Vicodin

Vicodin is a powerful pain reliever. When misused, it also gives the user a euphoric "high" that lasts for hours. This is why it's one of the most commonly abused prescription opioids.
Evidence Based
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What is Vicodin?

Vicodin is a drug that is a mix of hydrocodone and acetaminophen. Doctors prescribe it for severe pain relief or in cases where other pain medications do not work.

Vicodin has a high risk of being misused and abused. Users prescribed Vicodin by their doctors for legitimate reasons develop a dependence on it and there is a risk for addiction. There are also Vicodin users not prescribed the drug who use it to experience a euphoric high.

Graphic of 3 different types of medication bottles and pills.

Vicodin Uses & Dosage

Doctors adjust the dosage of Vicodin based on the severity of pain. Tolerance is a risk, though, especially after extended use.

There are three variations of Vicodin, including the original, which contains 5 mg of hydrocodone and 300 mg or acetaminophen. Vicodin ES contains 7.5 mg of hydrocodone and 300 mg of acetaminophen. And Vicodin HP contains 10 mg or hydrocodone and 300 mg of acetaminophen. There are also formulations containing up to 325 mg of acetaminophen. For each, prescribed dosages range from one to two tablets every four to six hours.

Graphic human body showing symptoms.

Vicodin Side Effects

Vicodin can trigger side effects that range from mild to moderate, including:

  • Lightheadedness
  • Dizziness
  • Sedation
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Drowsiness
  • Constipation
  • Spasms of the ureter making urination difficult

There are also side effects specific to either hydrocodone or acetaminophen. For instance, hydrocodone side effects include:

  • Impairment of physical ability
  • Impairment of mental ability
  • Depressed breathing

Acetaminophen causes impairment of liver function when used excessively.

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Vicodin vs Norco

Vicodin and Norco are similar drugs. They both contain acetaminophen and hydrocodone, but there is a difference in the formulation. Norco contains more hydrocodone. Because of this, users or Norco are more at risk for dizziness, drowsiness, and lightheadedness.

Two pills mixing equals dangerous

Drug Interactions

As is the case with most drugs, interactions can occur when mixing Vicodin with other substances. For example, interactions are possible when patients take Vicodin in combination with:

  • Other narcotics
  • Antihistamines
  • Antipsychotics
  • Anti-anxiety medications
  • CNS depressants
  • Alcohol
  • MAO Inhibitors
  • Tricyclic antidepressants 
Graphic of head filled with pills

Is Vicodin Addictive?

The hydrocodone in Vicodin makes it addictive if used for an extended time. Both addiction and physical dependence can develop.

There is less risk for dependence when Vicodin is used as directed. 

It’s possible for someone using Vicodin to treat pain to develop a physical dependence on the drug, but this doesn’t always indicate an addiction. Withdrawal symptoms are possible, which is why doctors sometimes gradually reduce the dosage over time.

Graphic human body showing symptoms.

Vicodin Abuse & Addiction Symptoms

Vicodin relaxes users and triggers a euphoric high in larger doses. This occurs whether a person first used Vicodin according to a doctor’s prescription and developed tolerance or if a person abused the drug without a prescription. In either case, addiction symptoms can arise. Someone addicted to Vicodin experiences anxiety, irritability, and mood swings.

Physical addiction symptoms include:

  • Dizziness
  • Drowsiness
  • Headache
  • Ringing in the ears
  • Small pupils
  • Vomiting
  • Weakness
Graphic of woman going through withdrawal.

Vicodin Withdrawal Symptoms

A sudden stoppage of Vicodin use produces withdrawal symptoms. This is why doctors tend to gradually decrease a patient’s dosage of the medication. Quitting cold turkey triggers uncomfortable symptoms and increases the risk of relapse for someone addicted to Vicodin.

Vicodin withdrawal symptoms include:

  • Excessive sweating
  • Nodding out
  • Flu-like symptoms
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Mood swings
  • Chills
  • Tremors
  • Muscle aches and pains
  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Fatigue
  • Hostility
  • Trouble sleeping

Vicodin withdrawal symptoms are not as bad as they are with other drugs, but they are still unpleasant. Medically supervised detox eases the discomfort.

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Vicodin Addiction Treatment

There is treatment available for Vicodin addiction. Treatment reduces withdrawal symptoms and increases the chance of successful recovery. Treatment programs accommodate the unique needs of the person being treated.

Most begin with a detoxification phase that allows the drug to leave the body safely. It is followed by a mental health evaluation so doctors can determine if there are any co-occurring conditions. People in recovery participate in both behavioral and cognitive therapies that help them deal with their immediate addiction and the long-term challenges they face.

Vicodin treatment is available on both the inpatient and outpatient basis. Inpatient Vicodin rehab includes round-the-clock medical supervision. Inpatient programs usually last one to three months followed by outpatient treatment.

Outpatient treatment allows those with a Vicodin addiction to return to their home at night. It can be effective for those with strong personal support systems. Some outpatient programs begin with inpatient detox so patients begin recovery under 24-hour medical supervision. Medication-assisted treatment and therapy may be used as well.

Whether a person opts for inpatient or outpatient therapy, at some point he or she will transition to aftercare and sober living. This usually includes group and individual therapy on an ongoing basis. It might also include participation in a 12-step program such as Narcotics Anonymous. Not only do these programs help a person develop tools to help them avoid or manage addiction triggers, but they also provide support for finding work, managing finances, and more, if it’s needed.


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Resources

Omudhome Ogbru, PharmD. “Hydrocodone/Acetaminophen (Vicodin, Norco).” MedicineNet, MedicineNet, 5 Nov. 2018, www.medicinenet.com/hydrocodoneacetaminophen/article.htm.

“Norco vs Vicodin - How Do They Compare?” Drugs.Com, Drugs.com, 2018, www.drugs.com/medical-answers/norco-vs-vicodin-3039078/.

Godman, Heidi. “Understanding Hydrocodone Addiction.” Healthline, Healthline Media, 8 Jan. 2019, www.healthline.com/health/understanding-hydrocodone-addiction#prevention.

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Updated on: June 24, 2020
Author
Addiction Group Staff
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Medically Reviewed: April 2, 2020
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Annamarie Coy

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