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Vicodin for Pain Management


Updated June 15, 2014

What Vicodin Is:

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

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 are 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.

Vicodin Side Effects:

Because vicodin is a narcotic, it has similar side effects to other opioid medications. These potentially include:
  • drowsiness
  • confusion
  • mood changes
  • respiratory depression, including shallow or difficult breathing distress
  • anxiety and fear
  • addiction and/or dependence

Vicodin 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

Vicodin 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.


Medline Plus. Hydrocodone. Accessed 9/9/09. http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/druginfo/meds/a601006.html

National Institute on Drug Abuse. NIDA InfoFacts: Prescription and Over-the-Counter Medications. Accessed 9/9/09. http://www.nida.nih.gov/infofacts/PainMed.html

National Institutes of Health. Vicodin (hydrocodone bitartrate and acetaminophen) Tablet. Accessed 9/9/09. http://dailymed.nlm.nih.gov/dailymed/fda/fdaDrugXsl.cfm?id=3666

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