Vicodin Side Effects

Vicodin contains hydrocodone, a strong opioid pain reliever, and a less potent analgesic, acetaminophen. Doctors prescribe Vicodin to relieve a patient's moderate to severe pain or to quiet a cough. Acetaminophen relieves mild pain and brings down a fever.

Pharmacologists extract opioids such as hydrocodone from the poppy plant. Hydrocodone acts directly on your central nervous system, or CNS, to change the way your brain interprets pain. Hydrocodone relieves pain in a way similar to morphine.

Hydrocodone is the most widely prescribed medication in the United States. In 2010, pharmacists filled more than 139 million prescriptions for products containing hydrocodone. There are more than 200 hydrocodone products on the American market today, including Vicodin. By law, hydrocodone is available only by prescription, and only in products that contain a combination of ingredients. Vicodin contains acetaminophen, which is not associated with abuse or addiction.

Recreational users like Vicodin because the hydrocodone produces a pleasant, euphoric sensation. Chronic hydrocodone use, or using high doses of hydrocodone, may cause physical dependence or addiction in some people.

According to research presented by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, or CDC, one in 20 Americans over the age of 12 used a prescription opioid in 2010 non-medically. This means they took the drug to get high or to treat a condition for which it was not prescribed. Non-medical use of opioids increases the risk for physical dependence, addiction and overdose.

Vicodin addiction and prescription drug abuse is on the rise in the United States. More people are now addicted to prescription drugs like Vicodin than to heroin. The National Institute on Drug Abuse, or NIDA, estimates there were 1.9 million Americans who are addicted to prescription opioid pain relievers in 2010. In comparison, there are 329,000 heroin addicts in the United States. Except for marijuana, young Americans abuse prescription pain relievers such as hydrocodone and Vicodin more than any other type of drug.

The hydrocodone component of Vicodin is associated with more drug abuse than any other drug. The Drug Enforcement Agency, or DEA, classifies substances according to their relative potential for abuse. The DEA classifies hydrocodone as a schedule II narcotic, meaning it carries a relatively high risk for abuse.

Because Vicodin contains less than 15 mg of hydrocodone, the DEA classifies it as a Schedule III narcotic, lowering its associated risk for abuse, dependence and addiction to moderate.

Side Effect Information

Vicodin, like any drug, can cause adverse reactions in some people. Many people experience no side effects or only minor side effects after using Vicodin. Most of the commonly reported side effects are not serious and disappear after a few days of continued use at prescribed doses. Some adverse reactions can be serious, requiring immediate medical attention.

Drug dependence and withdrawal syndrome are possible side effects associated with the hydrocodone in Vicodin. Anyone can become physically dependent on Vicodin after using this medication continuously for several weeks. Rarely, a person becomes dependent in a shorter amount of time. An opioid-dependent person will suffer withdrawal symptoms after he stops using Vicodin.

Withdrawal symptoms include:

  • Abdominal Cramps
  • Agitation
  • Anxiety
  • Blurred Vision
  • Insomnia
  • Restlessness
  • Sweating
  • Tremor
  • Vomiting

Adverse reactions to Vicodin are similar to side effects associated with other opioid drugs. These side effects usually lessen in severity or stop altogether with continued use at proper doses. The most serious side effect is respiratory problems, which may lead to stopped breathing, circulatory depression, dangerously low blood pressure and shock. Physicians should expect side effects in all patients and treat individuals accordingly.

Respiratory depression is a common and sometimes fatal breathing problem associated with opioid use. During respiratory depression, your lungs do not adequately exchange oxygen for carbon dioxide and other toxins, allowing these toxins to build up in your system. Symptoms of respiratory depression include slow or shallow breathing, unusual breathing patterns, gasping or wheezing, and a bluish tint around your eyes, mouth and fingertips. Seek help immediately if you suspect you or someone you know is suffering from respiratory depression.

Most Frequently Observed Vicodin Side Effects

The most frequently observed side effects associated with Vicodin include lightheadedness, dizziness, sedation, nausea and vomiting. These side effects are more prominent in ambulatory patients who are able to walk on their own; those confined to beds or wheelchairs are not as likely to experience these adverse reactions. If you feel dizzy, lightheaded, sleepy or nauseated, lie still until your symptoms disappear.

Allergic Reaction

Anyone can suffer an allergic reaction to Vicodin or any other drug. An allergic reaction is a serious, potentially fatal medical emergency - seek help immediately if you suffer any symptoms of an allergic reaction after taking this drug. Bring the Vicodin bottle along with the rest of your medications to help emergency department doctors determine the cause of your reaction.

Symptoms of an allergic reaction include:

  • Difficulty Breathing
  • Hives
  • Itching
  • Rash
  • Swelling of the Mouth, Face, Lips or Tongue
  • Tightness in the Chest

Anaphylaxis is a severe, sometimes fatal, form of an allergic reaction. Anaphylaxis normally appears within moments of exposure, but symptoms of anaphylaxis may begin as late as a half an hour or longer after exposure to Vicodin. Seek help immediately if you think you or someone you know is suffering anaphylaxis.

Anaphylaxis symptoms include hives, itching, flushed or pale skin. The individual may describe a sensation of warmth during an episode of anaphylaxis. He may also feel like his throat is closing, his tongue is swelling up or that he has a lump in his throat. These sensations may lead to wheezing and trouble breathing. His pulse may be weak and rapid; me may feel nauseated or even vomit. Some people become dizzy or faint. Others may express a feeling of impending doom.


Some people are hypersensitive to the effects of Vicodin or other drugs. Symptoms of hypersensitivity include allergic dermatitis, skin rash, hives, itching and swelling of the face.

Non-Serious Side Effects

Continue taking Vicodin but notify the doctor who prescribed it if you find the following side effects to be intolerable or if your side effects do not go away on their own:

  • Blurred Vision
  • Constipation
  • Difficulty Breathing
  • Dizziness
  • Drowsiness
  • Flushing
  • Lightheadedness
  • Mental or Mood Changes
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting

Serious Side Effects

Rarely, some adverse reactions are serious and require immediate medical attention. Contact a doctor if you experience serious side effects, including:

  • Anxiety
  • Change in Hearing or Hearing Loss
  • Changes in Urinary Output
  • Fear
  • Significant Mental or Mood Changes
  • Uneven or Stopped Breathing
  • Unusual Tiredness

By body system


You may suffer side effects affecting your skin after taking Vicodin. Dermatologic side effects include rash and itching.


Common gastrointestinal side effects of opioids such as the hydrocodone in Vicodin include nausea, vomiting, constipation and dry mouth. Constipation is more common for consumers who use Vicodin tablets as compared to other forms of Vicodin.

Gastrointestinal side effects with the use of acetaminophen are rare except in alcoholic individuals and after toxic overdose. Doctors have rarely reported cases of acute pancreatitis in patients taking Vicodin.

The acetaminophen in Vicodin may bring about acute biliary pain, or discomfort in the liver, gall bladder and the ducts that connect the two organs.


The adverse effects of the hydrocodone component of Vicodin are generally similar to the adverse effects observed with other narcotic analgesics. Most people tolerate the acetaminophen in Vicodin generally well when taking therapeutic doses.

Vicodin may also cause mental clouding and impair your physical and mental performance.


Vicodin may cause genitourinary side effects including spasms and urinary retention.


Rarely, acetaminophen use will result in a condition characterized by low blood platelets. This may be due to a hypersensitivity to the major metabolite of acetaminophen, acetaminophen glucuronide.

Acute overdose may cause high hemoglobin levels resulting in cyanosis, or a bluish tint around the eyes, mouth and fingernails.


Alcoholic patients may develop liver damage after consuming even modest doses of acetaminophen.
Severe overdose of the acetaminophen component of Vicodin may result in liver damage that may reverse itself if the patient does not die. Acetaminophen overdose often occurs after an individual uses multiple products that contain acetaminophen.

People with liver disease are more likely to experience adverse reactions after taking Vicodin; these side effects may be more severe in these consumers.

Alcoholic patients face an increased risk for hepatic side effects including hepatitis, which can be fatal. These side effects may be dose dependent, meaning high doses pose a more significant threat that low doses. Several doctors have reported patients suffering liver damage after using long-term acetaminophen at therapeutic doses, even though the patients had no other risk factors such as alcoholism.


Hypersensitivity side effects to the acetaminophen in Vicodin are rare.


Massive overdose of acetaminophen may cause metabolic side effects including metabolic acidosis, which is condition characterized by too much acid in the system.

Nervous system

The hydrocodone in Vicodin depresses your nervous system in a way that relieves pain and reduces cough. Nervous system adverse reactions include mental depression, dizziness and lightheadedness. Vicodin use can also cause symptoms of CNS depression including stupor, delirium, extreme sleepiness and the emotional opposite of euphoria, dysphoria. Vicodin may also stimulate the nervous system and cause agitation.

Hydrocodone reduces cough by acting directly on the area of the brain responsible for breathing. This action may cause respiratory depression, which is sometimes fatal.


Other adverse reactions include physical dependence and withdrawal symptoms after a missed dose, a low dose or a dose of naloxone to reduce opioid levels. Withdrawal symptoms may include agitation, restlessness, anxiety, insomnia and tremor. Other withdrawal symptoms are abdominal cramps, blurred vision, vomiting and sweating.


The acetaminophen component of Vicodin rarely causes side effects associated with the kidneys and renal system. Adverse renal effects are most often common after overdose, from chronic abuse often with multiple analgesics or in association with liver damage relating to acetaminophen use.

Some types of kidney disease associated with Vicodin use occur in conjunction with liver failure, but rarely some Vicodin consumers without liver failure develop kidney disease.

The adverse effects of the hydrocodone in Vicodin may be more likely and more severe in patients with renal insufficiency.


The hydrocodone in Vicodin acts directly on the breathing center in the brain. Hydrocodone may cause the brain to "forget" to breathe, resulting in dangerous respiratory depression and other breathing problems.

Special Senses

Vicodin may impair hearing or cause permanent hearing loss, predominately in cases of chronic overdose.