Vicodin for Pain Management

Vicodin is the brand name for hydrocodone (5mg) combined with acetaminophen (500mg). Vicodin is an opioid analgesic used to treat moderate to severe pain. This painkiller may be prescribed for chronic pain in either short-acting or long-acting form. Vicodin is available only by a doctor’s prescription.

Bottle of white pills spilling out on a table close up
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How Vicodin Works

Hydrocodone is thought to interact with the nervous system to change the way pain is perceived, though its exact mechanism of pain control is not completely understood.

Acetaminophen is also not completely understood, though it is thought to inhibit certain bodily substances that contribute to the sensation of pain.

Adverse Effects

Because Vicodin is a narcotic, it has similar adverse effects to other opioid medications. These potentially include the following:

  • drowsiness
  • confusion
  • mood changes
  • respiratory depression, including shallow or difficult breathing distress
  • anxiety and fear
  • addiction and/or dependence

Use in Special Populations

Vicodin’s use should be closely monitored for the following groups:

  • pregnant or nursing women
  • people with head injuries or high intracranial pressure
  • those with opioid sensitivity
  • people with kidney or liver disease and/or dysfunction
  • seniors and children
  • people with a history of substance abuse

Abuse and Overdose

Because of its effects on the nervous system, Vicodin is one of the most commonly abused prescription painkillers. Vicodin also has the potential to be deadly if taken inappropriately. To avoid potential opioid overdose, Vicodin should not be taken with other nervous system depressants, including sleep aids, alcohol, and certain antidepressants. Tablets should be taken only as directed and should never be crushed or chewed, which could release a potentially fatal dose.

More Information About Substance Dependence

Substance dependence happens because your brain function is altered and you lose control over your behaviors. People with dependence typically exhibit a genetic predisposition that is exacerbated by environmental factors. More specifically, environmental factors can trigger a change in brain chemistry, which results in dependence. Dependence is a lifelong problem that requires lifelong care and social support.

If you or someone you love struggles with substance dependence, it's imperative that you reach out to your physician or a specialist who specializes in substance abuse disorders and dependence. Here are some possible ways in which people receive help for substance dependence:

  • 12-step programs (Narcotics Anonymous)
  • substance abuse disorder clinics
  • family support
  • substance abuse follow-up
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Article 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.
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  • National Institute on Drug Abuse. NIDA InfoFacts: Prescription and Over-the-Counter Medications.
  • National Institutes of Health. Vicodin (hydrocodone bitartrate and acetaminophen) Tablet.
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