Codeine Abuse and Addiction Treatment Options
Codeine is a prescription opiate designed to relieve various types of mild to moderate body pain. It’s a relatively gentle opioid, but it produces calming effects and a sense of relaxation and euphoria that makes it popular for use as a recreational drug. Prescription painkillers like codeine are at the root of the devastating opioid crisis in the U.S. Codeine is effective at treating pain and is safe to take short-term at the prescribed amount, but, as an opioid, it also comes with many potential dangers.
What is codeine abuse? And what does codeine addiction recovery look like? Codeine is an opioid medication prescribed to treat moderate pain and coughing. It’s been used for centuries to manage pain, but recently has become a drug of choice for addicts along with other opioids.
Opiates like codeine lend themselves to abuse because they offer such powerful relief from pain, but it also provides a pleasurable euphoric sensation when taken in higher doses.
Codeine is the most commonly used opioid medication, but its use remains controversial. It has a strong potential for misuse and can lead to the use of even stronger illegal drugs. If you or a loved one is experiencing a problem with codeine abuse, seeking treatment is the first step on your path to recovery.
Can You Get Addicted to Codeine?
Opiates like codeine are considered highly addictive due to the powerful effects they have on users. While many people do find that codeine is helpful for relieving chronic pain, codeine abuse can lead to addiction and other severe health and interpersonal problems.
Many people who are prescribed codeine for pain develop a tolerance to the drug and need higher and higher doses to achieve pain relief. This can easily lead to addiction. People might also abuse prescriptions or obtain the drug illegally to experience the euphoria and high it provides.
Because it is a mild painkiller, it is also considered a gateway drug that can lead people to abuse heavier and more potent narcotics to experience stronger effects. Many people who are addicted to codeine also start to use other drugs, such as benzodiazepines, OxyContin, or heroin, which can offer a more intense high. Using other drugs increases the risk of serious adverse consequences.
Codeine addiction is a serious affliction that can cause suffering and pain for everyone involved.
What Is Codeine?
Codeine is a medication prescribed by doctors to help people manage pain. It is also sometimes used as a cough suppressant. Codeine is usually considered an opiate, rather than an opioid, but people often confuse the difference between the two. Opiates are a natural substance that comes directly from the poppy plant. Opioids are synthetic substances designed to mimic the effects of opiates. Both types of painkillers are dangerous and addictive.
People using codeine-based medications long-term to manage pain without a prescription have reported having issues, such as withdrawal symptoms when stopping or reducing use, as well as symptoms of lightheadedness, confusion, and lethargy while taking it.
Codeine is not as potent as other opiates like oxycodone, but does have similar effects when taken in high doses. The chemical structure of codeine is similar to much stronger drugs, such as morphine and hydrocodone, and it produces similar effects on the body. Codeine is usually combined with other medications and used for pain relief, as a cough suppressant, and in some migraine medications. It is only intended for short-term use.
Codeine usually starts to take effect in 30 minutes and lasts around 4 to 6 hours. It works as a central nervous system depressant, slowing down the body’s functioning and dulling its reaction to pain. It also decreases activity in the area of the brain that regulates coughing.
There is a misconception that codeine is a weak drug, but this isn’t true. Codeine metabolizes into morphine in the body, which can depress breathing in the body. This can cause severe organ damage or, in some cases, fatality. For these reasons, in 2017, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) declared codeine no longer appropriate for patients under the age of 18.
Cough syrups and other medication containing codeine have been taken off shelves and restricted to sales from behind the counter at the pharmacy. Some medications are available only by prescription.
Many countries have begun monitoring how many products containing codeine customers purchase within a given time. These restraints are meant to cut down on codeine abuse. In the U.S., legal restrictions vary depending on the concentration of codeine in the medication. Cough syrups might fall under either a Schedule III or Schedule V classification, depending on the formula.
Tylenol 3 and Tylenol 4 are prescription medications that contain codeine and acetaminophen, or Tylenol. Tylenol 3 contains 30 mg of codeine and Tylenol 4 contains 60 mg. Tuzistra XR is another medication with a combination of promethazine and codeine. It is a cough syrup prescribed to treat runny noses and other allergy or cold symptoms. Fioricet with codeine and Phrenilin with codeine and caffeine are prescription medications used to treat migraine headaches.
How Is Codeine Consumed or Used?
Codeine is combined with different medications, such as acetaminophen in Tylenol 3, guaifenesin in Robitussin AC, and promethazine in prescription cough syrup. The varieties of codeine prescription medications like these come in either pill form, liquid form, or both. There is also an injectable version of codeine, which is less common.
The most popular form of codeine use is drinking cough syrup. This has become increasingly popular over the last decade, and people often refer to it as “Robo shots” or “Purple Drank.” It can be swallowed directly or mixed with sodas or other beverages.
In pill form, codeine can be swallowed whole or broken into smaller doses. Some people crush the pills into a fine powder and snort it. This causes the medication to enter the bloodstream more quickly and produces a faster, more intense high. Injecting codeine also produces an immediate onset of effects.
What Are the Risks and Causes of Codeine Abuse?
Addiction to any kind of opiate can happen very quickly – and it’s often very difficult to overcome. This varies greatly depending on the individual. Some people are more prone to addiction than others for various reasons. Also, some people have a body chemistry that can break down drugs faster than others.
Opioids have been around for a long time and there is much research available on how to treat addiction to these drugs.
When swallowed, codeine is passed through the liver, which converts it to morphine. The morphine then binds to opioid receptors all over the body. This causes a surge of dopamine in the brain, which produces a kind of euphoria. Because it has painkilling characteristics, it can also make a person feel drowsy and sedated, as well as experience a tingling or numb feeling in the body.
Codeine is a risky drug because doctors often prescribe it more readily than other, stronger opiates. People can visit a few different doctors and obtain prescriptions for codeine even if they don’t need them. This practice is called “doctor shopping.”
Getting codeine prescriptions and having a constant supply can easily lead people onto a path of addiction. Once a person is addicted, they will experience withdrawal symptoms once they try to stop using the drug. Using codeine for a prolonged period is very risky and increases the chances of developing dependency and addiction.
Codeine abuse can wreak havoc on a person’s life. If the body gets used to taking a drug to feel happy or relaxed, then it starts to get harder and harder to feel these ways without the drug. Codeine can be chronically abused and many people have overdosed on it, which can cause serious organ damage and even death. Taking codeine medication together with alcohol or other drugs can be extremely dangerous and even lethal.
What Are the Signs and Symptoms of Codeine Abuse?
A person who is abusing codeine has a high risk of developing a tolerance to it. This increases the risk of addiction. Friends and family might notice that the individual is taking codeine more often than prescribed or without a prescription. Most people who develop a codeine addiction began using it with a legitimate prescription. However, since the drug is usually only prescribed for a short period, they might seek it out illegally or look for other opioids on the street to stave off withdrawal symptoms and maintain their addiction.
Escalating use from prescription medications to buying illicit drugs is very dangerous. Opioids are also often laced with many different substances, including heroin, cocaine, ecstasy, and fentanyl. Fentanyl is known for causing thousands of overdoses and deaths.
Some symptoms of codeine abuse may include:
- Weight loss
- Respiratory problems
- GI problems
Many of the signs and symptoms associated with codeine abuse are typical of many drug addicts. You might find that they display behavior that seems markedly out of character for them, such as skipping work or school or suffering in performance. They might exhibit secretive behavior, such as isolating themselves, lying about where they are going, keeping doors closed and locked, sneaking out of the house, etc.
In active addiction, it’s common for people to shift social groups or find friends who also abuse substances. Some people distance themselves from their current friends and family. Major financial troubles are a possible sign of drug abuse, which happens often when a person spends too much money on substances. These can all be signs of a possible codeine addiction.
What Are the Long-Term Effects of Codeine Abuse?
When a person abuses codeine, the positive effects it produces initially start to lessen. They are often replaced with unwanted side effects and symptoms of addiction. Some effects of long-term codeine abuse include:
- Dry mouth
- Low blood pressure
- Mood swings
- Flushing or itching
- Memory impairment
- Muscle spasms
- Kidney and liver damage
Long-term use of codeine in high doses can have effects similar to alcohol. People might have trouble with balance and coordination, slur their speech, nod off, or even pass out. These are all signs that a person has consumed too much codeine.
What Are the Signs and Symptoms of Codeine Withdrawal?
All opioids are known for having a painful physical withdrawal. Opioids can cause physical and psychological addiction after just a few uses. This means that the individual has built up a tolerance to the drug and has developed a dependence on it. It is actually very dangerous to suddenly stop using codeine once a person is dependent on it. The withdrawal symptoms that codeine abuse causes can put the body in an extreme state of duress and lead to harmful consequences.
Some of the initial symptoms of codeine withdrawal include:
- Heavy sweating
- Insomnia or sleep disruptions
- Irritability or mood swings
- Achy joints and muscles
- High blood pressure
- Quickened pulse and heart rate
The further into withdrawal a person gets, the more intense withdrawal can become. The initial symptoms might turn into nausea and vomiting, full-body chills, fever, sleeplessness, and more.
When people experience uncomfortable symptoms like this, many relapse into using codeine again to find relief. Although codeine can temporarily calm these symptoms, they will quickly return the next time a person stops using. It is helpful to gradually taper down the use of codeine, either with a doctor or in a medically supervised detox program.
If withdrawal is very severe, seizures can even lead to coma or death. Because this condition can be life-threatening, it is crucial to seek professional help. This ensures that withdrawal is a safe experience, lessening the chances of relapse.
What Are Treatment Options for Codeine Abuse?
There is plenty of help available if you or a loved one are struggling with codeine addiction.
The first step in treating codeine addiction is detox. Once a person becomes physically or psychologically addicted to codeine, the safest way to stop using the drug is under the supervision of professionals. A physician will work to evaluate individuals to learn about their history of substance use. This helps the doctor understand how long a person has been using a drug, what amount they typically consume, and other critical information that determines the detox process.
The goal of treatment is to get a sense of your individual concerns, struggles, and goals, and to help develop healthy alternatives to using codeine. Inpatient rehab usually combines several different therapies and types of support, including cognitive behavioral therapy, motivational interviewing, and 12-step support groups. These are all designed to help you explore underlying issues, change patterns of behavior, and cope with stress more effectively.
If you or someone you know needs help stopping the use of codeine or another substance, it’s important to seek help. Contact Zinnia Health at (855) 430-9439 to learn more about substance abuse recovery.