How to Use Vicodin Safely for Pain Relief

A woman holding holding her prescription

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

The hydrocodone and acetaminophen combination 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 for pain. The total daily dose should not exceed eight tablets.

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

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

  • Drowsiness
  • Dizziness, lightheadedness, and fainting
  • Constipation
  • Anxiety
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Blurry vision
  • Ringing in the ear
  • Difficulty urinating
  • Breathing impairment

Rare side effects include:

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
  • Taking larger amounts than prescribed, or taking it longer than the healthcare provider intended
  • Being unable to stop taking it
  • Craving the drug
  • Failing to do your job, school work, or other duties
  • Continuing to take it despite a known detrimental effect on your health, relationships, or other aspects of life
  • Juggling healthcare providers to get prescriptions
  • 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 healthcare provider. 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, increased stool, vomiting, and fever can occur when Vicodin is suddenly stopped. To avoid this, your healthcare provider will reduce your dose gradually.

Speak with your healthcare provider 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 healthcare provider 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 healthcare provider about alternate drug strategies that may help.

7 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. AbbVie, Inc. Vicodin, Vicodin ES, Vicodin HP.

  2. MPR. Hydrocodone/Acetaminophen.

  3. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Module 5: Assessing and Addressing Opioid Use Disorder (OUD).

  4. Addiction Center. Vicodin Addiction, Abuse and Treatment.

  5. American Addiction Centers, Vicodin Addiction Treatment Programs.

  6. Advanced Recovery Systems. Signs of Addiction.

  7. Prescribers' Digital Reference. Acetaminophen/hydrocodone bitartrate - Drug Summary.

Additional Reading
  • Abbvie. Vicodin - Indication and Important Safety Information. Chicago, Illinois.

By Mark Cichocki, RN
Mark Cichocki, RN, is an HIV/AIDS nurse educator at the University of Michigan Health System for more than 20 years.