Medically Reviewed

What is the Difference Between Percocet and Vicodin?

2 min read · 5 sections
Evidence-Based Care
Expert Staff

Percocet and Vicodin, the latter of which was discontinued in the U.S. market, are combination drugs that contain an opioid pain reliever and acetaminophen, a pain reliever and fever reducer. Although very similar in their effects, these drugs differ in their chemical composition.1

What is Percocet?

Percocet is a prescription medication brand name used to help relieve moderate to severe pain. It contains a combination of acetaminophen and oxycodone.1 This drug interacts with specific opioid receptors and provides feelings of pain relief, relaxation, and euphoria. The most common side effects include:1

  • Lightheadedness.
  • Dizziness.
  • Drowsiness.
  • Sedation.
  • Nausea.
  • Vomiting.

Other side effects of Percocet include slow breathing, constipation, reduced heart function, and cough suppression.1

What is Vicodin?

The prescription drug Vicodin contains acetaminophen and hydrocodone, a semi-synthetic opioid that binds opioid receptors to provide relief from moderate to severe pain. Common side effects of Vicodin include:2

  • Relaxation.
  • Euphoria.
  • Lightheadedness.
  • Dizziness.
  • Sedation.
  • Nausea.
  • Vomiting.

Other more adverse side effects of Vicodin use can include shallow breathing, slow heartbeat, and fainting.2

Comparison of Percocet and Vicodin

Although these two drugs differ in their opioid composition, previous studies have shown that Percocet and Vicodin treat pain equally.3,4 Percocet and Vicodin have similar half-lives of approximately 4 hours, and both drugs are used to treat the acute onset of pain and can be expected to provide pain relief for anywhere between 4 to 6 hours.1,2

Aside from their similar side effects and efficacy in treating pain, there are some differences between these two medications. Published research indicates that Percocet is more likely than Vicodin to cause nausea, dizziness, drowsiness, fatigue, and headache.4 Other studies show that people using Vicodin experience constipation and stomach pain more frequently than people who take Percocet.3

Percocet and Vicodin both bind opioid receptors and depress the central nervous system. And both drugs can cause serious side effects if taken at higher dosages. Overdose of either Percocet or Vicodin can result in dangerous outcomes that include:1,2

  • Decreased breathing.
  • Low blood pressure.
  • Organ failure.
  • Death.

Abuse Potential of Percocet and Vicodin

Percocet and Vicodin are opioids that alter the way you feel and respond to pain. These drugs both have a high potential for misuse that can easily lead to addiction. Percocet is stronger than Vicodin, and as is generally the case with more potent opioids, there is a higher risk of misuse associated with the use of Percocet.5

Percocet and Vicodin are indicated for the short-term treatment of pain and should only be taken in the manner described by your doctor. These drugs should only be taken for as long as you were instructed to take them and in the exact dose and frequency as prescribed by your doctor.

Treatment Options

If you are suffering from an addiction to Percocet or Vicodin, help is available. Contact a substance use disorder professional to learn about the available treatment options that can help you overcome your dependence on and/or addiction to these drugs.

Due to the harmful and uncomfortable symptoms you can experience during opioid withdrawal, it may be best to undergo medically supervised detox in a medical facility or detox center. There are also medications that can be given to help minimize cravings and reduce withdrawal symptoms.

After completing detox, treatment can be done on an outpatient basis or in an inpatient residential program. Although treatment plans vary based on your specific needs and situation, most programs incorporate some forms of individual counseling, group counseling, and family counseling. Behavioral therapy is often a critical component of treatment that will identify and address the underlying causes of your addiction to Percocet or Vicodin.

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