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Vicodin (Hydrocodone) Alternatives, Side Effects, Withdrawal and FAQs

Vicodin is an opioid analgesic medication for the relief of moderate to moderately severe pain.
Vicodin combines hydrocodone, a narcotic pain reliever, with Tylenol or acetaminophen which boosts the potency of the medication. A reformulation of Vicodin occurred after statistics showed a risk for liver damage from high consumption of acetaminophen.
Vicodin and other similar drugs combine the opioid hydrocodone with the non-opioid drug acetaminophen, also called Tylenol. This family of prescription drugs has been linked to the highest numbers of overdose deaths in the US. Other synthetic opiate drugs in this group include Norco, Lortab, and Lorcet, as well as generic versions.

One of the biggest concerns surrounding Vicodin and similar hydrocodone/acetaminophen medications are the hepatotoxic (liver damaging) effects. Acetaminophen is the leading cause of death due to liver failure.¹ This is a concern because unlike taking one or two Tylenol pills, the more common OTC usage, a prescription of a combined analgesic opioid like Vicodin may entail taking large amounts daily, over an extended period of time. Even though the DEA and FDA have restricted the amount of acetaminophen per tablet to 325mg, the accumulated volume when taken over days and weeks can be a significant cause for concern.

It is highly recommended that a person thoroughly research any prescription drugs for pain relief before starting or stopping their prescription. Withdrawal from Vicodin may present some difficulty unless a person can access help with strategies and methods to reduce the intense discomforts that can accompany analgesic opiate drug withdrawal.

Information noted below is provided to help anyone interested in learning more about these and other safety and health issues related to Vicodin and similar Schedule II drugs.

What Is Vicodin for?

In liquid or syrup form, opioid analgesic drugs are sometimes prescribed as a cough suppressant. Their most common usage, however, is in oral pill form. Vicodin is prescribed for the relief of moderate to moderately severe pain. Examples might include after a tooth is pulled at the dentist. Another common example could be for pain relief after suffering a broken leg or other injury.

A puzzling aspect to the prevailing practice of prescribing narcotics after dental work was thoughtfully tabled in an article published by the American Dental Association. It states that no evidence can be found that opioid analgesics work any better than non-narcotic NSAIDs such as ibuprofen or aspirin.¹

Yet, these drugs remain the most frequently prescribed drugs in the country and are linked to the highest death rates in the US as shown in statistics on overdose deaths and liver failure.

Vicodin Alternative Names and Slang

Vicodin has various slang names outside of clinical use such as Vikings, Vic’s, Vikes, Vicos, Hydros, Idiot pills, V’s, and similar.

Using slang names for drugs is like a code, usually intended to keep their purchase or illicit abuse private and hidden from others.

Vicodin Side Effects

Side effects for Vicodin are quite similar to those of other opioid drugs, and can include:

  • Feeling “high”, euphoric effect, relaxation
  • Lack of pain
  • Yellowing of the eye (instead of white), yellowing of the skin
  • Back pain or side pain
  • Clay-like stools
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Lightheadedness
  • Dizziness
  • Loss of sex drive
  • Drowsiness
  • Fatigue
  • Tightness across chest
  • Lowered respiration, slowed breathing
  • Lowered pulse
  • Constipation

Vicodin Withdrawal Symptoms

Withdrawal symptoms can be intense and hard to tolerate without assistance and a monitored, gradual taper from the drug.

Symptoms can include:

  • Drug cravings
  • Increased pain
  • Tachycardia (racing heart beat)
  • Diarrhea
  • Muscle and bone pain
  • Runny nose, watery eyes
  • Rashes
  • Reddened skin, flushing
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Loss of appetite
  • Headache
  • Profuse sweating
  • Chills
  • Fever
  • Goosebumps
  • Itching, hives

Discontinuing/Quitting Vicodin

After taking Vicodin for a period of weeks or months, the time will come to stop the prescription, or to stop taking the drug recreationally. This can be difficult to do without careful planning, and putting a strategy in place. Dehydration and low sodium levels can be avoided by ensuring adequate liquid intake, and adding foods or supplements to daily meals to compensate the loss of bodily fluids that typically occur.

Symptoms for low sodium levels are quite similar to Vicodin withdrawals, and can include weakness, nausea, vomiting, confusion, mental fog, cramps, muscle spasms, lack of energy, irritability or low mood. In extreme cases, seizure or coma can also occur. Sometimes I-V treatments are needed to safely correct low sodium levels, and this may be required in the event that sodium levels crash because of the loss of salt through frequent vomiting, diarrhea, or profuse sweating. In less severe cases, adding beverages that contain electrolytes may be adequate. Always seek medical guidance if there is concern about symptoms of salt depletion that may occur.³

Some people find that adding psyllium husk or other natural fiber to the diet, for example, mixed in a smoothie, can help reduce the pain and discomfort of constipation.

It is not necessary to suffer unduly. Seek professional help and guidance to reduce the severity of withdrawal symptoms, and to avoid relapse.

Vicodin FAQs

Below are some additional topics that are frequently asked about Vicodin addiction, dependence, withdrawal and recovery.

Vicodin is one brand name for this group of drugs, the most frequently prescribed in the country. Often, in the rush of a doctor’s visit, one may feel inclined to just accept the prescription; after all, it is being written by a trained physician.

Often, doctors themselves may not be totally informed about the risks and dangers and complications that can accompany a prescription to pain pills such as Vicodin. Inform yourself as much as possible and you will be in a much better position, able to make the best possible decisions for your health and for your specific situation.

Is Vicodin an Opioid?

Vicodin is an opioid analgesic, meaning it contains an opioid (hydrocodone) and a non-opioid mild pain reliever, acetaminophen. Vicodin is a Schedule II drug, and carries certain health risks including risk of dependence and addiction, as stated on the package insert.

Treatment for Vicodin Abuse and Addiction

The Alternative to Meds Center provides safe and comfortable withdrawal for anyone who has decided to stop their prescribed pain pills and other drugs or alcohol. While Vicodin withdrawals are generally not considered life-threatening, the symptoms can be intense and hard to deal with, without assistance.

Gradual tapering is the recommended pathway for any opiate withdrawal, supported by a specific diet to provide the exact precursors needed to rebuild the body’s supply and production of endorphins. Endorphins are the body’s own natural pain relieving chemicals. During opioid use, the body responds by shutting down endorphin production and also begins to build new pain receptors. Since the drug is being withdrawn, and there is a lack of natural endorphins available, these pain receptors will activate but will have nothing with which to fight the magnified levels of pain that are typically associated with opiate withdrawal. A well-planned withdrawal program will involve gentle tapering, and can also include a short course of bridge medications to help ease the person through the most acutely painful part of the process. Diet, hydration, mild exercise, and physical therapy can also help ease the most difficult parts of the journey.

As well, clearing out neurotoxic material can assist greatly, providing improved appetite, deeper and more sound sleep, less pain, less anxiety, more energy and other benefits. Counseling is also provided to assist with trauma release, restructuring life-plans, cognitive behavioral therapy, and many other beneficial genres of talk therapy with a trusted, caring therapist.

Please reach out to us for more information on safe withdrawal from Vicodin or other drugs, and find out how you can regain mental health naturally, without drugs, and no longer be plagued by the symptoms that may have contributed to past medication dependence.

(1) MedPage Today “Acetaminophen is Leading Cause of Acute Liver Failure” (Neil Osterweil, Senior Associate Editor) Nov 30, 2005, accessed Oct 23, 2018 https://www.medpagetoday.com/psychiatry/depression/2233

(2) American Dental Assoc Article, “Why Do We Prescribe Vicodin” (Paul A. Moore, DMD, PhD, MPH, Raymond A. Dionne, DDS, PhD, Stephen A. Cooper, DMD, PhD, Elliot V. Hersh, DMD, M.S. ,PhD) May 2016, accessed Oct. 23 2018 https://jada.ada.org/article/S0002-8177(16)30415-9/fulltext

(3) MedicineNet Article “12 Hyponatremia (Low Blood Sodium) Symptoms, Signs, Causes and Diet” (Melissa Conrad Stoppler, MD) n.d., accessed Oct 23 2018 https://www.medicinenet.com/hyponatremia/article.htm


This content has been reviewed, and approved by a licensed physician.

Dr. Michael Loes, M.D.

Dr. Michael Loes is board certified in Internal Medicine , Pain Management and Addiction Medicine. He holds a dual license in Homeopathic and Integrative Medicine. He obtained his medical doctorate at the University of Minnesota, Minneapolis, MN, 1978. Dr Loes performed an externship at the National Institute of Health for Psychopharmacology. Additionally he is a well published author including Arthritis: The Doctor’s Cure, The Aspirin Alternative, The Healing Response and Spirit Driven Health: The Psalmist’s Guide for Recovery. He has been awarded the Minnesota Medical Foundation’s “Excellence in Research” Award.

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