescribed
  • Taking the drug after the course of treatment has ended
  • Taking more of the drug than prescribed
  • Spending a lot of money on or engaging in illegal activities to obtain the drug
  • Having mood swings or dealing with depression if not using the drug

Symptoms of Oxycodone Addiction

The symptoms of an oxycodone addiction are not unlike those of a hydrocodone addiction. Addiction to opioid medications can be difficult to deal with. If you or someone you know has an addiction, or may be developing an addiction to either drug, contact professional support immediately.

Treatment Options for Opioid Abuse & Addiction

There are several options for people suffering from opioid addiction. These include:

  • Medication-Assisted Therapy (MAT) There are three medications approved to treat opioid use disorder: buprenorphine, methadone, and naltrexone. Buprenorphine and methadone can help you manage withdrawal symptoms throughout the detoxification process. Naltrexone is less commonly used, but it blocks your opioid receptors, making it impossible to get high. Medication-assisted therapy is most effective when combined with other forms of treatment.
  • Inpatient Programs — Inpatient programs are the most intensive and effective treatment options for opioid addiction. These programs guide you through medically supervised detoxification, then behavioral therapy and other services (possibly including MAT), will be added to your treatment. They typically last 30, 60, or 90 days, however they may be longer if necessary.
  • Partial Hospitalization Programs (PHPs) PHPs are also known as intensive outpatient programs (IOPs). They are the next most intensive type of treatment for opioid addiction. They provide similar services to inpatient programs such as detoxification, behavioral therapy medical services, and custom treatments such as MAT. The difference is that in a PHP, the patient returns home to sleep. Some programs will include transportation and meals, but this varies by program. Partial hospitalization programs are helpful for both new patients and patients who have completed inpatient treatment and still need intensive recovery therapy.
  • Outpatient Programs Outpatient programs work best for people who have a high level of motivation to recover. They create treatment programs that work around your schedule. These programs can either be an effective treatment option for new patients or a part of an aftercare program for people who complete inpatient or partial hospitalization program.

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Resources

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Hydrocodone And Acetaminophen (Oral Route) Description and Brand Names.” Mayo Clinic, Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research, 1 July 2021. Hydrocodone.” National Center for Biotechnology Information. PubChem Compound Database, U.S. National Library of Medicine. Hydrocodone: MedlinePlus Drug Information.” MedlinePlus, U.S. National Library of Medicine. Marco CA;Plewa MC;Buderer N;Black C;Roberts A; “Comparison of Oxycodone and Hydrocodone for the Treatment of Acute Pain Associated with Fractures: a Double-Blind, Randomized, Controlled Trial.” Academic Emergency Medicine : Official Journal of the Society for Academic Emergency Medicine, U.S. National Library of Medicine. Ordóñez Gallego A;González Barón M;Espinosa Arranz E; “Oxycodone: a Pharmacological and Clinical Review.Clinical & Translational Oncology : Official Publication of the Federation of Spanish Oncology Societies and of the National Cancer Institute of Mexico, U.S. National Library of Medicine. Oxycodone.” DEA. Oxycodone.” National Center for Biotechnology Information. PubChem Compound Database, U.S. National Library of Medicine. Oxycodone: MedlinePlus Drug Information.” MedlinePlus, U.S. National Library of Medicine. Slawson, David C. “No Difference Between Oxycodone/Acetaminophen and Hydrocodone/Acetaminophen for Acute Extremity Pain.” American Family Physician, 1 Mar. 2016.

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