Opioids have taken center stage in the U.S. in recent years, and not in a positive way. The level of abuse of prescription opioids has risen dramatically in the past 15 years, and among two of the biggest culprits for this abuse are oxycodone and hydrocodone. In fact, researchers have discovered that these are the drugs of choice for a whopping 75% of people dependent on opioids.

When comparing oxycodone vs. hydrocodone, oxycodone is preferred by many people. So what is it about these two opioids and oxycodone in particular that makes it preferential among people who abuse prescription drugs?

We’ll cover that below and also compare oxycodone vs. hydrocodone in terms of how effective they are in managing pain. We’ll also look at the answer to “what’s the difference between oxycodone and hydrocodone.”

Oxycodone vs. Hydrocodone for Pain: What is the Difference?
Oxycodone is an oral opioid that changes how you feel and how your brain and body responds to and perceives pain. It’s considered a semi-synthetic opioid and it’s moderately potent for the treatment of pain that ranges from moderate to severe. It’s available as a single-ingredient pain-relieving prescription medicine, and there are also combination options. Some of the things oxycodone may be combined with for more effective pain relief include acetaminophen, also known as paracetamol, and nonsteroidal anti-inflammatories like aspirin and ibuprofen.

Because oxycodone has the potential to create a sense of euphoria when someone takes it, it is one of the most abused opioids in the country right now.

Oxycodone has been used since 1916 for the management of pain and it’s available as a regular tablet and as a controlled-release tablet, which is believed to help reduce the potential for abuse.

Oxycodone is intended for the treatment of short-term pain, although it is sometimes used for chronic pain. It’s the active ingredient in OxyContin and Percocet, which are commonly prescribed.

In the U.S. oxycodone is approved only for oral use, in tablet and oral solution form, but in other countries, it’s also approved for intravenous administration.

Hydrocodone, like oxycodone, is also a relatively powerful narcotic used for the treatment of pain. When someone takes hydrocodone, as with any opioid, it impacts their central nervous system and dampens pain signals going to the brain. Hydrocodone is the active ingredient in well-known brand name painkillers including Norco and Vicodin.

Hydrocodone is also in Lortab, which is a brand name combination drug including acetaminophen, which comes in tablet form and also as a liquid, often referred to as Lortab elixir.

Many of the side effects when comparing oxycodone vs. hydrocodone are similar. Some of the adverse effects of taking either of these opioids can include:

  • Respiratory depression
  • Constipation
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Dizziness
  • Itchiness
  • Dry mouth
  • Sweating

Some of the less common side effects of both oxycodone and hydrocodone include loss of appetite, diarrhea and urine retention.

Both oxycodone and hydrocodone can lead to overdose as well. Taking high doses of these opioids can result in slowed breathing and heart rate, low blood pressure, respiratory arrest, and ultimately death.

Both oxycodone and hydrocodone have risks of addiction and dependence that come with using them, even as prescribed.

Taking an opioid medication creates a pleasurable response in the brain that triggers the reward system. When this happens, your brain starts to rewire itself to want to continue doing the activity that created that sense of pleasure, which in this instance was taking oxycodone or hydrocodone.

Dependence is different from addiction, and it can occur independently of addiction. Dependence occurs when your body becomes so used to taking a drug that it no longer feels normal without them. When you’re dependent on opioids and you stop taking them suddenly, it shocks your body in a way, resulting in withdrawal symptoms.

Oxycodone and hydrocodone both pose the risk of addiction and dependence, although some studies show oxycodone might have a slightly higher risk of addiction.

So what about the difference between oxycodone and hydrocodone regarding pain relief? Most research shows both treat pain equally, and they both usually take effect within anywhere from 30 to 60 minutes. However, oxycodone is more associated with constipation than hydrocodone.

Both hydrocodone and oxycodone can treat chronic and acute pain and both have similar risks and side effects. When answering the question “what’s the difference between oxycodone and hydrocodone,” there are really very few to cite, so the choice of which medicine is right for you should come down to a discussion with your doctor.

If you or a loved one live with addiction or are using drugs recreationally and want to stop, The Recovery Village® can help. Reach out to one of our representatives today to learn how you can start on your path to recovery.

Medical Disclaimer: The Recovery Village aims to improve the quality of life for people struggling with a substance use or mental health disorder with fact-based content about the nature of behavioral health conditions, treatment options and their related outcomes. We publish material that is researched, cited, edited and reviewed by licensed medical professionals. The information we provide is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It should not be used in place of the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare provider.

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