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What Is Vicodin? — Uses, Benefits, and Side Effects

Vicodin is a popular prescription medication used to treat and relieve moderate to severe pain resulting from surgery or injury. In some cases, it might also be prescribed to treat long-term or chronic pain due to arthritis or cancer.

Vicodin is a combination medicine that blends both an opioid pain reliever and a non-opioid pain reliever. These two work together as one. While hydrocodone affects the brain, shifting how your body feels and responds to pain, acetaminophen simultaneously reduces ancillary pain and fevers.

Dosage and Usage

Vicodin is typically taken every 4-6 hours as needed for pain, but the dosage will depend on your particular medical condition and how you respond to treatment and other medications. For children, weight is also an essential consideration toward the dosage. Because Vicodin dosages vary from case to case, it is crucial that you do not increase your prescribed dose, take it more frequently than instructed, or share it with others. 

If you are prescribed Vicodin because of an injury or surgery, stop taking it when directed. The DEA lists Vicodin as a schedule II drug, defining it as a drug with a high potential for abuse that can lead to severe physical or psychological dependence. Schedule II drugs are considered extremely dangerous, including other substances such as fentanyl, morphine, oxycodone, and cocaine.


Vicodin tends to work best when used at the first sign of pain rather than waiting until the pain worsens, which can make the pills less effective. However, suppose you have chronic or ongoing pain, perhaps because of cancer or a back injury. In that case, your health care provider may prescribe a long-acting opioid medication, saving the Vicodin for sudden, breakthrough pain only as needed. Your doctor might also prescribe other non-opioid pain relievers such as ibuprofen and naproxen.

As with any prescription, be sure to inform your health care provider of all medications you are taking to avoid potentially harmful drug interactions. Before beginning a pain-relief regimen with Vicodin, it's vital to ensure that it's safe to take with your current medications.

Side Effects

As with most medications, and especially schedule II narcotics, there is a litany of possible side effects. Milder ones include dizziness, vomiting, nausea, drowsiness, or constipation. To help prevent constipation, you can increase your fiber intake, drink more water, exercise, or take a laxative. Inform your doctor if any of these symptoms persist or worsen.

More serious side effects can include sleep apnea, confusion, hallucinations, difficulty urinating, and loss of appetite. Again, let your health professional know as soon as you notice any of these.

Get medical help immediately if you experience any of the following: shallow breathing, fainting, seizure, severe drowsiness, difficulty waking up, or allergic reaction. Allergic reactions are rare, but if you develop a rash, itching or swelling, severe dizziness, or trouble breathing, do not wait to seek professional help.

A few of these severe side effects, such as shallow breathing and severe drowsiness, may increase if Vicodin is mixed with alcohol, marijuana, muscle relaxers, antihistamines, other opioids, or cough relievers containing codeine or oxycodone.

Also, acetaminophen is toxic for your liver and can be life-threatening. You should not exceed more than 4,000 mg of it a day. To keep that in perspective, the average dose of one Vicodin contains 500 mg of acetaminophen and only 5 mg of hydrocodone.

Finally, Vicodin is known to interfere with certain lab tests, possibly causing false results. If you have occasion to take a drug test while on Vicodin, inform your doctors and lab personnel that you are taking this medication.


According to The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), drug overdose deaths overall rose 29.4% in 2020, with the total number estimated at 93,331. This statistic includes a majority of opioid-related deaths at 69,710. This data shows that opioids are the main culprit of drug overdose deaths, with 72.9% involving synthetic versions like Vicodin. In 2015, synthetic opioids only comprised 18% of drug overdose deaths; however, in 2020, that statistic is closer to 60%.

Overdosing on Vicodin can also cause additional symptoms of acetaminophen ingestion: shallow breathing, vomiting, nausea, sweating, abdominal pain, slow heartbeat, yellowing of the eyes or skin, dark urine, or a coma.

If you suspect an overdose has occurred, administer naloxone if available, and call 911. Naloxone is an injection device that can reverse the life-threatening effects of an opiate overdose when used along with emergency medical treatment. 

Addiction and Treatment

Hydrocodone has the dubious reputation of being one of the most prescribed pain medications in the U.S. and one of the nation's most frequently abused prescription drugs.

Vicodin not only relieves pain when it binds to the brain's opioid receptors. It also affects the brain's reward pathway, producing euphoria and feelings of pleasure and well-being. However, long-term use alters the function of the reward pathway until the brain is entirely reliant on the opioid. The feelings of euphoria are gone, and the user now needs the drug to feel normal. 

Individuals addicted to drugs will exhibit behavioral changes. Some signs may include:

  • Changing friends or avoiding friends and family all together
  • Losing interest in activities they previously enjoyed
  • Forgoing hygiene
  • Swift mood swings
  • Sleeping at odd hours
  • Change in diet
  • Experiencing financial hardship
  • Trouble with law enforcement 

Withdrawal from opioids is difficult and dangerous, and it is highly advised not to quit "cold turkey." Suddenly stopping medications like Vicodin can result in painful physical effects and extreme emotional lows. The safest way to wean off of hydrocodone is through medically supervised treatment that includes counseling and support. 

If you or someone you know needs help with addiction, you may not know where to start the journey to recovery. Try calling the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration's (SAMHSA) National Helpline at 1-800-662-HELP (4357). They offer free and confidential treatment referrals and information 24/7, 365 days a year. They can get you started finding the help you need.

Countrywide Testing

The first step toward recovery is recognizing the problem. At Countrywide Testing, we offer an array of drug tests for workplace testing, healthcare emergencies, law enforcement purposes, individuals staying clean after rehab, and testing at home for any reason. 

Whatever the purpose, Countrywide Testing is quick and reliable, providing conclusive answers when you need them. We give you access to FDA-approved testing devices, as well as access to our parent company, Phamatech, Inc. — a SAMHSA, ISO, CLIA, and CAP licensed laboratory. 

With a proven track record of over 25 years of experience, Countrywide Testing has the expertise you need. Contact Countrywide today by visiting our website or calling us at (619) 292-8734.



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