What Is the Difference Between Oxycodone and Hydrocodone?

Universal Images Group Editorial/Universal Images Group/Getty Images

The National Institutes for Health explains that the major difference between oxycodone and hydrocodone is in its chemical makeup. Oxycodone has an extra oxygen in its molecular formula compared to hydrocodone. Both drugs are derivatives of codeine and are considered narcotic pain relievers.

As narcotic pain relievers, oxycodone and hydrocodone treat moderate, severe and chronic pain. Conditions treated with narcotic pain relievers include neuropathic pain, pain related to injury and pain associated with cancer treatment. According to WebMD, these drugs work by changing the way the brain responds to pain. WebMD advises patients to take oxycodone and hydrocodone exactly as directed by a health care professional because patients can become addicted to these medications even if taken at regular doses. Oxycodone and hydrocodone can also cause withdrawal symptoms, such as nausea, sweating and muscle aches, if taken for long periods of time. WebMD also notes that the side effects of these medications include drowsiness, lightheadedness, nausea and constipation.

Before taking this medication, Drugs.com recommends that patients speak with their health care provider about current medications that may interact with oxycodone or hydrocodone. In addition, it recommends that patients avoid alcohol when taking these medications. It is also advised that patients avoid taking these medications when pregnant or breastfeeding.