Oxycodone vs Hydrocodone

Last updated: June 1, 2018

Oxycodone pills

Many who struggle with prescription pain medication addictions will be familiar with both oxycodone and hydrocodone. These substances are both extremely powerful opioids, but exactly does that mean? Opioids are a common form of painkillers typically only prescribed for serious pain. In the United States, opioid addiction has been steadily increasing for the past several decades. In addition to relieving pain, opioids give users a sense of elation. Although hydrocodone and oxycodone are both opioids, how are they different? It’s important to understand exactly what is in each of these drugs, which side effects they could produce and how they affect our bodies. Here are the answers to some of the most commonly asked questions regarding oxycodone and hydrocodone.

What is oxycodone?

Oxycodone is a semisynthetic analgesic drug made from an opioid alkaloid native to the Persian poppy called thebaine. It has been used as a painkiller for over 100 years. As an opioid, oxycodone alters the way your body understands pain. While taking the oral drug oxycodone, what would normally feel excruciating is made bearable.

What is hydrocodone?

Hydrocodone, while also an semisynthetic opioid, is not identical to oxycodone. Rather than being synthesized from thebaine, hydrocodone is made from codeine. In fact, it is also known as dihydrocodeinone. Unlike oxycodone, hydrocodone is typically used as the main ingredient in other drugs, such as Norco and Vicodin, rather than being used alone.

Oxycodone can also be mixed with non-narcotic medications for a stronger or specialized effect, but hydrocodone is used more often. In addition to being the active ingredient in several prominent painkillers, hydrocodone can be mixed with less addictive drugs like ibuprofen, to manage inflammation along with pain, or guaifenesin, to alleviate congestion.

Are they used differently for pain?

The short answer to this question is no, but let’s discuss why. Because both oxycodone and hydrocodone are opioids, they work in very similar ways. Opioids work by securing themselves to opioid receptors in our body, such as those on the brain, gastrointestinal tract and spinal cord. These receptors exist because our brains naturally produce opioids on their own, but only in small doses. Our bodies are incapable of manufacturing enough opioids to numb the pain of extreme injuries or intense chronic pain. Opioid medications work mainly by connecting to the opioid receptors in the brain and prohibiting it from receiving pain signals from the body’s central nervous system. If the brain doesn’t know that the body is in pain, then the body is unable to feel the pain itself.

Oxycodone and hydrocodone are both only intended to be used to relieve severe pain. They are also extremely fast-acting and typically kick in after only 30 minutes. Both drugs are used for short-term use, such as to remove pain associated with an operation or injury, as well as long-term use, to alleviate chronic pain symptoms. However, long-term use isn’t typically recommended to the highly addictive nature of both substances.

What is the difference in the high?

For the most part, the high between oxycodone and hydrocodone are quite comparable. Both substances are categorized as Schedule II drugs in the United States, meaning the high they provide is extreme and they have the potential to be incredibly addictive. Most people who have taken either of these powerful narcotics describe the high as a euphoric feeling . However, because hydrocodone is usually mixed with other medications, its strength can be diminished. Oxycodone is typically the opioid of choice when it comes to recreational use because it is prescribed alone.

Both drugs are available in either traditional capsule form of controlled-release capsule form. Pure oxycodone and hydrocodone capsules are abused most often because the full force of the addictive drug is introduced to the body at once. Controlled-release capsules work by slowly releasing the drug into one’s system over an extended period of time. With drugs like oxycodone and hydrocodone, this means that the feeling of euphoria won’t be as powerful, which will hopefully discourage abuse of the drug.

Which is stronger?

Everyone experiences pain differently. While some types of pain, such as that from breaking a leg, are more extreme than other types of pain, such as that from stubbing your toe, the reality is that everyone has a different pain tolerance. While a broken leg may be excruciating for some, it may rank as a 7 on someone else’s scale.

When it comes to pain medication, opioids in particular, their strength is relatively similar scientifically. Oxycodone and hydrocodone can essentially prescribed interchangeably. However, because everyone experiences pain differently, some may find that one opioid is more effective at treating their pain than another.

Are the side effects different?

All opioids from hydrocodone to methadone have similar side effects, such as nausea, dizziness, constipation and sweating. These minor side effects are experienced by most people who use opioids for pain relief. However, there are more serious side effects associated with each opioid that can be particularly dangerous. Here are some of the specific side effects associated with each oxycodone and hydrocodone:

Oxycodone side effects:

  • Insomnia
  • depression
  • anxiety
  • confusion
  • loss of strength

Hydrocodone side effects:

  • Swelling
  • muscle spasms
  • increased heart rate
  • hot flashes

Is one more addictive?

To some, opioids are addictive. To others, they are not. What exactly causes opioid addiction is largely unknown, but most doctors agree that some people are more genetically predisposed to addiction than others. That being said, opioids are one of the most addictive categories of drugs. If you are more susceptible to addiction that others, chances are that you could be addicted to hydrocodone just as easily as oxycodone. There are no properties within these narcotics that make one more addictive than another.

The reason that many people become addicted to opioids in particular is because of the euphoric feeling that they provide. While opioids work by blocking the central nervous system from sending pain signals to the brain, the central nervous system often responds by producing the opposite effect- an extreme sense of well-being also known as euphoria. Because everyone’s bodies are different and respond to pain and relief differently, some opioids may work better than others. If someone isn’t finding immediately relief from oxycodone, they likely won’t become addicted- however, if they receive a euphoric high from taking hydrocodone, they may become addicted. There is no chemical component in either oxycodone or hydrocodone that makes one opioid more addictive than the other.

What are the withdrawal symptoms like?

It is extremely rare, nearly impossible, for anyone to stop taking either oxycodone or hydrocodone and experience no withdrawal symptoms. The withdrawal symptoms from any narcotic, including opioids, are severe. There isn’t much difference between the withdrawal symptoms of oxycodone versus hydrocodone because the withdrawal symptoms from any opioid are nearly identical.

Opioid withdrawal symptoms can start immediately after you stop taking oxycodone or hydrocodone, especially if you have been taking a high dose and/or taking the medication for a prolonged period of time. While not everyone who stops taking an opioid will experience all of the common withdrawal symptoms, they are likely to experience a few. Here are some of the most common opioid withdrawal symptoms:

  • Restlessness
  • Insomnia
  • Anxiety
  • Uncontrollable sweating
  • High blood pressure
  • Blurred vision
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea

Do they have any legal differences?

There are no legal differences between oxycodone and hydrocodone. All opioids can only be legally obtained through a prescription from your doctor. As schedule II drugs, you can be arrested for making, selling and distributing both oxycodone and hydrocodone. Likewise, if you are caught with either of these narcotics in your possession without a valid prescription, you can also be arrested. Illegal schedule I and schedule II drug possession, distribution and creation can be charged as felony offenses.

Does one cost more than the other?

When it comes to price, oxycodone is far more expensive. It can cost nearly twice as much as hydrocodone. This is most likely because oxycodone is prescribed alone, while hydrocodone is typically mixed with non-narcotic medications, like acetaminophen, which means it’s less concentrated.

At the end of the day, both hydrocodone and oxycodone are extremely addictive opioids. For those prone to addiction, opioids like these can be very dangerous and potentially deadly. Many painkiller addicts find that their addictions turn them into someone they don’t recognize. They end up lying, cheating and stealing just to get their pills and have the euphoric high their bodies crave. While opioid withdrawal symptoms can be unpleasant, nothing is worse than living a life controlled by a narcotic. If you feel that you may have an oxycodone or hydrocodone addiction, seek help now. The blessings of a clean and sober life far outweigh the short-term euphoria of an opioid.


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