Is Codeine Addictive?
Codeine is a drug that many people have heard of, but few actually understand. An opioid by definition, codeine is most often used as a treatment method for “mild to moderately severe pain.” However, the drug may be combined with other medications like acetaminophen or aspirin and is an active ingredient in prescription-strength cough medicine.
Because codeine has some name recognition and is used to treat what the average person might consider a benign condition like a cough, the threat of misuse is high. To make matters worse, a trend involving creating and consuming a codeine-rich beverage called “lean” — first popularized in the 1990s by members of the hip-hop community — continues to rage on today. For those reasons and more, many users wonder, “Is codeine addictive?” To help answer that question, we’re digging deeper into how the drug works, who is using it, why it’s so dangerous, and more.
How Does Codeine Work?
To start, it might help to go into specifics about how codeine works and how it interacts with the body. Whether used as a pain reliever or to suppress a cough, the drug is effective because it changes how your brain reacts after binding to the mu-opioid receptor. Ultimately, codeine converts to morphine to help stave off the pain. With treating cough, codeine may suppress the condition by dulling the part of the brain that triggers the cough reflex.
Who is Using Codeine?
Because codeine effectively relieves pain and helps control a cough, codeine use is widespread in the U.S. with both adolescents and adults. Sadly, even as far back as 2014, studies showed that nearly 500,000 American youth used opiates like codeine for non-medical purposes. Codeine is also sometimes consumed by users of harder drugs like heroin when they can’t access the drug they really want or to limit symptoms of withdrawal.
Is Codeine Addictive and Is It Dangerous?
As with other prescription opioids, codeine is addictive if abused or misused. Unfortunately, many people believe codeine is harmless because regulations regarding its use are not as strict as those for other legal and illicit opioids. The reality is that those who misuse codeine to cope with physical or emotional pain are at risk for dependency and addiction.
Addiction can arise from continued use of its various forms, which include tablets, capsules, suppositories, soluble powders and tablets, and liquids. Assessing the dangers of codeine use is challenging because, like many other drugs, various factors can influence the drug’s impact on the user. For example, the user’s size and health, tolerance to the drug, the amount taken, whether they are mixing the medication with other drugs or alcohol, and the method of use all play a part.
Codeine users risk encountering a litany of unwanted side effects. Some milder side effects include drowsiness, itching or rash, stomach cramps, nausea, dry mouth, and dizziness. In severe cases, like those involving an overdose, codeine users may experience shallow or difficult breathing, an inability to respond or wake up, cold and clammy skin, fainting, and a slowed heartbeat.
Over the years, groups like the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the European Medicines Agency have publicized pointed warnings regarding the importance of children with preexisting breathing concerns abstaining from using codeine. And in 2017, the FDA issued a public warning that said all children younger than 12 should avoid codeine products to treat pain or cough. In addition, the FDA warns nursing mothers using codeine can inadvertently pass on unsafe levels of the drug to infants through their breast milk.
Signs of a Codeine Addiction
Indicators that someone has developed a codeine addiction are not unlike what you might recognize in a person abusing any other drug. On the behavioral front, someone addicted to codeine is more likely to isolate themselves from friends, family, and the activities they once loved. It’s also not uncommon for someone in the throes of a codeine addiction to frequent their doctor or the ER with vague complaints of pain and manufactured stories to score their next fix. Other behavioral symptoms include talking about codeine often, poor school or work performance, drifting off during conversation, and a willingness to lie, steal or be deceitful to get more drugs.
Physically, a codeine addict may have blue-tinted lips and fingernail beds and suffer from constipation, itching, rashes, dry mouth, and fainting. This person may also struggle to maintain blood pressure, breathing, and a healthy sex drive.
Sometimes, codeine addiction can also result in a bevy of psychological symptoms, including delusions, decreased memory, hallucinations, and psychosis.
What Happens When You Quit Using Codeine?
Withdrawal is the term used to describe the body’s physical and mental reaction when someone suddenly stops using an addictive substance. Earlier, we mentioned that heroin users might turn to codeine to lessen their withdrawal symptoms because of its accessibility. And just like with heroin, abruptly quitting codeine after being addicted will likely result in withdrawal.
The codeine withdrawal experience can vary by person. Some of the more common symptoms one might encounter include insomnia, intense cravings to use codeine, digestive cramps, muscle aches, agitation, irritability, psychosis, nausea, and vomiting.
Midwest Recovery Centers Offers Safe Detox and Tailored Treatment
If you or someone you love is struggling with an addiction to codeine, we can help. The first step in the process is quitting the use of codeine with the help of our team in the Residential Detoxification Center. Here, clients have knowledgeable and specially trained healthcare professionals guiding them through detox as safely and comfortably as possible.
Once detox is complete, we invite clients to continue on their road to recovery with us by undergoing a tailored prescription drug abuse treatment program. Through tactical exercises like group therapy, individual sessions, and 12-step meetings, we help instill in clients the building blocks they need to lead a drug-free life now and in the future.
Interested in learning more? Contact us today.
Reviewed and Assessed by
Taylor Brown, B.A.Com., CADC
Tim Coleman, M. of Ed.