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How Long Does Vicodin Stay in Your System?

How Long Does Vicodin Stay in Your System

Key Points

  • Vicodin has a high potential for abuse because it contains hydrocodone (opioid) and acetaminophen (analgesic).
  • Hydrocodone is stronger than morphine, yet it can be found in prescription medications.
  • Acetaminophen toxicity can cause serious liver damage and is responsible for 500 deaths annually in the US.
  • Vicodin will leave your body in approximately 2 days, depending on several factors.
  • Do not let Vicodin control your life. Get addiction treatment immediately.

What is Vicodin?

Vicodin is a combination drug with a high potential for abuse, containing the opioid hydrocodone and acetaminophen.

Hydrocodone is among the most widely illegally distributed prescription opioids.[1] Incidentally, it is almost exclusively administered within the United States.

Acetaminophen toxicity is responsible for 56,000 ER visits, 2,600 hospitalizations, and 500 deaths every year.[2] It’s also the most common cause of liver transplantation in the US.[3]

What is Hydrocodone?

Hydrocodone is an opioid receptor agonist. Hydrocodone is 1.5x stronger than morphine, and as such, it relieves the experience of moderate to severe pain that cannot be managed with non-opioid alternatives.[4]

Due to its calming effect on the “cough center” in the brain, non-combination hydrocodone is also used as a cough suppressant in patients who are otherwise terminally ill (like advanced-stage cancer).

Hydrocodone comes in IR (Immediate Release) and ER (Extended Release) formulas. Extended-release hydrocodone could benefit patients who are intolerant to morphine or oxycodone.

Although ER hydrocodone is more often prescribed because it is believed to have a lower potential for addiction, the data suggests that both IR and ER opioid medications have the same abuse potential.[5]

Hydrocodone’s Mechanism of Action

Hydrocodone binds to opioid receptors in the brain that are responsible for transmitting the sensation of pain throughout the body.[6] While not fully eliminating it, opioids like hydrocodone can decrease the subjective intensity of chronic pain by binding to those receptors.

Those activated opioid receptors signal the brain to release the hormone dopamine. Dopamine is a feel-good chemical we experience when we eat, drink, sing, dance, listen to good music, and have sex. As anyone who has participated in these activities knows, the hyper-focus on pain is reduced when we are experiencing the effects of dopamine.[7]

What is Acetaminophen?

Paracetamol was an analgesic and antipyretic; eventually, it was renamed “acetaminophen.”[8] While it has anti-pain and anti-fever qualities, acetaminophen isn’t anti-inflammatory. It may reduce the pain associated with fever, but it won’t reduce the inflammation causing the fever.

Non-combination acetaminophen is one of the most commonly used analgesics in the world. In 1998, it was formally approved for combination with hydrocodone to treat chronic pain.[9] But since the early 2000s, a growing body of research documents that severe liver damage is associated with acetaminophen overdoses.

Most acetaminophen toxicity cases are accidental. In response to this growing body of research, in 2011, the FDA required that the average dose of acetaminophen in vicodin tablets be decreased from 500mg to 325mg.[10]

Acetaminophen’s Mechanism of Action

Acetaminophen’s exact mechanism of action continues to elude scientists. The current prevailing theory is that acetaminophen inhibits certain enzymes to reduce the experience of pain.[11]

Because acetaminophen is one of the most commonly used analgesics in the world and acetaminophen toxicity is associated with serious liver damage, additional research must be conducted to learn more.[12]

How Long Does Vicodin Stay in Your System?

The average length of time it takes both individual drugs in Vicodin to leave your system is about 2 days. Every person’s length of time eliminating Vicodin will be unique. Some different factors that could impact the exact time it stays in your body include your age, weight, gender, potency of your last dose, and the average frequency of your dosing.

An elimination half-life is the time it takes for 50% of a given substance to be eliminated from your body. It takes 4 to 5 successive elimination half-lives to statistically eliminate a substance entirely from your body.

What is the Half-Life of Hydrocodone?

Once metabolized, hydrocodone’s primary bioactive metabolite is hydromorphone. Pain relief is caused by peak hydromorphone plasma concentration in blood.[13]

  • The elimination half-life of immediate-release (IR) hydrocodone is 4 hours, which means IR hydrocodone can be statistically eliminated from your body between 16 to 20 hours.[14]
  • The elimination half-life for extended-release (ER) hydrocodone is 7 to 9 hours, which means ER hydrocodone can be statistically eliminated from your body between 28 to 45 hours.[15]

What is the Half-Life of Acetaminophen?

Once metabolized, 5-10% of acetaminophen is oxidized into a toxic metabolite, which damages your liver.[16] When the pain reliever is taken at normal dosage levels, your liver can adequately eliminate toxins.

But at toxic levels of acetaminophen dosage, your liver gets overwhelmed and can sustain damage. As such, the elimination half-life of acetaminophen is 2 hours, but in the case of toxic overdose, it’s 4 to 8 hours.[17]

The extended elimination half-life is directly related to the extent of liver damage. You can statistically eliminate acetaminophen from your body in 8 to 10 hours with normal doses and eliminate it anywhere from 16 to 40 hours following a toxic overdose.

How Long Does It Take Vicodin to Work?

How Long Does It Take Vicodin to WorkThe average length of time it takes both individual drugs in Vicodin to begin working is 1 hour. The immediate-release (IR) version of hydrocodone will reach peak concentration in about 1 hour, while the extended-release (ER) version will reach it in approximately 14 to 16 hours.[18] Acetaminophen will reach peak plasma concentration in about 30 minutes to 2 hours.[19]

Mild Side Effects of Vicodin

Mild side effects of Vicodin include short-term relaxation, lightheadedness, dizziness, nausea, and vomiting.[20]

Dangerous Side Effects of Vicodin

One dangerous side effect of Vicodin is respiratory depression, which can prevent oxygenated blood from reaching the brain.[21] Other serious adverse symptoms include:

  • Mental clouding, anxiety, fear, and abrupt mood changes
  • Urinary retention
  • Constipation
  • Hearing loss and tinnitus
  • Persistent itching or spreading rash

Treatment For Vicodin Addiction

Don’t let a Vicodin addiction hold you in its grasp. Break free today and start pursuing addiction treatment. There are many ways to find local, discrete, and compassionate care for your Vicodin addiction.

Ask your doctor for a treatment center recommendation, or contact Ocean Recovery today. We specialize in drug, alcohol, and eating disorders for the Orange County community.

Long-term recovery is possible. A new, healthy, and free life is possible for you. We firmly believe in your potential for a supported and successful recovery. Now, you just have to believe in yourself and take action. Call now to speak with our team and get the help you need.

Frequently Asked Questions About Vicodin

You can take your Vicodin tablets every 4 to 6 hours as needed. Depending on whether you have the immediate-release (IR) or the extended-release (ER), you might be prescribed to only take 1 (ER) or 1-2 (IR) every 4 to 6 hours. Because Vicodin contains acetaminophen, you must be extra cautious not to overdose, as you could incur significant liver damage. Talk to your doctor if you have any concerns.

While taking Vicodin might make you drowsy, it might disrupt restful sleep patterns. Users of Vicodin report more sleep interruptions, insomnia, and daytime sleepiness than non-users. This is the case for opioids in general.

Since Vicodin contains hydrocodone, it will have an opioid-specific effect on your sleep patterns. If Vicodin affects your sleep patterns, talk to your doctor about altering your treatment plan to get restful sleep.

No. Do not take alcohol if you are using Vicodin. Alcohol is a depressant, and as such, it depresses your respiratory rate. Vicodin is well known to depress respiration rates.

Taken together, alcohol like wine and Vicodin could exacerbate the effects of each other by pushing your respiratory rate dangerously low. Talk to your doctor if you are concerned about taking any other substances alongside Vicodin.

Sobriety is hard, but it is worth it. The best part is that you are capable of it. You can live your best life without needing drugs like Vicodin to support you.

Sometimes, it may seem difficult to imagine, but there is a better future out there for you. All you might need is a compassionate healthcare team to come alongside you and walk the recovery journey with you.

Don’t hesitate. Seek help today.

There is a Better Way to Live. It's Time to Get the Help You Deserve.

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The internet contains a vast amount of misinformation, but when it comes to your health only peer reviewed, research centered data matters. At Ocean Recovery, all content published throughout our website has been rigorously medically reviewed by a doctorate level clinician, and cross checked for medical accuracy. Our editorial process helps our readers trust that the information they are consuming is factual and based upon scientific data. Your health is our top priority, find out more about how we safeguard the integrity of information on our website. Read More About Our Process

[1] Inciardi, J. A., Surratt, H. L., Lugo, Y., & Cicero, T. J. (2007, November). The diversion of prescription opioid analgesics. Law enforcement executive forum.

[2][3][12][19] Agrawal, S., & Khazaeni, B. (n.d.). Acetaminophen toxicity – statpearls – NCBI bookshelf.

[4] Reddy, A. S., Yennu, S., Wu, J., Liu, D., Reddy, S. K., De la Cruz, M., & Bruera, E. (n.d.). The conversion ratio for opioid rotation from hydrocodone to other strong opioids in cancer patients.

[5] Wilsey, B. L., Fishman, S., Li, C.-S., Storment, J., & Albanese, A. (2009, November). Markers of abuse liability of short- vs long-acting opioids in chronic pain patients: A randomized cross-over trial. Pharmacology, biochemistry, and behavior.


[6][14][15][18] Cofano, S., & Yellon, R. (n.d.). Hydrocodone – StatPearls – NCBI Bookshelf.

[7] Wood, P. B. (n.d.). Role of central dopamine in pain and analgesia. Expert review of neurotherapeutics.

[8][11] Ayoub, S. S. (2021, March 16). Paracetamol (acetaminophen): A familiar drug with an unexplained mechanism of action. Temperature (Austin, Tex.).

[9] Hydrocodone – LiverTox – NCBI Bookshelf. (n.d.-b).

[10] Vicodin. U. S. pharmacist e-connect flash: Reformulated pain medication now available at a generic price. (n.d.).

[13] Cardia, L., Calapai, G., Quattrone, D., Mondello, C., Arcoraci, V., Calapai, F., Mannucci, C., & Mondello, E. (2018, October 1). Preclinical and clinical pharmacology of hydrocodone for chronic pain: A mini review. Frontiers in pharmacology.

[16][17] Mazaleuskaya, L. L., Sangkuhl, K., Thorn, C. F., FitzGerald, G. A., Altman, R. B., & Klein, T. E. (2015, August). PharmGKB summary: Pathways of acetaminophen metabolism at the therapeutic versus toxic doses. Pharmacogenetics and genomics.

[20][21] FDA. (n.d.-a). Vicodin Label.

Last medically reviewed October 12, 2023.