How does Vicodin work?

Vicodin works by changing how the brain and body perceive pain. Vicodin affects the brain via hydrocodone, an opioid agonist. More here on how fast Vicodin works and for how long. Plus, what you can do to make Vicodin work better.

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Vicodin is an opioid medication that’s used to treat moderate to severe pain. Vicodin affect the body and brain via its main ingredient, hydrocodone. Although Vicodin does not have the same effects for everyone, Vicodin is an effective and strong pain reliever with a relatively high addiction liability.  In fact, feeling high on Vicodin is what affects how Vicodin is prescribed. More here on how Vicodin works, with a section at the end for your questions.

How does Vicodin affect the brain and nervous system?

Vicodin contains hydrocodone, an opium-derived synthetic substance. Hydrocodone is not a true opiate, as it does not occur in nature, but has been created in a laboratory to mimic the effects and action of morphine, a derivative of opium.  Still, the narcotic schedule Vicodin places Vicodin as one of the more psychoactive prescription medications which can  produce euphoria.  But how does Vicodin work in the brain?

Vicodin works by binding to opiate receptors in the brain, which helps to lessen the feelings and perception of pain. Specifically, hydrocodone acts on endorphin receptors call mu receptors and kappa receptors in the central nervous system. As a result, hydrocodone can cause analgesia (pain relief), sedation, respiratory depression and euphoric feelings, causing a “high.”

How does Vicodin work in the body?

As an opioid, Vicodin is a central nervous system depressant. This means it slows brain activity and as a result, can affect other parts of the body. The depressant qualities of Vicodin can result in:

  • dizziness
  • drowsiness
  • impaired coordination
  • loss of consciousness
  • nausea/vomiting
  • overdose
  • shallow breathing
  • slowed heart rate

Serious and life-threatening side effects are more likely to occur when Vicodin is not taken as directed.

How fast does Vicodin work

Vicodin hits its peak blood plasma in 1.3 hours. Some people crush and snort the powder from Vicodin tablets to try to get more immediate effects, but this is dangerous and can result in increased adverse effects, nasal infections, or overdose.

How long does Vicodin work?

Vicodin’s effects can last anywhere from 4-6 hours depending on the person and the dose. Vicodin needs to be taken throughout the day to manage pain, but never more frequently than prescribed.

What makes Vicodin work better

Vicodin should not be taken along with other central nervous system depressants like alcohol or benzodiazepines. This is because the main ingredient in Vicodin – hydrocodone – can cause excessive drowsiness, and is dangerous when mixed with other medications. Furthermore, Vicodin needs to be taken exactly as directed, and not crushed, chewed, or snorted.

Does Vicodin work for everyone?

No. Vicodin is not right for everyone. Vicodin is habit-forming, so it’s not recommended for those with a history of drug or alcohol abuse. In some people, Vicodin can have serious side effects or cause an allergic reaction. Additionally, there may be other medications you’re taking which interact with Vicodin, so always check with your pharmacist before taking any new medications.Anyone who experiences problems while taking Vicodin should talk to their doctor immediately about discontinuing the medication.

How Vicodin works questions

Still have questions about Vicodin and how it works? Please leave your questions about Vicodin here. We try to answer all legitimate Vicodin questions ASAP with a personal and prompt response.

Reference Sources: Mississippi State Department of Health: Pharmacology Drugs that Affect the Central Nervous System:
DEA: Hydrocodone
Medline Plus: Hydrocodone
ToxNet: Hydrocodone
About the author
Lee Weber is a published author, medical writer, and woman in long-term recovery from addiction. Her latest book, The Definitive Guide to Addiction Interventions is set to reach university bookstores in early 2019.


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  1. I have an upcoming “blue light ” treatment on facial actinic keratoses, which I found almost unbearably painful last time. They tell me if I find it too painful (with medication) they will have to stop the procedure., which I hope to avoid.I have taken both hydrocodone and vicodin with severe shingles and they were effective, but there was still pain. The blue light is a 3 hour procedure and I will take a one time dose, unless severe pain persists. What would you suggest for the initial dosage? I will have a driver and a nurse at home.

  2. I have been taking Vicodin for about 6 years for fibromyalgia. I would take 1/2 – 1 tablet a day for pain . Mostly at night. It did give me relief. I have tried every thing out there for fibro as I have had it for 18 years. About a month ago it stopped working. My Dr advised me to stop taking it and instructed me to taper the dose to help prevent withdrawal. However, about 8 hours after my last dose I started with withdrawal symptoms. Asked my Dr how long the withdrawal would last and he really didn’t give me an answer. So I am hoping you can give me some insight into how long it can last. I know everyone is different, but I’d just like an idea of what to expect. Thank you.

  3. i wad on vicodin,prescribed 5 7.5 norcos a day.wonderful,at addicted,up to 10 a day,quit cold,owwwch.since have had scripts of 40 or so,severe pain,its like the worst of 2 evils.i feel like i have never beeen the same without them.take 20 mg. prozac?maybe i need brain feels like it went on vacation and forgot to come back.sad,tired,etc.any suggestions on how to recover better,any certain a.d. that mimic vicidin effect,or vitamins?

    1. Hi Garland. Have you talked with your doctor about your concerns? If not, contact him/her. Also, you may consult with a pharmacist to recommend some vitamins, supplements or teas.

  4. was on vicodins,prescribed 2 out of control.back to pain,fatigue,depression.felt greaton vicodin,no pain,energy,happy.any supplements with similar effects,5 htp,st johns wart,dhea,etc,i just feel lousy

  5. Hi Devon. Vicodin is an analgesic, also known as painkiller. Analgesics, along with depressants, antihistamines, tranquilizers, euphoriants, hallucinogens, stimulants and inhalants are all psychoactive drugs.

  6. Hello Marilyn. After taking a medication like hydrocodone as often and as long as you have, it’s almost inevitable to get withdrawal symptoms soon after you stop taking it. Talk to your doctor and ask to get you on a tapering schedule instead of just cutting your supply all at once. Also ask for some other alternatives to help you with the management of your pain. Let us know how it all goes.

  7. I have been prescribed hydrocodone 10 mg every 6 hours for chronic pain for almost 2 yrs. I only take about 2-3 per day, but now my doctor has stopped prescribing it for chronic pain use. I only have aboout 3 days supply left. Will I suffer withdrawal? Should there be a tapering off?

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