When does hydrocodone kick in?

Hydrocodone takes about 30 minutes after oral ingestion to kick in. More on how modes of administration affect hydrocodone onset here.

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Hydrocodone’s kick

Hydrocodone is used to treat pain and is a relatively strong opioid drug included in brands like Vicodin, Lortab, or Norco. Hydrocodone is a powerful pain killer because it attaches to opiate receptors in the brain to prevent you from feeling pain.  While this pain relief is not immediate, when taken as prescribed, hydrocodone kicks in within a half an hour.

But what is hydrocodone? When does it start to take effect and how long can you expect it to last? And what’s the risk of addiction to hydrocodone? (If you’re looking to get high on hydrocodone,  getting help for hydrocodone addiction may be one outcome that you didn’t’ expect.)  In this article we explore the answers to these questions and more. Then, we invite your questions about hydrocodone and its kick at the end.

Hydrocodone active ingredients

Usually hydrocodone is mixed in with other types of medications such as; acetaminophen, aspirin, and ibuprofen. Adding other drugs helps increase the effectiveness of hydrocodone and adds benefits of anti-inflammatory effects to combination medications. Other ingredients present in combination with hydrocodone usually include colloidal silicon dioxide, crospovidone, magnesium stearate, microcrystalline cellulose, povidone, pregelatinized starch, and/or stearic acid.

When does hydrocodone start working?

For hydrocodone to work, it must enter the body, dissolve into a solution, be absorbed by the body and the distributed to sites of action. And in the process, a number of different factors can affect the rate at which hydrocodone onset begins. In general, once hydrocodone is absorbed into the bloodstream it activates the opiate receptors in the central nervous system and inhibits messages of pain to travel throughout the body. So, what are you waiting for?

When you take oral capsule forms of hydrocodone, the drug is dissolved in the stomach and then absorbed through the gastrointestinal (GI) tract. Once hydrocodone is absorbed by the digestive system, it takes about 30 minutes for you to feel the effects of hydrocodone. However, there are many factors that influence hydrocodone onset. For the most effective results read the labels and use as directed.

Factors that affect onset of hydrocodone:

Drug bioavailability: hydrocodone taken orally has a lower bioavailability then hydrocodone that is taken in a solution or liquid. Bioavailability is also stronger if you are abusing hydrocodone by crushing or snorting in order to experience a high.

Hydrocodone concentration: Hydrocodone comes in so many variant concentrations. It may seem obvious, but stronger concentrations of hydrocodone are going to work faster and longer in the body compared to weaker concentration of the medication. Doctors will work with you to find out when concentration would world best for you.

Hydrocodone form: Hydrocodone comes in tablets, extended-release tablets/solution, syrups, and elixirs. Each form kicks in differently.

Mode of administration: The way you take hydrocodone is important. Tablets will take longer than solutions or liquids. Some people who abuse hydrocodone will chew on the tablets or crush and snort them. This give them a high and works on the body quicker than if you are taking them orally. DO NOT do this.

Manufacturer solutions: Further, manufacturers change the way that hydrocodone dissolves in order to modify solubility characteristics, and therefore slow or quicken drug onset. Here is a list of fastest to slowest drug delivery forms.

Fastest: Elixirs and suspension liquid absorb really quickly into the body and like extended-release tablets can last up to 12 hours of pain relief at a time.

Medium: Syrup, capsules, and tablets are taken every 4 to 6 hours to treat pain. They absorb at a medium rate in the body. Pills should be swallowed and not crushed and chewed.

Slowest: Extended-release tablets are designed to slowly release hydrocodone into the body so that pain is being treating up to 12 hours at a time. Hydrocodone is continually and slowly released into the body.

When does hydrocodone peak?

Hydrocodone that you take every 4 hours will peak at 2 hours after dosing. After hydrocodone has peaked you will still feel the effects of pain relief but it will begin to even out. For forms of hydrocodone which last up to 12 hours, you can expect hydrocodone to peak at its half-life (3.8 hours ± 0.3 hours) and continue to be a potent pain reliever before it wears off.

When does hydrocodone wear off?

Short active hydrocodone wears off in 4 hours. Long lasting hydrocodone wears off in 12 hours. If you have developed a dependency, however, you may notice that hydrocodone doses wearoff sooner in the body. For people physically dependent on hydrocodone, they may experience increased tolerance for hydrocodone and have to take a stronger dose of hydrocodone or may need to take it more often than normally prescribed.

Risks of hydrocodone addiction

Hydrocodone can be habit forming. Hydrocodone works so well, that sometimes people begin to misuse and abuse the medication. Some begin to crush and snort the drug so they can feel it’s effects sooner. Some continue to use it to disengage from their lives. Because you can develop an addiction, it is important to be careful how you take hydrocodone and that you are in consistent contact with your prescribing doctor. If you are worried about the risks of addiction, talk to you doctor.  Maybe another type of medication would be best for you.  Also, be aware that if you are dependent on hydrocodone you do not need to stop hydrocodone cold turkey.

It is also important to be aware of other medications you are taking at the same time as hydrocodone. Other medications can affect the ways hydrocodone work on the body. The results can be negative and potentially dangerous. For example, avoid drinking alcohol or taking other depressants when you are using hydrocodone because they can depress body function. You could stop breathing, slow heart rate or become unconscious.

When does hydrocodone kick in questions

Do you still have a question about how hydrocodone works on the body? Still wonder what is in hydrocodone and how it will affect your body? Please ask any remaining questions and we will get back to you personally and promptly.

Reference Sources: NCBI: hydrocodone
PubMed: 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. If I take a 10mg Norco how long will it take to show up in a urine screen? Like if I take it at 6am will it be able to be detected in urine screen at 8am?

  2. I’ve been taking Norco for several years now. I started out taking the 7.5 MG. I wasn’t having to take them often, just every few days or so. My pain started getting worse and I started going to pain management. Doctor there increased it to 10 MG every 12 hours as needed. It was every 4 to 6 hours with the lower dosage. Over the past couple of months I started having to take a dose everyday, and that would relieve the pain. Now it’s starting to lose its effect at the current dosage. The kind I take isn’t the extended release,so my question is is have I developed a tolerance at the current dosage? And if so do I need to consult with my doctor about a dosage increase? I’m concerned now that the medicine may stop working period. What should I do???

  3. I recently had a total knee replacement. After two weeks, I stopped taking Hydrocodone (10mg + 325 mg acetaminophen) except when I go to physical therapy—as some of the stretching is painful. About how long after I take the Hydrocodone would I feel it’s maximum effect; meaning the greatest reduction of pain? I’m trying to time when I take the Hydrocodone to achieve maximum pain relief. Usually the therapist does the stretching at the end of the session; usually about 1 hour after I start.

  4. So, my doctor gave me hydrocodone for sciatica relief. The bottle says to take every 12 hours even though it’s a pill. After taking though, the pain comes back within about 3 hours. Today, I used a suppository (for obvious pain killer reasons 🙁 ) and since then, I have taken 2 pills and felt NO relief. Is this normal? Can I just drink a lot of water to “flush” my system of the glycerol? This pain is unbearable and I don’t know what else to do 🙁

  5. It’s 1:00 in the morning of course, and I have severe tooth pain on the right side of my mouth – can’t even tell if it’s upper or lower at this point. I can’t sleep or do anything. I have a dentist appointment tomorrow, but until then is it ok if I crush and mix with water one hydrocodone/acetaminophen 325 pill? I cannot swallow pills due to an esophageal stricture caused by tracheoesophageal fistula and esophageal atresia present at birth and the subsequent surgeries to correct them.

  6. I have gastroperriss. Contents in my stomach does empty out on its on. I take pills before i eat this helps some buy not totally. Ive had a double hip replacement.an take hydrocodone for pain. It doesnt seem like it is working right. Could it be that its just sitting in my stomach an not getting processed. Thank you for your answer..

    1. Hi Peggy. I suggest that it’s best to report this to your doctor. S/he has followed your medical history and will be better fit to provide an accurate answer, plus do something about it.

  7. Long [past] complicated medical problems as past juvenile tumor of 10 years. I’ll try to describe as short as possible. I am now 55 yrs. old. Age 8,[ aprox 1970ish]; I was hemorrhaging nose & mouth. It was determined I had a ‘Juvenile Nasal Pharynx Angiofibroma’, [benign tumor] in sinuses up to base of my brain. Determined this type of tumor is found Only in white juvenile males w/ high testosterone & lack of normal male amount of estrogen. I had palate resection, & removed thru palate. The tumor was made up w/ lots of blood vessels that erupted/ hemorrhaged to life threatening stages, aprox 3x; blood transfusions. Had have several transfusions before operation. Tumor grew back in about 6 months, but bigger than before. Doctors were desperate & prescribed numerous/ many experimental meds; including estrogen doses. At that time, there was only 1 other male alive in USA w/ same problem. That hospital gave up & out of ideas for treatment. I was emergency airvac’d, another hospital & state. Tumor began to decline in growth , w/ fewer hemorrhaging episodes. Doctors desperately continued w/ other experimental meds?; along w/ estrogen. Aprox age15/- 1977ish, was administered total 3600 rads radiation in left temple area, & upper nose area. Due to radiation my thyroid was affected. My growth, height & weight, appetite & many others were affected. Weighed about 70ish #’s @ that time. Started having #8 [pain] headaches. They were 24/ 7. It was headaches or die. Basically no choice. Tumor started shrinking, & docs were pleased. Docs thought too dangerous to have any more radiation after 3600 rads. It was discontinued. From resection of previous palate resection gave me speech impediment. During & after rads, my taste, smell, hearing, memory, vision, weight, height… many others were permanently affected. Again had more hemorrhages w/ blood tranfusions. About age 17/ 1979ish was airvac’d another hospital/ state @ Fitzsimmons Air Force Base Hospital. More experimental meds w/ estrogen treatments. About 25 Neurologist Surgeons, Doc’s, Plastic surgeons, ENT Surgeons, Specialists….& ? had a conference about a major surgery. They did a nose resection w/ craniotomy same time. Had to move my brain up w/ air to get close to brain cavity. I think they said not to handle brain, but move up w/ air, so not damage brain. My sinuses & Everything was removed up to base of brain. Also the ‘shock absorber’ around brain [cerebrospinal] was partially removed around left side of brain area. Tumor was more on left side inside my head. I don’t/ won’t jump, run, or even ride bicycle because rattles my brain so bad; I get #9- 10 pain headaches. My hearing gets worse now, because radiation damaged my eardrums. Aprox 12 years ago, lost 99% of my smell, taste & affected my vision w/ lesions in mostly my L eye. I get mega bad dizzy spells so bad; have to literally sit on floor. Scares the hell out of me. Only happens maybe 3- 4x a year; & doctors cannot determine why. I HAVE to sleep 4/ 4 pillows; if not feels like I’m laying w/ my head hanging off bed upside down- dizzy. From CAT Scans & MRI’s; Neurologists have told me that my brain is shrinking mostly from past radiation, & also some w/ age. My headaches are Always 24/ 7. When I wake in morning, [every morn] feels like I have a # 8, 9 or 10 hangover headache. I have many side effects & disabilities from operations & radiation. Seems Most are from radiation. I’ve been put on fentynl patches up to about? 8mcgms. NO help whatsoever. Told Doc; & wanted off this med. Seemed like a placebo or like a fake med. I went from 5/ 500 hydrocodone up to 10/325. When I get desperate about my major headaches, I won’t even open my windo shades or watch TV, or answer phone. I’ve been prescribed 1 10/ 325 @ 4 hrs. NEVER help w/ just 1/ Gotten brave & took risk of 2- 10/325 headaches. Even a few x’s taken 3- 10/ 325. Its like a desperate gamble for me of my headaches. When & IF they do help it’s m a y b e 5% relief. I’ve been on thousands diff meds for many reasons & instances, including other surgeries, open hear surgery… etc. I have a very high tolerance to meds of All kinds. Antibiotics, steroids….. many, probably all. Tylenol, aspirin, alieve, OTC pain/ sleep meds [can’t take aspirin now] I’m on warfarin. When I have the bad headaches, I even take prescript 500mg Ibuprofin 3x a day along w/ 2- 10/ 325 hydrocodone. This is still like a gamble, but when it helps, its about 15% relief, usually better than just 2- hydos. I’ve been to many neurosurgeons, neurologists, family doc’s, even Naturopathic, & Family Doc, Specialists, Osteopath…. out of desperation for my headaches. Also, I’ve been on so many prescript meds, I kinda’ have a phobia about meds, & also disappointed w/ a lot of it. Alcohol does help w/ short term, but NEVER drink w/ hydra of other meds! NEVER! W/ extensive test last maybe 15+ years, Before … NO doctor can explain my headaches. I’ve had at least 3 TIA’s before my open heart surgery, w/ man made aortic valve. My headaches were bad even before this. My doc’s claim I have PTSD from my craniotomy & heart surgery. If I do, don’t notice it nor any side effects of PTSD- not in my opinion anyway. The strokes have definitely added to my already memory loss from radiation. Doctors have told me even if the found cause of my headaches… they WILL NOT do any surgery because my head & heart operations. I:E: Very high risk of infection from radiations & the 2 major operations I had in past. Believe me- this is ONLY a very short experience / explanation of my medical history. I’m desperate for help- – PLEASE, PLEASE- Any ideas, remedies, styles, suggestions, ways, meds… anything you can think of Please help me, please. I really do pray everyday that the Lord God Almighty will help me. Maybe get a head transplant- ha; but serious, & that desperate too;;; if there is a remedy on this earth, I’ll probably end up dieing to find it. God Bless, & Thank You. Jim~

  8. I have been taking hydrocodone for years. And it has helped me through my back pain caused by stenosis, and all of the back pain symptoms, that I can’t think of right now… But I just took one at about quarter to eight and now at 20 after eight, am feeling soo much better. Much less pain, and no stabbing pain in the lower quadrant of my back. I can now think of what I am doing and typing very much better.

    I am not saying that it is for everyone, but it has surely helped me over the years.

  9. Have been using Norco 10/365 for about 3 years for lower spine disc worn out and both legs go numb in about 15 min of standing, pain is very bad ! noticed that may get jittery after it wears off is this normal ? do not want to get hooked on this but a pill every 6 hours does make life a little better

  10. I was given this as a 5-325mg tablet for Iliotibial band syndrome (ITBS) Took one. It didn’t relieve my pain, even a little. I’m 89, Pain is so intense, can hardly walk. I never take drugs unless absolutely necessary .Why didn’t that one tablet work for me. Haven’t taken any more.

  11. I have a question about hydrocodone. I have been in extreme sciatica pain, and was prescribed hydrocodone on a monday. the pills didn’t take an effect as far as pain relief goes until about 36 hours later. is this normal?

  12. thank you for your response re. when does htdrocodone kick in.
    I rake it in tablet form, after it dissolves in the stomach, where ? i.e. which section of the small intestine absorbs the opioids ?
    thank you

  13. are there certain foods that when taken prior to hydrocodone will increase/reduce the rate of absorption?

  14. Gastric bypass and hydrocodone I’m 16 yrs out and have taken loratabs off and on it doesn’t seem to last and I am asking if a urine drug screen would still show if it’s in system due to fact I’d taken total of two ten/500 mg tabs before Tylenol was reduced and mds doctor said urine showed no hydrocodone in it…

  15. I have not been taking my Tylenol 3 a lot lately but had a really bad day and was in a lot of pain and took 3 at a time. It did nothing and 3 hours later in agony I took an ibuprofen 800 mil. So then the pain eased and I fell asleep and woke up feeling like I was high, but disoriented. Is that the mixture of both things or did the Tylenol 3 take 5 hours to kick in. So confused. Been on this medication a long time and never had an adverse effect

  16. thank you for the blog about : Hydrocodone.
    I had my colon removed, a Colectomy. and have a permanent Ileostomy, where my fecal output varies in consistency between ¨watery¨ diarrhea and semi formed stool, depending on he nature of my food intake. Thus the transit and dwell times within my small intestine varies considerably , besides a large portion of my ileum has been used to form a stoma.
    My question is : which specific portion, and how long is it, of the small intestine that absorbs the hydrocodone. My Dr. prescribed 3 tablets per day, but at times I need to take an extra tablet per day, and my Dr. classified my as an abuser. I need some medical reference to help me make convince her.
    Thank you

  17. This little pill will and can ruin your life if your an addict like I have been for 13/long years after 5 odz and my mother dying the day after my 30th bday. I use these and just about any pks and they will suck u into the shallows and make you some u despise. Mark my words.moderation or grand vacation.

  18. I’m so scared right now. I had a slipped disc five months before they could get me into surgery. I lived on 120mg of Percocet for those five months and the two months after surgery. I am now down to 40 mg a day thank God. I expressed my concern to the two doctors/ pain manager I have been two during this entire process about becoming addicted because I have been ion such high doses for so long. They both said to taper down slowly I tried to taper myself off for a couple days going from 40 mg to 20 mg and holy cow my body was addravarted with pains shooting through my body and my arm and leg started twitching. I was crabby and sweaty off and on so I went back to my regular 40 mg a day dose. I an thinking ” how the hell am I ever going to get off this crap if I felt like that”? I don’t do it for a high but my body now has a need for it. Does that mean I’m an addict? How can I help the withdrawal when I’m off of this eventually? My doctors plan is to drop me 10 mg each month from now on is that a good pace? Please help I’m so scared. I have two kids and a great husband a good life I don’t want to be an addict.

    1. Hi Ann. It seems to me that your doctor knows what he’s doing. Don’be afraid! If you start withdrawing badly, speak with a pharmacist to recommend some over-the-counter aid, teas, hot baths and home remedies to ease withdrawal symptoms. Or ask your doctor for slower tapering schedule. Stay strong!

  19. I have a norco and it doesn’t look right compared to my other yellow 10/325. Is there any way I can post a picture somewhere so someone could maybe help me out?

  20. I understand that different sections of the small intestine absorb different vitamins and minerals, e.g. the ileum absorbs vitamin B-12.
    which section of the small intestine absorbs Hydrocodone ?
    thank you,

  21. I have a prescription for 3 per day PRN of Hydrocodone w/ Acetaminophen ( 7.5/3.25 ).
    I have extreme Osteoarthritis due to sports injuries when I was young ( current age 66 ).
    I have to take 2 tablets in the morning to be able to walk even with a cane.
    I need be able to work. I need knee surgery but Cardiologist wont sign of on it because my Cardiac health.
    Sine I take 2 tablets to get going in the AM this leaves me in a LOT of PAIN latter in the day. Is there something that will exdend how long the hydrocodone last?
    Thank for your help,

  22. I was prescribed norcos 5/325 and ibuprofin 800 for tooth pain and it took away the pain but i woke up with a huge headache. I was suppose to take 1 every 4 hours i took 2…could that be the reason for my headache?

  23. your reply to Laura with the transverse colostomy needs further clarification. People with Ostomies (Colostomate and Ileostomates) that have ¨short gut syndrome¨ have a fast digestive transition time through what is left of their small intestine, and depending on their daily diet, where and when the effect of the Hydrocodone will begin to take effect.
    Unfortunately most doctors do not take this in consideration and assume that all Ostomates have regular length digestive tract, and prescribe accordingly.

  24. your reply to Laura with the transverse colostomy needs further clarification. People with Ostomies (Colostomate and Ileostomates) that have ¨short gut syndrome¨ have a fast digestive transition time through what is left of their small intestine, and depending on their daily diet, where and when the effect of the Hydrocodone will begin to take effect.
    Unfortunately most doctors do not take this in consideration and assume that all Ostomates have regular digestivetract,

    1. Hi, Jimmy. Drug effects vary from person to person, and that goes to the time-frame when the drug starts working. Also,a number of different factors can affect the rate at which hydrocodone onset begins. Maybe, your body needs more time to absorb hydrocodone. If it doesn’t work, I suggest you consult your doctor.

  25. I got prescribed hydrocodone for my back pain and also a muscle relaxer. My docter didn’t say If I can take both at the same time, although since they are both depressants… Is it dangerous?

  26. Yes I have a traversal colostomy and was told some if not most meds will not work as effectively because of this. I was on ER morphine 3x a day as well as lortab 7.5 3x a day. Stopped taking the morphine because it just didn’t seem to be doing anything. Well having an issue with lortab they work get but only for a few hours, and was wondering if this is because the majority of my large intestines is gone? Thanks for any help

    1. Hi, Laura. I suggest you ask your doctor about your concern. Maybe, you’ve built a tolerance level to the medication.

  27. Generic and name brand hydrocodone are all the same. Aside from some fillers used… Hydrocodone is the active chemical, so it must remain standard in all formulations, regardless of name brand of not.

  28. Just wondering if there was a difference between generic norco and the yellow ones. I’m from California and all my medications were, name brand I would get from my Kaiser Hospital pharmacy. I’m now living in Iowa and it seems that everything prescribed here is in generic form. Just wondering what the difference between the white and yellow pills .

    1. Hi Terence. I suggest you call the local pharmacy and get informed on this issue. Pharmacist should have a professional knowledge of medications and their generic versions, and also provide valuable info concerning other substances present in the generic ones, indicated dosage, etc.

  29. I take hydrocodone for several medical issues. One being I had partial of my colon removed, and now have a traversal colostomy stoma. I was wondering if having a big section of my large intestines removed effects how well the pain meds work? Any insight would be very helpful. Thank you

  30. I have norco 7.5/325 for back and knee pain. I do not abuse my medications. Im overweight and im trying to lose weight walking. I cant seem to get my medication right. My prescription is 3xday. But i only take my medication when im doing an activity that requires pain relief. Other times lm on my heating pad or in a bath. How early should i take a pill before i walk? It takes about 20 to reach tge football field i walk at tgen i walk about 45-60 minutes.

    1. Hi Liz. Depends on the general health state and whether the ladies’ stomach has been damaged prior to taking hydrocodone or not. If a 94 year old woman was dosed with hydrocodone and reacting abruptly, she should be taken to a doctor.

  31. I have just been prescribed 2 hydrocodone ever 4 hours yesterday. I cannot tell if it is having any affects at all. I still feel severe pain as if my leg has been lit on fire if I move it. This is the second medicine they have put me on as The other wasn’t working either. I’m not an addict and this us the first time since ’06(i broke my wrist) i’ve ever taken any thing like this. I’ve been riding out the pain as much as possible but now i’m downing 800mg of Motrin every 2 1/2 hours after I take my perceptions because I’m in so much pain. I’m taking them 30 minutes before my designated times trying to stay a head of it but that’s hit or miss. Any advice?

  32. Hi Pat. And thank you for posting your question. Here is the answer: Hydrocodone is metabolized in the liver. There it’s turned into several metabolites.

  33. I have a short lower bowel (small intestine) and part of the the large due to bladder cancer 12 yrs ago and wonder where the hydrocodone is metabolized? High up in the intestine or lower? Its not working.

  34. Hello Brooklyn. What’s the reason for the tooth pain? Lack of blood (meaning low oxygen to an area) can cause pain, infection can cause pain, you can also have nerve pain, trauma pain, they are all different and need different solutions. Maybe hydrocodone isn’t working for the kind of pain you’re having. But, nothing really works for tooth pain other than going to the dentist.

  35. I was prescribed Hydrocodone for my toothache and it has been at least 40 minutes since I have taken it, and it hasn’t worked! I can still feel the pain in my tooth. What’s up?

  36. Hi Linda. If hydrocodone is prescribed for headaches, you can use it for headaches. If it’s prescribed for back pain, it’s technically illegal to take it for headaches. Headaches are a strange and difficult symptoms for doctors…you’ll need a full medical in order to diagnose possible causes and identify treatments for headaches.

  37. I take hydrocome for my back sometime. Now I have been having some headaches mostly in one side of my head. Will hydrocome work for headaches?

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