What is Codeine?
Codeine is an opioid drug with similar chemical composition and similar effects to other opioids, such as morphine and hydrocodone. A narcotic substance, codeine can be used legally with a prescription but it is regulated due to the risk of addiction and overdose. Codeine was first approved for medical use back in the 1950s and is still used commonly today. However, the rise of the opioid crisis over the past couple of decades means that access to codeine addiction awareness, education, and treatment is more critical than ever.
Here is an overview of this codeine drug use and addiction.
What Does Codeine Do?
An opioid analgesic, codeine functions very similarly to morphine and in small amounts is actually converted to morphine in the body. It binds to opioid receptors in the brain – which signal the feeling of pain – and increases the user’s pain tolerance. As a result, there is a reduction in discomfort, but there is still an awareness of the pain. Like other opioids, it is possible to develop a tolerance to this medication. When tolerance increases, greater, more frequent, and/or more potent doses are required to achieve the desired effect.
Codeine Uses and Effects
There are various illnesses that may illicit the use of prescription codeine. This is due to the many effects and applications of the drug. Let’s take a look at a few:
As mentioned previously, codeine is a drug effective in pain management and as a cough suppressant. Although the exact mechanism of action of this substance is not known, it is often prescribed to treat illnesses associated with a severe cough, such as bronchitis. Frequent coughing can cause and be caused by irritation to the throat and lungs, fueling even more coughing. By reducing the irritation, codeine cough syrup can disrupt this unpleasant cycle of symptoms and allow healing.
One of the effects of codeine use is a feeling of drowsiness. This makes it a sedative or hypnotic drug. What might be a side effect of codeine use can actually be beneficial for someone who is in pain or great discomfort and has been struggling to get rest. However, the sedative-like effect of this drug means that operating any heavy machinery is out of the question.
General Pain Relief
Codeine is used to treat various forms of pain and discomfort. In some cases, it is mixed with other pain-relieving medications to produce stronger results. Acetaminophen and aspirin are common medications used in this way.
Just like any other opioid, codeine abuse is not uncommon. Whether obtained via a prescription or illicit means, it is not difficult to abuse this drug if someone wanted to. Although you can crush and snort a tablet or inject codeine intravenously, it can also be abused in its prescribed form. When codeine is consumed, it can create what some call a “high”. If codeine is consumed in greater amounts, this high is stronger. Someone experiencing a codeine high may experience a sense of euphoria, drowsiness, and difficulty concentrating.
When codeine is abused, the risk of overdose goes up significantly. An overdose occurs when a dose great than what can be processed by the body and brain is consumed. This risk of overdose is amplified exponentially when codeine use is mixed with alcohol or other drugs. When someone overdoses, they are at risk of going into a coma, seizing, aspirating, experiencing brain damage, and even death. Learn the signs of an overdose and get help now if you or a loved one is abusing codeine or other opioid drugs.
Signs of Codeine Addiction
Codeine is an addictive drug and addiction can happen on a physical and psychological level. Someone who is using codeine to get high is likely struggling with a codeine use disorder. Additionally, someone who has developed a tolerance or dependence on codeine might continue to use it to avoid withdrawal symptoms. These are all signs of codeine addiction.
When dependence or addiction to codeine is present, detox is inevitable once use has stopped. The detox period is when the substance in question leaves the body, which happens over a period of days or weeks. As codeine is processed out of the body, the chemical balance in the body established during codeine use is once again disturbed. Hormone changes cause disruptions in multiple physiological processes and symptoms begin to present.
Symptoms of Withdrawal
Codeine withdrawal symptoms are unlikely to be solely physical and may include psychological symptoms (ie: cravings). Common symptoms include:
- Runny nose
- Lack of energy
- Muscle aches
- Increased heart rate
- Loss of appetite
- Nausea & vomiting
- Stomach Cramps
- Dilated Pupils
Codeine Withdrawal Timeline
In the instance of dependence, withdrawal symptoms can begin to set in only a few hours after the last time codeine was used. These early symptoms are the ones affecting mood, as well as sweating and insomnia. More severe symptoms may develop and worsen over the next 24-48 hours. The symptoms will likely begin to taper off between 48 and 72 hours after last use, but may persist for a week or more.
Although fatal outcomes are not common with opioid withdrawal, there are many reasons why medical detox can be beneficial. Assistance in managing the intense craving and minimizing the risk of relapse is possibly the most important benefit. Intense physical withdrawal symptoms in addition to cravings can also trigger a relapse if not managed. Luckily, there are medications that can be used to mitigate cravings and other withdrawal symptoms. Common medications used for codeine withdrawal include:
Following detox, the recovery process continues. It includes managing and long-term withdrawal symptoms and developing skills and tools for relapse prevention. Levels of care to consider following detox include long-term residential treatment, partial hospitalization, intensive outpatient, and standard outpatient treatment.
Getting Help for Codeine Addiction
The best option for overcoming any opioid addiction is getting help from a trusted addiction treatment center. At Level Up, we are experienced in treating codeine addiction, and all other opioid use disorders. Don’t hesitate to get the help you need and deserve!