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Vicodin is one of the most dispensed prescription painkillers in the United States. Composed of acetaminophen and the highly addictive opioid hydrocodone, Vicodin is a commonly abused substance, and seeking treatment is an important step toward recovery.

  • Drug Name Vicodin
  • Addiction Liability High
  • Scientific Name Hydrocodone & Acetaminophen
  • Street Names Vics, Norcos
  • How It's Used Swallowed, Snorted, Injected
  • Side Effects Dizziness, Anxiety, Lethargy, Mood Changes
  • Psychological Dependence Very High
  • Physical Dependence Very High

Vicodin is a prescription painkiller used to mitigate moderate-to-severe pain. Patients are generally prescribed Vicodin after an injury, surgery, or to combat chronic pain.

The drug contains acetaminophen, the main ingredient in Tylenol, and hydrocodone, a powerful opioid with numbing agents.

In recent years, Vicodin has bloomed in popularity, with ever more people turning to the drug. Consequently, more people are becoming addicted to the drug, contributing to the opioid epidemic.

History of Vicodin

Acetaminophen was first used in the late 19th century after it was derived from a coal-tar distillation byproduct. Hydrocodone dates to 1920, when German pharmaceutical company Knoll synthesized the drug.

In 1978, Knoll mixed the two drugs to create Vicodin. Five years later, a generic version was available.

In the decades that followed, hydrocodone use skyrocketed. From 2005 – 2010, emergency room visits involving nonmedical use of hydrocodone more than doubled in the U.S.

E.R. Visits Involving Nonmedical Use of Hydrocodone in the U.S.:


Data from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration

Vicodin has become one of the most popular drugs on the market. According to the Drug Enforcement Administration, more than 136 million hydrocodone tablets were dispensed in 2013, making it the most prescribed opioid in the United States. Vicodin was one of the most commonly used forms.

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Vicodin Addiction

A wide range of doctors — from surgeons and podiatrists to dentists — prescribe Vicodin to patients. This has helped make it one of the most abused drugs in the country.

Doctor handing prescription, close-up

Given the presence of hydrocodone in Vicodin, the chances of dependence or addiction are high. Vicodin produces numbing effects and a short-term high like that of morphine or heroin. This has led to widespread misuse of the drug.

And the death toll keeps rising. According to the Journal of American Medical Association, nearly 30 percent of fatal prescription overdoses in 2010 involved opioids such as Vicodin. Three-quarters of those deaths were unintentional.

Critics have long spoken out against the drug. They maintain Vicodin was not tightly regulated, which led to substance abuse. In response, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration reclassified Vicodin from a Schedule III to a Schedule II substance in 2014, making it more difficult to obtain.

A 2010 report by the U.S. National Institute on Drug Abuse found that one in 12 high school seniors uses Vicodin. The figure was more than double that of OxyContin use.

Methadone icon

Nearly 30% of fatal prescription overdoses in 2016 involved opioids such as vicodin

Source: Journal of American Medical Association

The opioid epidemic continues to be a problem. Accidental overdoses from Vicodin and similar drugs kill more people than car accidents in 17 states, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Prescription painkillers have killed more people than crack in the 1980s and black-tar heroin in the 1970s combined.

As with other opioid addictions, individuals who abuse Vicodin exhibit volatile tendencies. These include:

Risks and Side Effects

Vicodin can be beneficial for pain after broken bones or the extraction of wisdom teeth. However, adverse reactions exist. The most common side effects are often found in new patients adapting to the drug. These effects can include:

Proper short-term Vicodin use rarely leads to addiction. However, using the drug illicitly or for longer than prescribed can have more severe consequences to physical and psychological health.

Effects of prolonged use can include:

That doesn’t take into account the impact it has on other areas of life. Beyond the health risks, Vicodin abuse could compromise an individual’s relationships and employment status. It could also lead to a mental health disorder.

Vicodin is often used with alcohol and other drugs. This can amplify symptoms and compromise the user’s central nervous system, which could lead to death.


Those battling Vicodin addiction should seek immediate treatment. Drug rehabilitation facilities provide several levels of treatment for proper cessation.

Withdrawal and Detox

Withdrawal symptoms from Vicodin detox are painful and sometimes life-threatening. Signs of Vicodin withdrawal can include:

Withdrawal symptoms differ from person to person. An addiction treatment center can evaluate individuals based on their needs. It begins with detox, the process of ridding the drug from your body through gradual cessation.

Drugs such as methadone, buprenorphine or naltrexone can help combat Vicodin addiction during this stage. Afterward, a number of treatment options are available, including residential and outpatient care.

Residential Care

Residential programs aim to help individuals change their behaviors. This treatment stage occurs in a structured setting, preparing individuals to return to their respective communities.

Outpatient Care

Outpatient care allows individuals to live at home and attend regular counseling and therapy. Patients learn to be Vicodin-free without living at a facility.

Continued Support

Addiction is a complex disease that can overtake a person’s life. However, it is treatable. Family members and friends play an important role in the recovery of their loved one. Providing continued support during this battle and fostering a positive and welcoming environment upon their return could prevent relapse.

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