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Difference Between Percocet and Vicodin

Authored by Granite Recovery Centers    Reviewed by James Gamache    Last Updated: August 27th, 2021


James Gamache Medical Reviewer
Jim is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker (LICSW) and Licensed Masters Level Addictions Counselor (MLADC). He has been working in the field of mental health/addiction treatment since 1995. Jim earned a Bachelor’s Degree in Human Services from Springfield College in 2000, and a Masters Degree in Social Work from Boston University in 2002. In 2002 Jim was hired by the Mental Health Center of Greater Manchester holding the position of Clinical Case Manager. From 2004-2019, Jim was employed at WestBridge Inc. During his time at WestBridge, Jim held the following positions; Clinician, Team Leader, Director, & Chief Operations Officer. In 2019 Jim transitioned employment to GateHouse Treatment Center as the Clinical Director for 10 months. In October of 2020 Jim transitioned to Granite Recovery Centers and is currently serving as the Senior VP of Clinical Services and Quality Assurance.

As combination narcotic analgesics, Percocet and Vicodin are both used to relieve pain that is moderate to severe. While these medications are typically prescribed for short-term use, there are instances where your physician may decide to prescribe you one of these opioid pain relievers for long-term or chronic pain.

When taking these medications for the long term, this can increase your risk of becoming psychologically and physically dependent on these medications, often leading to using them in ways other than directed by your prescribing physician.

There are many similarities and some differences that you will find between Vicodin and Percocet.

What Is Vicodin?

Containing a combination of hydrocodone and acetaminophen, Vicodin is considered to be a synthetic opiate. Acetaminophen is added to help the hydrocodone to work better against pain. Synthetic opiates are created in a lab using a similar structure to naturally occurring opiates.

What Is Percocet?

Percocet contains a combination of oxycodone and acetaminophen. Oxycodone is a semi-synthetic opiate that decreases pain. The acetaminophen is designed to boost the effectiveness of this opiate.

Semi-synthetic opiates or opioids combine synthetic opioids with a small amount of naturally occurring opiates. In the case of Percocet, this is thebaine, a component found in small amounts in opium.

Similarities Between Percocet and Vicodin

Both of these medications are available by prescription only. According to information provided by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, or the CDC, in 2012, doctors wrote more than 255 million prescriptions for opioid pain relievers. That’s a rate of more than 81 per 100 persons. This number has dropped significantly since that time, with 153 million prescriptions being written in 2019, a rate of close to 48 per 100 persons.

Additionally, both of these opioid medications are listed as Schedule II on the Drug Enforcement Agency’s drug schedules, meaning that both Percocet and Vicodin have some acceptable medical value but can be dangerous, have a high potential for misuse, and may lead to dependence.

Mechanism of Action

Percocet and Vicodin both work by binding to opioid receptors in the brain, which effectively reduces signals that lead to the sensations of pain. Studies have shown that these medications work equally well at reducing musculoskeletal pain. If you’re taking other medications for other health problems, your physician may prescribe you one of these analgesics over the other to reduce unwanted or potentially dangerous interactions that can occur when combining two or more medications.

Side Effects

Many users report similar side effects when taking Percocet or Vicodin, such as the following:

  • Dizziness
  • Light-headedness
  • Drowsiness
  • Itching
  • Nausea/vomiting
  • Sedation
  • Constipation

However, it should be noted that those who use Vicodin are more likely to experience constipation than those who use Percocet.

Is There a Difference Between Percocet and Vicodin?

Although research studies have shown that both of these medications are equally as effective when treating certain painful conditions, Percocet is considered to be a little bit stronger than Vicodin. This can be seen in the MME conversion for both of these analgesics.

What are MMEs?

MMEs, or morphine milligram equivalents, are how physicians determine what dose of synthetic or semi-synthetic opiates to prescribe based on how these medicines compare in potency to morphine. The MME conversion of an opioid medication allows physicians to more easily adjust dosages and to switch patients from one medication to another more safely should it become necessary due to unpleasant side effects or the need for stronger or more effective pain medication.

Consequently, the MME conversion for Vicodin is 1, and the MME conversion for Percocet is 1.5. This means that Percocet is considered to be slightly stronger than morphine and Vicodin in clinical situations. The additional strength of Percocet has been shown to increase the potential for misuse and dependence on this medication when compared to Vicodin.

High Potential for Misuse

Both of these prescription medications have similar risks for overdose and misuse because they also affect some of the areas in the brain that control positive emotions, sometimes resulting in euphoria or a high that can lead to a desire to take more of the medication than what is prescribed. Additionally, as the body gets used to the dosage, an increase in tolerance may occur, leading to the need for more medication in order to reach the desired level of pain relief.

Dependence on the medication may also occur, leading to withdrawal symptoms once the medication is stopped. Withdrawal symptoms may include agitation, restlessness, insomnia, runny nose, watery eyes, aches and pains, anxiety, gastrointestinal symptoms, and excessive sweating.

Overdose

Tolerance, dependence, and the triggering of the pleasure center in the brain not only lead to an increased risk of misuse but to an increased risk of overdose as well. Symptoms of overdose for both Percocet and Vicodin include the following:

  • Decreased respiration
  • Delirium
  • Constricted pupils
  • Vomiting
  • Excessive sleepiness
  • Loss of consciousness
  • Acting or feeling drunk
  • Hypoxia
  • Death

Even if an overdose isn’t fatal, an extreme decrease in respiration can reduce the amount of oxygen that the body needs and may lead to permanent brain damage.

Additionally, the acetaminophen used in these combination analgesics has also been shown to cause damage to the body when taken in larger amounts than prescribed, leading to the potential for jaundice, kidney or liver failure, coma, and even death.

Substance Use Disorder With Percocet or Vicodin

All opioids, whether natural, synthetic, or semi-synthetic, have a strong potential for misuse. This can lead to a substance use disorder. While regulations are changing in regards to the prescribing of opioid pain killers, there’s a chance that you can develop a substance use disorder even if you take your medications as prescribed by your physician due to the effects of the medication, dependence, and tolerance.

In fact, nearly 10 million individuals in the U.S. misused an opioid prescription pain killer in 2019 alone, according to Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services’ National Survey on Drug Use and Health for that year. Although deaths from opioid overdose are decreasing, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, in 2018, two out of three deaths from drug overdose involved the use of an opioid such as Percocet or Vicodin.

There Is Help

If you or someone you know is dependent on or misusing opioid pain relievers like Percocet or Vicodin, there are effective treatment options available. Having a substance use disorder requires the assistance of knowledgeable and trained professionals to help you or your loved one to overcome the physical and psychological needs of these drugs. In many cases, detox may be necessary to reduce potentially uncomfortable withdrawal symptoms that may result in relapse or even overdose. Granite Recovery Centers provides medical detoxification for people who do not need immediate medical intervention, are not a danger to themselves, and are capable of self-evacuation in the event of an emergency.

Treating Opioid Substance Use Disorder

Research has found that many who misuse substances such as Percocet or Vicodin can benefit from medication-assisted treatment. In fact, it’s estimated that more than 1 million individuals in the U.S. alone are receiving this type of treatment.

In fact, there’s been a notable increase in the use of medication-assisted treatment for opioid substance use disorders, with a rise of 142 percent in patient admissions for this specific type of treatment between 2016 and 2018. This is because medication-assisted treatment, often referred to as MAT, can help to reduce cravings, decrease withdrawal symptoms, and may even help with the management of chronic pain. You can receive medication-assisted treatment for opioid substance use disorder at Granite Recovery Centers.

How Does Medication-Assisted Therapy Work?

The medications used in MAT affect the same receptors in the brain that are triggered with the use of Percocet, Vicodin, or other opioids and opiates. This helps to decrease withdrawal symptoms and cravings while preventing you from getting a euphoric feeling if you do take opiates or opioids because the receptors are now blocked. Some medications, such as those that include naloxone, will even give you a horrible reaction that you’ll never want to experience again if you try to take opioids with the medication therapy.

Some popular medications that are used in MAT include methadone, Suboxone, and Vivitrol. These medications are approved by the FDA and have a high success rate. The professionals at Granite Recovery Centers will take your personal history and conditions in mind when determining which mode of treatment is right for you.

One myth you may have heard is that MAT is just trading an addiction to one medication for another. This is simply not the case. While there is a slight chance of addiction with MAT medications, it is far less than what is associated with the use of opioids. Additionally, it is much easier to be weaned off of the MAT medication if and when it becomes necessary to quit using these medicines.

Also, it’s important to remember that using medication-assisted therapy doesn’t reduce the amount of time you will want to engage in treatment or recovery. These medications just make it much easier to deal with withdrawal symptoms and cravings that occur when you are giving up more harmful substances.

Medication-assisted treatment is especially effective when combined with counseling, behavioral therapy, and other treatments. At Granite Recovery Centers, we use a holistic approach to assist with a full recovery and total overall well-being. Our team will help you to transition from your Percocet or Vicodin substance use disorder to living a sober life.

Hyperalgesia

A major concern for long-term opioid users is the possible development of hyperalgesia, which is a heightened sensitivity to pain. This is more common with those who have been using opioid analgesics at higher doses or for a long period of time. When the medication use is stopped, this causes the individual to experience higher levels of pain than they had before beginning to use prescription pain relievers in the first place.

The enhancement of the feelings of pain can lead to continuing use of these medications and may even lead to an increase in dosage beyond what is prescribed by the doctor. In these cases, the risk of overdose is increased for many people who just want the pain to go away.

Difference Between Percocet and Vicodin

While there are minor differences in Percocet and Vicodin based on their chemical composition and strength, the potential for misuse and dependency is similar. Whether you or a loved one may be experiencing difficulty with the use of Percocet or Vicodin, help is available at Granite Recovery Centers.

Right from the start, we’ll help you to develop a recovery plan that best addresses your concerns. From detoxification, if necessary, to aftercare, we can help you to take control of your life again.

At Granite Recovery Centers, we want to provide accurate information about health and addiction so that our readers can make informed decisions.

We have credentialed medical doctors & clinicians who specialize in addiction treatment review the information on our website before it is published. We use credible sources such as government websites and journal articles when citing statistics or other medically related topics.