Difference between Hydrocodone and Oxycodone

Updated on December 12, 2017

Hydrocodone and oxycodone are narcotic pain relievers that are administered to alleviate moderate-to-severe pain. This article aims to explain the differences between the two pain relieving medications.



Hydrocodone is a painkiller which is classified as an opioid, or of the narcotic family of drugs. It is a semi-synthetic opioid containing a natural chemical component. Hydrocodone is derived from codeine, an alkaloid derived from the opium poppy. It is a narcotic analgesic used particularly for treating moderate to severe pain caused by cancer. In addition, it has anti-cough properties due to its being derived from codeine. This pain reliever is also prescribed to people experiencing short-term post-surgical pain, injuries, and even arthritis.

Hydrocodone is only taken orally and has an onset action of 10-20 minutes. Its analgesic effect takes hold within 20-30 minutes and it relieves pain for 4-8 hours after its administration. Its dependence liability (i.e. addictive index) is severely high and can be habit-forming due to its other effects.

Hydrocodone can only be purchased with a special prescription coming from a doctor. The physical and psychological dependence risk, as well as abuse liability, is on the same level as that of morphine. It is also classified a Pregnancy Category C drug, which means women run high risks of complications if they consume this drug during pregnancy. Side effects include nausea and vomiting, constipation, drowsiness, dizziness, lightheadedness, mood swings, difficulty urinating, narrowing of pupils, irregular heart rate, and chest tightness.


Oxycodone is a moderately strong opioid pain reliever. It is semi-synthetic as it is derived from an opioid alkaloid called thebaine. Oxycodone is used to relieve moderate to moderately severe acute pain. Available in different forms than its oral preparation, oxycodone can be administered intravenously or through inhalation. The onset of action is usually around 10-30 minutes, with a pain relief duration of 3-6 hours. Its dependence liability is high, thus distribution is highly regulated. Its side effects are similar to those of hydrocodone, as well as how it acts on the body to relieve pain.

Hydrocodone vs Oxycodone

So, what’s the difference between hydrocodone and oxycodone? While both are practically the same in purpose, they have a few differences, being different kinds of narcotic pain relievers.

A medical study comparing the potency of hydrocodone and oxycodone found that 50% more hydrocodone was required to achieve a particular degree of pupil contraction compared to oxycodone. This was interpreted by researchers as proof that oxycodone is approximately 50% stronger than hydrocodone. In a separate study, it was found out that both analgesics were about the same in relieving pain among patients with bone fractures.

Some studies state that hydrocodone’s analgesic action takes hold in 20-30 minutes, with the effect lasting anywhere from 4-8 hours. The analgesic effect of oxydone was observed to kick in after 10-30 minutes of administering the drug. The effect was found to stay for about 3-6 hours. However, these times mentioned may still depend on the patient.

Hydrocodone is known to cause side effects such as vomiting, nausea, constipation, drowsiness, extreme mood swings, and even irregular or slowed breathing. Oxycodone also causes similar side effects such as appetite loss, a dry mouth, sweating, urine retention, and even hiccups.

Comparison Chart

Derived from an opioid alkaloid called codeineDerived from an opioid alkaloid called thebaine
50% less potent than oxycodone50% more potent than hydrocodone
Pain relief starts after 20-30 minutes with the effect lasting for about 4-8 hoursPain relief starts after 10-30 minutes with the effect lasting for about 3-6 hours
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