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Vicodin vs Percocet Abuse And Addiction – What Is The Difference?

Dr. Richard Foster, LICDC-CS

Medically reviewed by

Dr. Richard Foster, LICDC-CS

March 12, 2019

Vicodin and Percocet are potent, semi-synthetic opioid medications, typically used to treat moderate to severe pain. Vicodin is made of a combination of hydrocodone and acetaminophen, and Percocet consists of a combination of oxycodone and acetaminophen. Opioids such as Vicodin and Percocet have become some of the most abused substances in the United States.

In 2015, hydrocodone products, including Vicodin, were the most commonly abused subtype of prescription pain-relievers, with an estimated 7.2 million people aged 12 or older misusing these substances in the past year. Oxycodone products, including Percocet, were the second-most abused prescription painkiller subtype in 2015, with an estimated 4.3 million people misusing these products in the past year.

Both oxycodone and hydrocodone are derivatives of morphine that produce very similar reactions within the body, due to their similar chemical structures. However, there are slight differences in their potency and potential side effects.

Percocet (oxycodone and acetaminophen combination) is about 1.5 times more potent compared to Vicodin (hydrocodone and acetaminophen combination.) Also, individuals who consume large doses of Vicodin are more likely to experience constipation and more intense adverse reactions when combined with other substances than those who take Percocet.

Vicodin Vs. Percocet For Pain Management

Research indicates that both Vicodin and Percocet are effective at helping individuals manage similar levels of pain. However, because Percocet is more potent than Vicodin, it is classified as a Schedule II drug by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), and Vicodin is classified as a Schedule III drug.

Due to Vicodin being a Schedule III drug, its prescribing regulations are less strict than those of Percocet, which is why it is thought to be more widely abused — because it can be more easily obtained for illegal purposes.

The Dangers Of Vicodin And Percocet Abuse

Opioid medications like Vicodin and Percocet have very high abuse potential, even when they are taken as intended. When abused, the chances of becoming addicted to Vicodin and Percocet increase significantly.

Both medications work on the pleasure center of the brain to alter the way the body feels pain and increase the level of dopamine in the brain. Extended abuse of either drug can result in permanent changes to the physical structure of the brain, making it extremely difficult for individuals to stop using.

Individuals who misuse these substances are also at an increased risk of fatal overdose. Some experts say that it is more likely for a person to overdose on Percocet than Vicodin, however, due to its increased potency. Each time someone consumes Vicodin or Percocet, their body becomes more accustomed to having the drug in its system, and tolerance to the drug’s effects will eventually develop.

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Once tolerance is established, more massive and frequent doses of the drug will be needed to feel the same effects a smaller dose once had. Increasing the dose of Vicodin or Percocet can be dangerous, as large doses of either medication may decrease respirations to potentially life-threatening levels and result in death.

It has also been noted that consuming Vicodin while on antidepressants can lead to rapid changes in emotional states. For example, some individuals who mix Vicodin with antidepressants may feel fine one minute and extremely agitated or anxious the next.

Abusive doses of Percocet and Vicodin are especially dangerous if an individual is misusing an extended-release (ER) version of the drug. The ER versions of Percocet and Vicodin were developed for individuals who need to manage chronic pain from diseases such as cancer. These medications allow them to take their pain medication less frequently, as the dose is released over a set period (usually 12 hours or so).

However, when someone abuses the ER version of these drugs, it is likely that they will crush up the pill, destroying the extended-release capsule, and a toxic dose of the drug will be administered either nasally or orally. Abusing Vicodin or Percocet in this way increases the risk of fatal overdose.

Signs of a Vicodin or Percocet overdose can include:

  • cold, clammy skin
  • excessive drowsiness
  • limp or weak muscles
  • loss of consciousness or coma
  • pinpoint pupils
  • slowed and difficult breathing
  • sudden death

Vicodin And Percocet Withdrawal And Detoxification

If someone develops a tolerance to Vicodin or Percocet, he or she can become dependent on the medication. Once a physical or psychological dependence has been established, the body will require the drug to function normally. Anyone with an opioid tolerance who suddenly decreases or stops taking the drug can develop severe withdrawal symptoms.

Possible symptoms of Vicodin or Percocet withdrawal include:

  • anxiety
  • excessive sweating
  • fever
  • insomnia
  • muscle pain
  • nausea
  • flu-like symptoms, including a runny nose and body aches

In most cases of opioid abuse, it is recommended that an individual complete a detox before they are referred to a formal treatment program. Medically supervised detox allows individuals in recovery from a Vicodin or Percocet use disorder to safely remove the substance from their body so they can continue on to treatment, addressing the mental aspects of their recovery.

Treatment For Vicodin And Percocet Abuse And Addiction

Although there are some differences between Vicodin and Percocet, abuse or addiction to either substance can result in long-term consequences to someone’s health. It is essential to seek professional addiction treatment to stop misusing these highly dangerous substances.

Both medication-assisted treatment and behavioral therapies will be used during opioid addiction treatment to provide individuals with physical comfort as they learn a new skill set that will allow them to lead a drug-free life. Comprehensive and individualized addiction treatment can significantly increase the chances of a long-term recovery.

National Center for Biotechnology Information - Within-subject comparison of the psychopharmacological profiles of oral hydrocodone and oxycodone combination products in non-drug-abusing volunteers

National Center for Biotechnology Information - Comparison of oxycodone and hydrocodone for the treatment of acute pain associated with fractures: a double-blind, randomized, controlled trial

Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration: National Survey on Drug Use and Health - Prescription Drug Use and Misuse in the United States: Results from the 2015 National Survey on Drug Use and Health

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