Codeine Addiction and Treatment Options

Codeine is an opioid prescription, typically used for pain relief and to treat colds. Abuse of codeine can lead to addiction, dependence, or even overdose.

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Codeine can be abused despite its beneficial uses when prescribed as a painkiller or a cough and cold medication. Even though codeine isn’t the strongest of opioids, abuse of it can set the stage for physical dependence, addiction, withdrawal, or overdose.

A comprehensive, individualized treatment program is key to sobriety. In an inpatient drug rehab program, an individual can work on treating both the physical and psychological addictions. This treatment includes learning the coping and relapse-prevention skills which are critical to a fully-functioning, sober life.

What Is Codeine?

Codeine is taken orally and may be offered as a capsule, tablet, or liquid solution. Codeine is a bit different from other opioids because it’s used to address concerns beyond pain relief. For this reason, it’s considered both a narcotic analgesic, or painkiller, and an antitussive (a medicine used to treat a cough).

Codeine’s pain-relieving properties derive from the way this opioid impacts your brain. The drug targets natural opioid receptors in your body and brain, changing how you react to and experience pain.

When you take codeine, the activity within your brain which is responsible for triggering fits of coughing is slowed, leading to a reduction or cessation of these symptoms. This makes codeine a useful component of a cough and cold medications. As a cough suppressant, codeine is typically used in combination with other medications.

When used to relieve concerns of mild to moderate pain, codeine can be used alone or with other pain-relieving medications. These medications are mild analgesics, like acetaminophen. Two of the most familiar of these combinations are the prescription medications Tylenol #3 and #4.

Why Do People Abuse Codeine?

Since codeine is designed to be taken orally, most abuse occurs this way. Like abuse of other opioid drugs, users either take it to self-medicate pain or to produce a euphoric state, rush, or high.

Recreational users may attempt to alter the form of the drug, believing they can speed up or increase the high. To do so they may crush and snort or inject the drug, both modes of which increase certain side effects and create new ones.

Because codeine is a cough syrup, it may be mixed with other substances and consumed to produce a buzz. Promethazine, an antihistamine frequently paired with codeine, creates a sedated state. When paired with the buzz or mild euphoria produced from codeine, this combination is attractive to certain recreational drug abusers.

Is Codeine Addictive?

Codeine is particularly dangerous because many people believe it is safer than other opioid drugs. These individuals think that since it’s an ingredient in cough syrup, it must be relatively harmless. Because Tylenol is a household name and offered in various over-the-counter drugs, some believe codeine to possess less of a threat when it’s offered within prescription Tylenol. This is not the case.

Other opioids, like Oxycodone, are more potent than codeine. Yet codeine abuse is still dangerous and may lead to addiction, and a host of adverse, drug-related health effects, including overdose.

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Codeine Abuse Can Lead To Abuse Of Stronger Opioids

Since codeine is a weaker opioid drug, some individuals may use more to compensate for the lessened effects the drug offers. These may be first-time users who are seeking an intense state of euphoria from the drug or more experienced drug users who already have some measure of tolerance to opioids.

Others may begin abusing codeine only to find that they develop a tolerance for it.

Once these individuals cannot create the pleasurable or pain-relieving effects they seek, they may move on to a stronger opioid drug, like hydrocodone (Vicodin) or oxycodone (OxyContin).

Regardless of what drives the increased dosages, greater amounts of codeine raise the risk of dependence, adverse health effects, addiction, and overdose.

Codeine Abuse Is Of Particular Concern For Teens

Though some individuals may not consider a cough medicine to be a potential drug of abuse, codeine-containing cough medications are frequently abused. This awareness is crucial information both in the prevention of future abuse and the recognition of current drug misuse and diversion.

Though it can occur at any age, youth and teens are particularly prone to codeine abuse, largely due to the way this form of abuse has been highlighted by pop culture icons and music in the past. When used this way, codeine-containing cough syrup is mixed into soda or even alcohol, a beverage referred to as “lean,” “purple drank” (when mixed with alcohol), or “sizzurp.”

Drug abuse is especially problematic and dangerous within this age group. Teenagers face heightened amounts of peer pressure. Due to their underdeveloped brain, they are more apt to make poor decisions which place them in harm’s way.

Because teenagers’ brains are still developing, drug abuse can damage the brain, in some instances leading to long-term damage. Youth who abuse drugs are more likely to develop an addiction later in life.

Codeine Abuse Hits Your Organs Hard

Whenever you use a drug, your body, brain, and multiple organ systems can be adversely affected. With codeine abuse, the effects on your organs are of even greater concern.

The acetaminophen in abused quantities of Tylenol #3 and #4 can hit your liver very hard. This damage can culminate in acute liver failure, organ transplant, or death. Many drug abusers use multiple drugs at once or within a close period of time. Consuming alcohol (even moderate quantities) with codeine increases the risk of these dangerous effects.

According to the DailyMed, a threat of injury generally occurs at doses greater than 4,000 mg, amounts which are frequently met or exceeded within patterns of abuse. High doses of acetaminophen may also damage your kidneys.

Can You Overdose On Codeine?

Yes. As an opioid, codeine depresses your central nervous system, ushering in overdose symptoms which could be deadly if left untreated. If codeine is abused with alcohol, benzodiazepines, or other central nervous system depressants the risk of fatal overdose increases.

Signs of a codeine overdose may include:

  • Breathing troubles
  • Cold, clammy skin
  • Decreased heartbeat
  • Decreased muscle tone
  • Dizziness
  • Extreme drowsiness
  • Unconsciousness

For abusers of Tylenol #3 and #4, this risk is two-fold. Beyond the overdose potential of the codeine alone lies the risk of overdose from acetaminophen. Signs of this include:

  • Coma
  • Convulsions
  • Diarrhea
  • Irritability
  • Jaundice
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Stomach pain and discomfort
  • Suppressed appetite
  • Sweating

An overdose from acetaminophen may occur from one dose, excessive doses, or over time, which is referred to as a chronic overdose. According to the U.S. Pharmacist, this “occurs as a result of repeated doses at or above the recommended limit,” something which could easily occur within patterns of drug abuse.

If overdose is suspected, contact emergency medical support immediately. This medical intervention could save a life.

What Are The Signs Of Codeine Abuse And Addiction?

Physical Signs Of Abuse

Physical signs of codeine abuse can tip you off to a potential drug problem. These may include:

  • Difficulty thinking
  • Impaired coordination
  • Trouble speaking properly
  • Unexplained drowsiness
  • Variable moods

Some individuals may experience a strong, adverse reaction to the drug, which in the worst case may cause confusion, agitation, and even hallucinations.

The more a person abuses a drug, the greater the effects on their body and brain. With habitual use the systems which regulate a person’s physical functions become reliant on the drug (a dependency).

Once a person is physically dependent, they will likely find that they no longer experience the high or rush they previously experienced with codeine. This is called a tolerance. During this time, a person’s life becomes increasingly driven by cravings. As casual abuse accelerates into addiction, these urges become so intense that a person can think of little else.

To overcome tolerance, to feed cravings, and to reduce symptoms of withdrawal caused by dependence, a person will continue to seek out and use codeine. While dependence, tolerance, and withdrawal may accompany some forms of prescribed use, when accompanied by cravings and the behavioral cues that follow, they are facets of addiction.

Behavioral Signs Of Abuse

When a person chronically abuses a drug it begins to take center stage within their life. What once made them feel happy, fulfilled, or involved in their loved one’s lives no longer seems important or feels unattainable.

The following are behavioral signs of codeine abuse:

  • Career, educational, or family difficulties
  • Continued use of the drug even though it’s causing harm to their mind and body
  • “Doctor shopping” to increase access to the medication
  • Hiding or hoarding the drug
  • Inability to stop taking the drug or reduce the dosage, despite attempts to do so
  • Lying about drug use
  • Alienation from loved ones
  • Loss of interest in activities or hobbies
  • Stealing the drug from a loved one, or purchasing it from strangers
  • Using a personal prescription in a way other than prescribed

If you’re uncertain about how to best support your loved one during this time, let us help.

Codeine Withdrawal And Treatment

In a physically-dependent state, a person’s body reacts harshly to the sudden absence or drastic reduction of codeine. This is called withdrawal, and may include the following symptoms:

  • Achy muscles
  • Anxiety
  • Chills
  • Enlarged pupils
  • Irritability
  • Quickened breathing
  • Restlessness
  • A runny nose
  • Sleep difficulties
  • Stomach pain
  • Watery eyes
  • Yawning

Withdrawal can become intolerable, and at times painful.

Chronic users often require a medical detox to address these states. A medical detox treats the physical addiction, reducing or alleviating these and other symptoms. Medication-assisted treatments may utilize buprenorphine (Suboxone, Subutex, and Zubsolv) or methadone to reduce the sometimes debilitating effects of withdrawal.

The primary physical effects of the drug abuse may be treated during medically-supervised detox, but the deep-reaching mental and emotional effects linger. Continuing to an inpatient drug rehab program will provide a safe and stable environment where the psychological addiction can be treated.

Inpatient Drug Rehab For Codeine Addiction

Inpatient treatment is typically the best option for moderate to severe cases of addiction. Outpatient treatment doesn’t offer full protection from harmful external triggers which could trigger a relapse, nor does it offer the intensity of treatment offered in a residential setting.

Inpatient treatment gives you more time to be immersed in the healing and personal growth which is foundational to a solid recovery. Within this space, you’ll learn to uproot any negative thoughts, emotions, or behaviors which may be contributing to the addiction.

In their place, you’ll develop coping, interpersonal, and relapse prevention skills so that you can heal and succeed on a mental, emotional, spiritual, and social level, both during and after treatment.

Don’t Let Codeine Addiction Start A Downward Spiral In Your Life

You don’t have to face addiction alone. Our confidential assessment can get you started on the path to a sober, brighter future. Contact today.

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