Vicodin and Percocet are two powerful prescription pain medications. Vicodin contains hydrocodone and acetaminophen, and Percocet contains oxycodone and acetaminophen. Read on for an in-depth comparison of these two medications, including how well they work, how much they cost, and what side effects they may cause.
Vicodin and Percocet are opioid narcotic medications. Morphine also belongs to this class. The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration classifies opioids as Schedule 2 drugs. This means they have a high risk of abuse and could lead to physical dependence or psychological dependence (addiction).
Vicodin and Percocet are both prescribed to treat moderate to severe pain. For the most part, they should only be prescribed to treat acute, or short-term, pain caused by an injury or surgery. However, in some cases, these drugs may be prescribed to treat chronic, or long-term, pain due to conditions such as arthritis or cancer.
They work by interfering with how pain signals are sent through your central nervous system (CNS) to your brain. This reduces the pain you feel and makes movement and everyday activities easier.
Both Vicodin and Percocet come in brand-name and generic versions. The brand-name versions come in tablet form. The generic versions of either drug come in tablet and liquid forms.
- Vicodin tablets: 300 mg of acetaminophen with 5 mg, 7.5 mg, or 10 mg hydrocodone
- Generic tablets: 300 mg or 325 mg of acetaminophen with 2.5 mg, 5 mg, 7.5 mg, or 10 mg hydrocodone
- Generic liquid: 325 mg acetaminophen with 7.5 mg or 10 mg hydrocodone per 15 mL
- Percocet tablets: 325 mg of acetaminophen with 2.5 mg, 5 mg, 7.5 mg, or 10 mg oxycodone
- Generic tablets: 300 mg or 325 mg of acetaminophen with 2.5 mg, 5 mg, 7.5 mg, or 10 mg oxycodone
- Generic liquid: 325 mg acetaminophen and 5 mg oxycodone for every 5 mL
Vicodin or Percocet is typically taken every 4–6 hours as needed for pain.
Both Vicodin and Percocet have been shown to be highly effective at treating pain. In a study comparing the drugs, researchers found that they both worked equally well. Another study showed that they work equally well in treating pain caused by fractures.
However, a different study found that oxycodone, the drug in Percocet, was 1.5 times more potent than hydrocodone, the drug in Vicodin, when prescribed and taken at equal doses.
Generic versions of drugs generally cost less than the brand-name versions. Because generic versions are available for both Vicodin and Percocet, most insurance companies require that you be prescribed the generic version. The active ingredients in the generic versions of these drugs are the same as in the brand-name versions. So their effects should be the same.
At the time this article was written, GoodRx.com reported that the brand-name version of Percocet was much more expensive than the brand-name version of Vicodin. Costs for the generic versions of these drugs were similar to each other and much lower than for the brand-name versions.
Because Vicodin and Percocet are both opioid pain medications, they share similar side effects. The more common side effects of Vicodin and Percocet can include:
- shallow breathing
- mood changes, such as anxiety, agitation, or depression
- dry mouth
- problems with coordination or using your limbs during certain tasks, including playing sports and driving
Hydrocodone (in Vicodin) has been found to cause constipation more often than oxycodone (in Percocet).
Serious side effects
Severe but less common side effects can occur. If you have any of these side effects, call 911 or go to the nearest emergency room right away. These side effects can include:
- trouble breathing
- low blood pressure
- rapid heartbeat
- painful urination or trouble urinating
- allergic reaction, with symptoms such as itching, hives, trouble breathing, or swelling of your tongue or throat
Both Vicodin and Percocet affect your mental and physical abilities, such as judgment and reflexes. You shouldn’t drive or use heavy machinery if you’re taking either medication.
Vicodin and Percocet are powerful drugs, so you should be aware of several risks involved with taking them.
Dependence and withdrawal
Even if you take them exactly as prescribed, Vicodin or Percocet may become habit-forming. In other words, these drugs can cause physical or mental dependence. For this reason, doctors are cautious when prescribing them.
There is also the risk of a withdrawal response when stopping these drugs. If you take either drug for more than a few days, talk to your doctor before you stop. Your doctor can help you taper off the medication slowly. This reduces your risk of withdrawal.
Be sure to take these drugs exactly as your doctor prescribes to reduce your risk of both dependence and withdrawal problems.
Like most drugs, Vicodin and Percocet can interact with other medications. This means that when used with certain other drugs, these medications can cause effects that can be dangerous. Before you take Vicodin or Percocet, tell your doctor about all other medications you take, including vitamins and supplements.
Vicodin and Percocet interact with many of the same drugs. For more information, visit the interaction sections for Vicodin and Percocet. A key difference is that if you’re taking Vicodin, you should also avoid taking monoamine oxidase inhibitors (MAOIs), such as selegiline and phenelzine. In addition, you should also discuss erythromycin or voriconazole with your doctor before taking either with Vicodin.
If you have certain health conditions, taking Vicodin or Percocet could increase certain risks. Vicodin causes slightly more risk than Percocet. Before taking Vicodin, be sure to tell your doctor if you have constipation or intestinal blockage. Hydrocodone can cause increased constipation, so ask your doctor if you should avoid taking it.
You should not drink alcohol while taking either Vicodin or Percocet. Combining alcohol and these painkillers can cause extreme dizziness or drowsiness, and can even be deadly. In some cases, taking one of these drugs with alcohol can cause liver damage. This is true if you drink more than three alcoholic drinks per day, have alcoholic liver disease, or have a history of alcohol abuse.
Vicodin and Percocet are opioid pain medications that are similar in many ways. Some of the main ways in which they differ are strengths and cost. Also, Vicodin has a few more drug interactions, and might also have a higher chance of causing constipation.
If your doctor feels you need Vicodin or Percocet for your pain, they will choose the drug for you based on several factors. These factors include your health history and how your body has reacted to pain medications in the past. If you have questions about your prescription or about either of these drugs, be sure to ask your doctor. Your questions might include:
- Would one of these drugs benefit me more than the other?
- Should I be concerned about becoming addicted to this drug?
- Is there a non-opioid pain medication I could use instead?
- If I have side effects from this drug, which ones should I call you about?
- For how long should I take my opioid pain medication?
- How will I know if I am becoming tolerant or addicted to this drug?