Codeine has been recognized as the best available cough suppressant partnered with a moderate pain reliever. This, however, has opened the medication up to a wide range of abuse.
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What is Codeine?
Codeine is an Opioid used to relieve mild to moderate pain and to reduce coughing. It can be taken as a tablet, but it is also found in prescription cough syrups and other stronger medicine. Though it is considerably weaker than most other Opioids, it works the same way in the brain, inhibiting connections in pain receptors to stifle the body’s reaction. Codeine can stifle coughing by affecting the part of the brain that triggers the body to cough.
Due to its “proven” effectiveness, Codeine has come to be considered as the “gold standard” for prescriptions. However, recent studies show Codeine’s effects are more limited than they were originally perceived and may more often work as a placebo. Despite this, Codeine is still widely prescribed across the United States as a quick go-to medication.
As a cough suppressant, Codeine is typically an ingredient in some over-the-counter and stronger, prescription cough syrups. However, Codeine is only a cough “suppressant” and so the issue causing the cough will not be treated. Some doctors even believe that using a cough suppressant such as Codeine could make the issue worse, as the body is trying to clear some kind of obstruction from the airways.
Effects of Codeine Use
Using Codeine, as with any prescription, comes with its own side effects, these include:
- Dizziness or drowsiness
- Nausea and vomiting
- Stomach pain
- Mild itching or rash
Despite it being weaker than other pain relievers, and many falsely assuming they can’t be addicted to it, someone can overdose on Codeine. Symptoms of overdose are:
- Bluish lips or skin
- Chest pain or discomfort
- Constricted, pinpoint, or small pupils (black part of the eye)
- Decreased awareness or responsiveness
- Extreme sleepiness or unusual drowsiness
- Slow or irregular heartbeat
When Codeine is broken down, it releases its metabolite, Morphine. This is what actually causes the effects of Codeine. While uncommon, (13% of the total population), there are people who are unable to metabolize Codeine as intended, the majority of which can’t break it down. This means that Codeine won’t affect them, and they need to switch to a different medication. The rest over-metabolize Codeine, releasing too much Morphine. This can increase the chance of toxicity in the body.
Though not nearly as addictive as other prescription drugs, Codeine is habit forming, and should only be taken as a doctor prescribes. Because of how much weaker it is, there is a popular misconception that those prescribed can’t develop a dependence. However, the drug is derived from Morphine and affects the same areas of the brain as other Opioids, making it addictive. The risk of addiction rises during long-term Codeine prescriptions, which can last up to several months. It is common for doctors to increase the dose for a patient as they build up a tolerance to Codeine’s effects. This is the first stage of unknowingly developing an addiction.
Despite the fact that it is weaker than most Opioids, someone recovering from an addiction to Codeine will still likely face the challenges of withdrawal. Withdrawal occurs because the body has become so accustomed to the presence of Codeine that it can no longer function “normally” without it. When the drug is no longer present, the body’s system struggle to adapt. These can begin as soon as a few hours after the last dose and can include, but are not limited to:
- Yawning and restlessness
- Perspiration and/or chills
- Backache, joint pain, and weakness
- Abdominal cramps
- Nausea and vomiting, and/or diarrhea
- Increased blood pressure, respiratory rate, and heart rate.
These symptoms of withdrawal can apply a lot of pressure on someone suffering from addiction to relapse, especially without medical assistance to manage the pain. Checking into a clinic and seeking assistance in recovery can be invaluable in achieving sobriety.
Get Help Today!
If you, or someone you know, have turned to abusing Codeine then please reach out today. There are dedicated treatment specialists ready to help. All you need to do is contact one now.
Last Edited: April 25, 2018
- About the author
Bolser, Donald C; Davenport, Paul W. (2007). Codeine and Cough: An Ineffective Gold Standard. Retrieved March 26th 2018 from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2921574/
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Drummer, Olaf. (2016). Weekly Dose: Codeine Doesn’t Work for Some People, and Works Too Well for Others. Retrieved March 26th 2018 from https://theconversation.com/weekly-dose-codeine-doesnt-work-for-some-people-and-works-too-well-for-others-58067
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