Percocet vs Hydrocodone: What is the Difference Between These Opioid Drugs?

An opioid is a chemical compound that is not usually derived naturally from plants. Most of the time, these substances are made or synthesized in a lab. Some opioid molecules might be partially synthesized from chemical components of the opium plant. But other opioid molecules are both designed and manufactured in laboratories. In fact, the pharmaceutical industry has created more than 500 different opioid molecules. 

Opioids may also be known as narcotics, including drugs such as heroin, methadone, buprenorphine, oxycodone, morphine, hydrocodone, codeine, and fentanyl. Some opioid medications may be prescribed by your healthcare provider to treat moderate to severe pain. While others, like heroin, are considered illicit or illegal and are used for the pleasurable rush and sedation effects. 

While opioids are typically successful in relieving discomfort, they also provide the feeling of extreme euphoria and relaxation, which can lead to opioid abuse, addiction, overdose, and death. 

What is Percocet?

Percocet is a combination drug that is typically prescribed in order to treat moderate to severe pain. It is made up of a combination of acetaminophen and the opioid painkiller oxycodone. After consumption, this drug interacts with the opioid receptors in your brain and blocks pain signals resulting in feelings of relief, relaxation, and euphoria. 

What is Hydrocodone?

This substance is a semi-synthetic opioid that is usually prescribed to treat pain.  This narcotic medication binds to the opioid receptors in your central nervous system and alters the way that your body perceives pain. It can be prescribed in several forms, either by itself or in combination with acetaminophen, just as oxycodone can be mixed with acetaminophen to create Percocet. 


Acetaminophen is an over-the-counter pain reliever and fever reducer. It is commonly taken to treat conditions such as headaches, muscle aches, arthritis, backache, toothaches, sore throat, colds, flu, and fevers. 

Sometimes, acetaminophen is also combined with opioids. The combination of oxycodone and acetaminophen makes up a medication that is commonly known by its brand name, Percocet. Other brand-name medications, such as Vicodin, Norco, and Lortab, are created when hydrocodone is combined with acetaminophen. 

Per the Food and Drug Administration, when either of these opioids is combined with acetaminophen, they present a higher risk of liver damage or overdose than when the opioid is taken on its own. 

How Do They Compare? 

One of the biggest differences between hydrocodone and Percocet is the side effects that they cause. While hydrocodone often leads to increased feelings of fatigue, Percocet more commonly leads to gastrointestinal side effects such as constipation. Although their side effects are different, their ability to treat painful illnesses and injuries is surprisingly similar. They also both provide similar feelings of pleasure and euphoria. 

Efficacy and Risks

Research shows that there is no real difference in pain-relieving abilities; oxycodone does appear to have a higher potential for abuse than hydrocodone. This tells us that Percocet is more likely to be abused than hydrocodone. 

Although neither of the two has been proven to be more effective than the other when being used to relieve discomfort, hydrocodone is an effective cough suppressant, while Percocet is not. 

There are several factors that determine which medication, dosage, and version a medical professional will prescribe you. These factors may include:

  • Your age
  • Your symptoms and their severity
  • How long will you need to be on it
  • Any other comorbidities
  • Other medications that you are taking
  • Your risk for abuse and addiction

Due to the habit-forming characteristics of oxycodone, a mental or physical dependence can occur while taking Percocet. However, when used for a short period of time, dependence is unlikely. This is true for hydrocodone as well. 

Side Effects of Opioid Use

In general, using or abusing opioid medications can lead to adverse effects such as nausea, constipation, stomach discomfort, mental confusion, dry mouth, drowsiness, decreased respiratory rate, addiction, overdose, and death.

The most common side effects of Percocet include dizziness, lightheadedness, drowsiness, nausea, and vomiting. Hydrocodone can result in side effects similar to those of Percocet; however, it can also cause decreased respiration rate, decreased heart rate, and decreased blood pressure due to its effect on your Central Nervous System.

After taking either of these substances for an extended period of time, you can become physically dependent. At this time, once you attempt to stop taking the drug, you are at an increased risk of experiencing withdrawal symptoms such as nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, muscle aches, joint pain, fever, chills, fatigue, etc. 

Opioids to Treat Arthritis Pain

In general, opioid analgesics are not recommended for treating conditions like arthritis- it is definitely not going to be your physician’s first choice of treatment option due to the likelihood of negative side effects and the potential for abuse and addiction. Occasionally, opioids may be prescribed to treat arthritis if other means of relief have not been effective.  

Opioids might not be effective in relieving the symptoms of arthritis. But even if they are, the patient may develop a tolerance to it over time. So after taking the same dosage for several months, the pain-relieving effects of the narcotic medication will likely diminish. 

The negative side effects of opioid medications can affect anyone, but there are several risks that can be particularly serious or even life-threatening for older adults. These can include sedation, mental confusion, sleepiness, and mental clouding, which can all significantly increase their fall risk and their risk of fractures caused by falls. 

Opioids can also put older adults at a higher risk of heart attack or heart failure. As well as disordered breathing such as shallow breathing patterns or slow breathing, especially while sleeping. 

Frequently Asked Questions

First line medications for chronic, non-malignant, nociception pain include non-opioids. Select agents within this category include nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) and cyclooxygenase 2 (COX-2) inhibitors.
Oxycodone is one of the many options for relieving severe acute discomfort. While these medications may reduce pain during short-term use, they also come with serious risks, including the risk of addiction and death from an overdose when taken for longer periods of time or at high doses.
Oxycodone, the active ingredient in Percocet, is 1.5 times stronger than hydrocodone (the active ingredient in Vicodin) when prescribed and taken at equivalent doses.

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