How to Use Vicodin Safely

person holding bottle of vicodin
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Vicodin is a combination of two pain relievers; acetaminophen (commonly known by the trade name Tylenol) and hydrocodone (a synthetic codeine). Vicodin is one of the most widely prescribed pain relievers in the U.S. and one of the most frequently abused.

The drug is marketed under a number of brand names including:

  • Vicodin
  • Vicodin HP (300 mg acetaminophen/5 mg hydrocodone)
  • Vicodin ES (750 mg acetaminophen/7.5 mg hydrocodone)
  • Lortab
  • Anexsia
  • Zydone
  • Lorcet
  • Norco

Vicodin is considered an effective pain reliever when used as prescribed over the short term. Careless, inappropriate, or deliberate misuse can have serious consequences including drug dependence and liver damage.

Dosage and Side Effects

Vicodin is taken orally in a tablet form and contains 300 milligrams of acetaminophen and 5.0 milligrams of hydrocodone. The standard adult dose is one or two tablets every four to six hours as needed. The total daily dose should not exceed eight tablets.

Vicodin HP and Vicodin EP contain larger doses of the active drugs. Follow the recommended dosages listed on the drug insert, and speak with your doctor or pharmacist if you have any questions.

As with any prescription drugs, there are side effects associated with Vicodin use. They include:

  • Drowsiness
  • Dizziness
  • Constipation
  • Anxiety
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Dry mouth
  • Blurry vision
  • Ringing in the ear
  • Difficulty urinating
  • Breathing impairment
  • Liver toxicity (associated with the excessive use of acetaminophen)
  • Drug dependence (associated with prolonged use of hydrocodone)

Signs and Risk of Addiction

Because Vicodin carries a high risk of physical and emotional dependence, anyone taking the drug should be aware of the warning signs of addiction, including:

  • Feeling ill when you run out of Vicodin (including muscle pain, joint pain, night sweats, anxiety, jitters, and insomnia)
  • Taking more pills to get the same effect
  • Being overly aware when the drug's effects begin to wane
  • Juggling doctors to get prescriptions
  • Being told by family or friends that you are taking too much
  • Keeping Vicodin use secret
  • Feeling ashamed or guilty about using it
  • Hiding Vicodin or keeping a stash in your office or car

If you are doing or feeling any of these things, your use is probably excessive and you may be best served to speak with your doctor. Don't delay or be embarrassed. The longer you wait, the more difficult it will be to kick the habit.

Withdrawal symptoms such as insomnia, night sweats, tremors, and agitation can occur when Vicodin is suddenly stopped. To avoid this, your doctor will reduce your dose gradually. Speak with your doctor if you experience withdrawal symptoms during detoxification as this may suggest you need a more structured treatment program.

Treatment Considerations

Before starting Vicodin, inform your doctor if you have any of the following:

  • Liver disease, including cirrhosis or hepatitis
  • A history of alcoholism or drug addiction
  • Kidney disease
  • Asthma, COPD, or any respiratory disorder
  • Brain disorders, including head injury, seizures, or tumors
  • If you drink more than three alcoholic beverages per day

Moreover, there are drug interactions Vicodin and both tricyclic antidepressants and MAO inhibitors. In fact, you should not use Vicodin if you've taken an MAO inhibitor in the past 14 days.

If you are already taking Vicodin for pain and feel you need a longer-term solution, speak with your doctor about alternate drug strategies that may help.

View Article Sources
  • Abbvie. "Vicodin - Indication and Important Safety Information." Chicago, Illinois; updated February 2017.