When discussing Vicodin (a combination of hydrocodone and acetaminophen), there can be confusion as to what drug classification it falls under. People often wonder if Vicodin is an opiate or an opioid? These terms are often used interchangeably and erroneously.

To best understand how Vicodin is classified, it is helpful to first define what each of these terms means to understand the differences between the two.


Opiates refer to natural substances derived from the Opium Poppy (Papaver somniferum), which contains chemical compounds including codeine and morphine. These compounds are extracted for use in prescription medications.


Opioids are synthetic or semi-synthetic products. Synthetic opioids are entirely man-made while semi-synthetic opioids are a hybrid, resulting from chemical modifications of natural opiates that are then blended with synthetic opioids. Synthetic opioids include drugs like methadone and fentanyl, while semi-synthetic opioids include hydrocodone and oxycodone.

How Opiates and Opioids Work

Both opiates and opioids work to modify a person’s perception of pain and their emotional reactions to that pain. Both attach to opioid receptors, which are molecules on nerve cells in the brain. When the drugs are attached, the nerve cells transmit altered messages to the pain that show inaccurate levels of pain severity, thereby reducing the severity of pain signals. It’s important to note that some opioids work by binding to the same receptors as opiates, but since they have synthetic components they are not considered to be opiates.

So, Is Vicodin an Opiate or an Opioid?

Since Vicodin is a synthetic, man-made product, it is not an opiate. However, since it does contain a semi-synthetic substance that was derived by modifying an opiate, it is an opioid. Vicodin is an opioid painkiller that contains a combination of hydrocodone (the semi-synthetic opioid) and acetaminophen (a pain reliever and fever reducer).

Pain is relieved when the hydrocodone acts on the central nervous system while acetaminophen further decreases pain and reduces fever. It is most commonly prescribed for relieving pain that stems from injuries or surgery.

Vicodin is manufactured in various formula strengths:

  • 5 milligrams of hydrocodone with 300 milligrams of acetaminophen
  • 7.5 milligrams of hydrocodone with 300 milligrams of acetaminophen
  • 10 milligrams of hydrocodone with 300 milligrams of acetaminophen

Vicodin is most commonly prescribed for relieving pain due to injury or surgery. Vicodin addiction and dependence can occur after using it to manage pain over long lengths of time. Additionally, some people misuse Vicodin in an attempt to elicit effects like those felt when using other opioids, such as morphine, heroin or codeine.

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Editor – Thomas Christiansen
With over a decade of content experience, Tom produces and edits research articles, news and blog posts produced for Advanced Recovery Systems. Read more
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Medically Reviewed By – Christina Caplinger, RPh
Christina Caplinger is a licensed pharmacist in both Colorado and Idaho and is also a board-certified pharmacotherapy specialist. Read more
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The Recovery Village aims to improve the quality of life for people struggling with 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 providers.