Oxycodone and hydrocodone are both prescription pain medicines that can relieve either short-term (acute) pain resulting from surgery or an injury or chronic, long-term pain. They may also be prescribed to treat other conditions, such as a lingering cough, cancer pain, and arthritis. Read on to learn more about oxycodone vs hydrocodone.

These two medications are two of our county’s most widely prescribed opioid pain medicines. They are known for their capacity to cause addiction and rate high among the nation’s most abused opioids. Even though members of the same medical family, oxycodone and hydrocodone have different uses, and doctors prescribe each medication for particular types of pain management.

The oxycodone vs hydrocodone argument escalated because the drugs are at the center of an opioid crisis in our country. Many times, people who take the medications cultivate addictions to them. While hydrocodone is a codeine derivative, which makes it a semi-synthetic opioid - oxycodone, a similar chemical, comes from a derivative of the Persian poppy.

Why Are They Prescribed?

Oxycodone is typically prescribed to treat moderate-to-severe pain and is taken around-the-clock until the doctor cancels the prescription. Because of this, it should not be taken on an as-needed basis as with other over-the-counter painkillers.

Similarly, hydrocodone is used for the treatment of moderate-to-severe pain that is being caused by an injury, surgery, or a chronic condition and it requires a prescription.

Oxycodone is typically best known as the only active ingredient in a powerful painkiller called OxyContin. This medication also acts as the main ingredient in a number of other common prescription pain relievers that combine the opioid with either aspirin or acetaminophen.

Some doctors prescribe medications that contain oxycodone to patients who have been affected by moderate or severe types of pain. These doctors also have the choice to prescribe an extended-release version of the medication to any person who:

  • Requires 24/7 treatment for their pain management
  • Needs around-the-clock relief for extended periods of time
  • Has no other efficient option for their pain management

Proper Usage

Both medications are - at times - combined with other chemicals or painkillers. A pure form of oxycodone is available as a brand name drug called Oxycontin.

These tablets are available in a variety of doses and are typically taken orally every 12 hours. The dose prescribed is dependent on the severity of the patient’s pain.

A pure form of hydrocodone, Zohydro ER, is offered in an extended-release form, designed to be released slowly into your body to provide relief over a longer period of time. These capsules are also taken orally every 12 hours and can be used to treat chronic pain problems.

Oxycodone vs Hydrocodone

When comparing the two medications, oxycodone is the top choice for most people. So what is it about these two medications that make oxycodone the top choice for most people?

What Is Oxycodone?

Oxycodone is a medication, taken orally that alters how you feel and how your brain and body respond to and perceive pain. It’s considered to be semi-synthetic, and it’s moderately effective for the treatment of pain that ranges from moderate to severe.

oxycodone tablet

Available as a one-ingredient prescription medication for pain relief, there are also combination options available. A few of the things oxycodone may be combined with for more successful pain relief contain acetaminophen (paracetamol), and nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medications such as ibuprofen and aspirin.

Because it can potentially create a sense of euphoria when taken, it is one of the most misused opioids in the country today. Medically, it has been used since the early 1900s for pain management. It’s offered as a regular tablet and as a timed-release tablet, to help decrease the risk of it being abused.

Oxycodone is meant to be used for the treatment of short-term pain. However, it is occasionally prescribed for ongoing pain. The active ingredient in both OxyContin and Percocet, are commonly prescribed, but in the U.S., oxycodone is only approved only for oral use.

What Is Hydrocodone?

Similar to oxycodone, hydrocodone, is also a fairly powerful narcotic that is prescribed for pain relief. When taken, it impacts the central nervous system and stops the transfer of pain signals to the patient’s brain.

hydrocodone tablet

It is the active ingredient in common brand name painkillers including Vicodin, Norco, and Lortab, which is a brand-name blended drug that includes acetaminophen and is available as a tablet or in liquid form.

Some of the more common side effects when comparing oxycodone vs hydrocodone can include:

  • Dry mouth
  • Respiratory depression
  • Dizziness
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Itchiness
  • Constipation
  • Sweating

Some of the less common side effects of both medications include appetite loss, diarrhea and retention of urine, and both can lead to overdose. Taking high doses of these medications can lead to slowed heart and breathing rate, respiratory arrest low blood pressure, and in some cases, death.

Dependence and Addiction

When likening oxycodone vs hydrocodone, the topics of dependence and addiction often come up. Both of these medications carry a risk of addiction and dependence even when they are used as they have been prescribed.

woman choosing medicine

They’re opioids, and when a patient takes one, it creates a euphoric response in the brain that activates the reward system. At that time, your brain begins to rewire itself with a desire to continue performing the activity that produced that feeling of pleasure, which in this case was taking one of these two medications.

Dependence and addiction are two different things, and it can happen independently of being addicted to one of these drugs. The word ‘dependence’ refers to your body becoming so comfortable taking oxycodone or hydrocodone that it can no longer feel normal without them.

When someone is dependent on opioids, and they cease taking them, it shocks their body in a way that results in symptoms of withdrawal. When comparing oxycodone vs. hydrocodone, both medications present the risk of addiction and dependence happening, although some studies indicate that oxycodone might have a somewhat higher risk of addiction.


Both of these medications are powerful painkillers, and they’ve been proven to be extremely effective at treating pain.

In an​ emergency situation, studies have shown that these two medications can effectively treat pain equally. In a study utilizing both drugs, researchers revealed that both of these medications were proportionately effective at treating pain that was the result of a fracture. Patients felt equal pain relief both 30 and 60 minutes after the medication was administered.

Nevertheless, the patients who were administered hydrocodone experienced bouts of constipation more often than participants who were given oxycodone. Other studies revealed that the mixture of oxycodone and acetaminophen was one and a half times more powerful than hydrocodone with acetaminophen when taken at equal doses.


These medications are retailed as both brand-name drugs and as generic substitutions. The generic versions of medications are less expensive than their brand-name equivalents, so patients may choose to try the generic versions first.

computing the cost

But before doing that, patients should consult their doctor because some particular generic versions of medications possess varying ratios of active and inactive ingredients. In order to be classified as ‘generic’ by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, the drug must contain the identical strength of active ingredients but may not have the equal amount of inactive ingredients.

If patients feel the need to use the brand name medication but find that the price tag is too steep, prescription drug insurance and prescription drug coupons can help decrease the total cost. Patients should talk with their pharmacist about the savings they may be eligible to receive.

Which Is the Best Medication for You?

Both of these medications are successful at easing both chronic and acute pain, and they both cause comparable side effects. The differences between the two are minimum, so the best way to decide which drug is right for you is by discussing oxycodone vs hydrocodone with your doctor.

elderly taking medication

Depending on your personal medical history, your doctor can consider the pros and cons of the two medications. In some cases, researchers and medical professionals have found that hydrocodone is less powerful when compared to oxycodone. If that is the case, your doctor may decide to start you on a smaller dose to see how your body reacts to the prescription.

If the first option doesn’t work or causes unfavorable side effects, you and your doctor can talk about switching up medications or dosages to find something that works better for you.


So, what’s the bottom line about the differences between oxycodone vs hydrocodone when it comes to pain relief? The majority of the research indicates that both medications relieve pain equally, and they both typically take effect within anywhere from 30 to 60 minutes.

But keep in mind that hydrocodone is more often associated with constipation than oxycodone. Both medications can treat both chronic and acute pain, and both prescriptions bring similar risks and side effects.

When comparing oxycodone vs hydrocodone, there are really very few differences to cite, so the choice of which medicine is right for you boils down to a discussion with your doctor.

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