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What Is the Difference Between Oxycodone and Hydrocodone?

two different pill bottles representing oxycodone and hydrocodone

Both oxycodone and hydrocodone are powerful prescription painkillers. Doctors use these semi-synthetic opioid medications to treat both short-and long-term pain that results from various conditions, such as cancer, chronic cough, surgery, arthritis, and more. Oxycodone (OxyContin) and hydrocodone (Vicodin) are very similar in chemical form and function. Because of this, there are very few differences between them.

Either medication can be prescribed on its own or as a combination medication, including oxycodone or hydrocodone and another drug. However, they’re both addictive, which can lead to the need for polysubstance abuse treatment

What Are Oxycodone and Hydrocodone?

Oxycodone can be combined with other pain medications, including acetaminophen (Tylenol) or ibuprofen. Some common oxycodone combination drugs include Percocet and Oxycet. Hydrocodone may also be combined with acetaminophen or ibuprofen, but it may also be combined with antihistamines to make a syrup, used to treat chronic coughing. Medications containing both hydromorphone and antihistamines include Tussionex and Zutripro.

Side Effects of Oxycodone vs. Hydrocodone

When taken as directed, the side effects caused by oxycodone and hydrocodone are typically mild. However, they may produce severe and potentially fatal consequences when these drugs are used.

Oxycodone and hydrocodone produce very similar side effects, which may include:

  • Headaches
  • Insomnia
  • Stomach pain
  • Uncontrollable shaking:
  • Chest pain or tightness, changes in heartbeat, or heart failure
  • Decreased sex drive
  • Itching, hives, or rash (as a result of an allergic reaction)

Oxycodone vs. Hydrocodone for Pain Management

When comparing which medication is best for managing pain, research shows oxycodone and hydrocodone are both effective at easing similar levels of chronic pain. There are very few differences between the effects of these two medications. However, some research notes that individuals taking hydrocodone are more likely to become constipated than those taking oxycodone.

Some research also indicates that hydrocodone may be less potent than oxycodone. A healthcare professional will be best at determining which medication to give an individual based on their unique medical history.

Risk Factors for Opioid Use

Narcotics such as oxycodone and hydrocodone have a very high potential for use, even when taken as prescribed. When someone uses them illicitly, their chances of becoming addicted to oxycodone and hydrocodone increase exponentially.

These drugs are similar to other drugs of use, like heroin, alcohol, or cocaine, because they work to elevate the brain’s dopamine levels. Prolonged, chronic use of oxycodone or hydrocodone can eventually alter brain structures, making it extremely difficult for individuals to stop using either drug on their own. This behavior is a common sign of addiction.

The potential to experience fatal overdose when misusing these prescription drugs is also extremely high. Over time, an individual’s body and brain become used to having a certain amount of these drugs in their system and will develop tolerance to them.

Once tolerance is established, individuals will need higher and more frequent doses of the medications to achieve the desired level of intoxication. This can be extremely dangerous, especially when abusing oxycodone or hydrocodone. These opioids can cause certain dangerous effects when used, such as decreased breathing and heart rates. When someone increases the dosage and frequency of usage, the risk of dangerously slowed breathing and heart rates increases.

Dangers of Using These Narcotics

The use of oxycodone or hydrocodone is also dangerous because both drugs are available in extended-release (ER) forms. When the extended-release version of these drugs is used, they are often removed from their capsule and crushed up. This may result in an extremely toxic dose being administered all at once instead of over a 12-hour period. This greatly increases the likelihood of fatal overdose.

Possible signs of oxycodone and hydrocodone overdose include:

  • Cold, clammy skin
  • Excessive sleepiness
  • Limp or weak muscles
  • Loss of consciousness or coma
  • Narrowed or widening of the pupils
  • Slowed or difficult breathing
  • Sudden death

Oxycodone and Hydrocodone Withdrawal and Detoxification

If an individual develops a tolerance to oxycodone or hydrocodone, they can become dependent on the drug. Once physical or psychological dependence on either drug has developed, the body will need that drug in its systems to function normally. If someone who is dependent on opioids suddenly lowers their dose or stops taking them, severe withdrawal symptoms can occur.

Withdrawal symptoms from oxycodone and hydrocodone may include:

  • Anxiety
  • Excessive sweating
  • Fever
  • Insomnia
  • Muscle pain
  • Nausea
  • A runny nose and other flu-like symptoms

Because these drugs can quickly lead to dependence and withdrawal, formal oxycodone treatment programs often begin with a detox phase. Medically-supervised detox allows individuals to recover from addiction or dependence on oxycodone or hydrocodone to rid their bodies of the drug safely. They can then continue therapy, counseling, and other treatment in an inpatient treatment program.

Treatment for Opioid Addiction

While there are some differences between oxycodone and hydrocodone, the use and addiction to either medication can result in long-term health consequences. It is vital to seek professional help to stop abusing these opioid drugs, as the results can be potentially fatal.

Behavioral therapy is shown to be effective in helping addicted individuals drastically change their skillset and lifestyle in order to build and maintain a sober life. Comprehensive addiction treatment can increase the chances of a complete recovery and a healthy future. A combination of evidence-based and holistic therapy options can support long-term recovery. For instance, at Vertava Health, we offer therapeutic options such as:

  • Individual therapy
  • Group therapy
  • Family therapy
  • Adventure and wilderness therapy
  • Animal-assisted therapy

We also provide a variety of additional treatment options.  If you or a loved one is struggling with opioid addiction, please don’t hesitate to contact us for help.

Seek Support at Vertava Health Today

Oxycodone and hydrocodone are very powerful narcotics that have a high potential for abuse and addiction. These drugs are often prescribed for pain management, making it extremely difficult for individuals to stop using either drug on their own. However, individuals who misuse prescription painkillers, such as oxycodone and hydrocodone, are at risk of developing an addiction to these drugs. Addiction is a chronic disease that requires professional treatment.

If you or someone you know is struggling with oxycodone or hydrocodone addiction, please seek professional help. The consequences of opioid abuse can be deadly, but treatment is available to help people overcome their addiction. Don’t wait to get help, as time is of the essence when it comes to opioid addiction. For more on the differences between oxycodone and hydrocodone, contact a specialist today at Vertava Health by calling 844.470.0410.