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What is the Difference Between Percocet and Vicodin?

Percocet and Vicodin are combination drugs that contain an opioid pain killer and acetaminophen, a pain reliever and fever reducer. Although very similar in their effects, these drugs differ in both their chemical composition.

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 abuse 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 abuse 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, please know that help is available. Contact a substance abuse professional to learn about the available treatment options that can help you overcome your dependence on these drugs.

Due to the harmful and extremely 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 you to help minimize cravings and reduce withdrawal symptoms.

After completing detox, you will be ready for the rehab step of treatment, which can be done on an outpatient basis or in an inpatient residential program. Although treatment plans will 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.

Sources

  1. Endo Pharmaceuticals Inc. (2018). Percocet (Oxycodone and Acetaminophen Tablets, USP).
  2. Abbott Laboratories. (2014). Vicodin (Hydrocodone bitartrate and acetaminophen tablets, USP).
  3. Marco, C.A., Plewa, M.C., Buderer, N., Black, C., & Roberts, A. (2005). Comparison of oxycodone and hydrocodone for the treatment of acute pain associated with fractures: a double-blind, randomized, controlled trial. Academic Emergency Medicine, 12(4), 282-288.
  4. Chang, A.K., Bijur, P.E., Holden, L., & Gallagher, E.J. (2015). Comparative analgesic efficacy of oxycodone/acetaminophen versus hydrocodone/acetaminophen for short-term pain management in adults following ED discharge. Academic Emergency Medicine. 22(11), 1254-1260.
  5. Stanford School of Medicine. Palliative Care Equivalency Table.
Last Updated on April 5, 2020
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Michael Kaliszewski, PhD
Dr. Michael Kaliszewski is a freelance science writer with over 15 years of experience as a research scientist in both academia and industry.
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