12 Minutes

Edited & medically reviewed by THE BALANCE Team
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Is codeine addiction something to worry about? How common is it? To answer your question, let’s just refer to this fact: In 2014-2015, 2 million Americans admitted that they abused codeine. Can you imagine what the statistics must be by now? It was only because their bodies developed codeine tolerance that they moved on to abuse other opioid narcotics. But, the question is, what is codeine actually? Why was it so easily available that 2 million people in the US abused it? 

You see, codeine is an opioid drug; a painkiller. However, it has also shown some properties of suppressing cough. It is for this reason that codeine was added to cough syrups and became extremely easy to reach and abuse for adolescents who were beginning to experience the euphoric high that opioids could trigger. There must be a million questions just running around and colliding in your head. Does codeine have opiates in it? Can you get high on codeine? What does codeine do to the body? How addictive is codeine actually? 

A bunch of colored pills.

Codeine has always been a precursor or a “lead-on” to heroin addiction. 

For this reason, it did not take long for codeine to become categorized under Schedule III drugs. Meaning that its addition and doses in cough syrups were highly regulated and controlled. 

So, is codeine a prescription drug now? Well, yes. Codeine pills, used as painkillers, are prescription drugs. 

Being an opioid, codeine is administered orally. As a Central Nervous System depressant, it enters into the body and immediately changes into morphine – yet another opioid. 

The effects of a codeine high present within 30 minutes as extreme euphoria, pleasure, happiness, drowsiness, and a coiling feeling of calmness. 

Read Also: The Dangers of mixing Clonidine and Alcohol

Codeine, at times, is often referred to as a “weak opioid.” Unfortunately, this popular fact is extremely inaccurate. Codeine is a potent drug. Its direct conversion into morphine – a highly addictive drug – is exemplary of what codeine can do to the body. 

Remember, codeine is an opioid narcotic. It will not do justice to your body. Like every other narcotic, the addiction potential of codeine is enough to submerge your life into an endless nightmare. 

You know, the fact about codeine addiction is that it does not arise out of the blue. To become addicted, you have to abuse the drug willingly. 

Even though codeine has medicinal properties, it is, to date, abused roughly by youngsters. Instead of starting on a much more potent drug like Fentanyl, the drug culture of our world guides adolescents, to begin with something “less and small,” which, apparently, is codeine. 

Once codeine drug abuse begins, it is impossible to fight off the physical codeine dependence and tolerance that a person experiences. If abuse is continued, it transforms into a codeine addiction. 

Codeine is abused in two ways: Recreationally and medicinally. 

From the perspective of 18 years old individuals, Codeine is a gateway to social popularity. For this reason, recreational codeine abuse constitutes mixing the drug with alcoholic or non-alcoholic beverages. This recreational liquid codeine drink has several names like lean, purple drank, and sizzurp. 

Liquid codeine cough syrups, when combined with another CNS depressant like alcohol tend to give rise to a much longer and stronger high. Recreational abusers tend to use other pain pills with codeine, as well. 

Related: Sleeping Pills Abuse

However, both the aforementioned practices are wildly dangerous. This is because codeine tends to cause the nervous system to slow down. When mixed with drugs that have the same effects as codeine (Benzodiazepines, sleeping aids, alcohol, pain pills, and so on), the risk of overdose can climb up several notches. 

And can codeine kill you? 

To be fair, when it is abused in a way that makes it extremely toxic for your body, liquid codeine can kill you for sure. 

Medicinally, codeine pills are abused by crushing and snorting. People who use prescription codeine might find its effects dulling down with each subsequent use. 

To increase its painkilling properties, they might resort to such methods. After all, pain makes people do strange things. 

Despite the way of codeine abuse, the effects of a codeine high can cause immense drowsiness. In many cases, it can lead to depressed breathing, low cognition, and unconsciousness. 

Note: Even if you intake codeine in higher-than-recommended doses to “enhance” its effects, know that you are still a drug abuser. 

As far as codeine drug abuse symptoms are concerned, they are largely similar to the signs and symptoms of codeine addiction. 

But, before we get to it, let’s take a look at what codeine does to the body. 

No matter the extent to which the drug community denies the toxic effects of codeine on the body, it is important for us to equate them so that you are familiar with the whole deal. 

You see, people who abuse codeine might have several reasons to do so. They might be in search of relieving their physical – or even emotional – pain; they might be looking to surpass their mental health disorder; they might be trying to achieve euphoria and pleasure that they cannot experience otherwise. 

Either way, they will be subjected to several adverse physical effects of codeine. The immediate side effects of the opioid, codeine, are:

  • Stomach cramps
  • Diarrhea or constipation
  • Nausea
  • Dizziness
  • Dry mouth
  • Low blood pressure
  • Blurred or tunnel vision
  • Seizures

Additional short-term codeine abuse symptoms can include:

  • Shallow breathing
  • Frequent urination
  • Headache
  • Dilated pupils
  • Short attention span
  • Mood swings
  • Agitation
  • Allergy
  • Decreased libido
  • Flushing
  • Itching skin
  • Coordination problems

If you indulge in extensive codeine pills high and abuse them for more than 6-9 months, the long-term side effects of codeine on the body will begin to manifest. 

Long-term physical effects of codeine include:

  • Memory deficits
  • Anxiety
  • Fatigue
  • Kidney damage
  • Liver damage
  • Muscle spasms

In severe cases, death can occur. 

However, recognizing the signs of codeine over-consumption is extremely crucial. Remember that the effects of a codeine high are the same as that of alcohol intoxication. A person who begins to slur words, displays a lack of coordination while feeling dizzy represents the signature attitude of codeine intoxication. 

The first and foremost risk factor for codeine addiction is codeine drug abuse. The development of codeine dependence is an alarming sign. By the time people understand the concept of codeine tolerance, they are already 12 feet deep into the process of addiction. 

At this point, quitting codeine becomes impossible because of its withdrawal symptoms. 

Additional risk factors for codeine addiction and dependence include:

  1. Unresolved trauma: People who experience grief tend to resort to drug abuse with the assistance of opioids that are easily accessible. 
  2. A family history of addiction: History of addiction gets scribbled onto the genetic composition. If a parent was an addict, the children might become more prone to falling prey to codeine addiction. 
  3. The frequent availability of codeine pain pills within the vicinity of the home: For adolescents who are surrounded by frequent opioid users, it is easy to access the drug without much of a hassle. 
  4. Environmental factors like peer pressure or stress: It is not uncommon for youngsters to become subjected to peer pressure. Sheer lack of willpower and the determination to “prove” yourself are fire to fuel. 
  5. Early exposure to addictive drugs: In the UK, the US, Canada, and so forth, the drug culture is at its peak. For this reason, it is fairly common for regular high school parties to become playgrounds for drug addicts. Purple drank is a common drink in such cultures. 

A person struggling with codeine addiction shows the following signs and symptoms: 

Note: Codeine abuse symptoms and addiction symptoms represent in the same manner. 

  • Going “doctor shopping” to acquire multiple codeine prescriptions.
  • Buying codeine illegally. 
  • Faking codeine prescriptions.
  • Stealing codeine pills or prescriptions from other people.
  • Become isolated from family and friends. 
  • Lying about codeine abuse. 
  • Consuming the drug in a compulsive manner, without being considerate of the consequences. 
  • Trying to but not being able to quit codeine.
  • Combining codeine with alcohol or other pain pills. 
  • Experiencing codeine withdrawal symptoms upon not consuming the drug. 

Note: The aforementioned codeine addiction symptoms are warning signs. Look out for them and save your loved ones from a life-threatening codeine addiction in time. 

Is it normal to experience codeine withdrawal? Well, codeine abuse leads to its dependence and the other half of codeine dependence is withdrawal. 

In many cases, codeine withdrawal symptoms are loaded with discomfort, while in some cases, they can be excruciatingly painful. 

So, the verdict is that a codeine-dependent person will definitely experience withdrawal when not consuming the drug. 

After all, withdrawal from codeine is the body’s way of saying that it has become habitual to work in the presence of the opioid codeine. 

To prevent themselves from witnessing the cruel withdrawal symptoms of codeine, people often replace it with stronger drugs like Vicodin, heroin, fentanyl, etc. 

Now, many of the signs of lean withdrawal represent as symptoms of flu. Besides that, the following symptoms of codeine detox can also cause severe discomfort:

  • Diarrhea
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Profuse sweating
  • Teary eyes
  • Goosebumps
  • Runny nose
  • Anxiety
  • Agitation
  • Restlessness and nervousness
  • Cravings for the drug
  • Inability to concentrate
  • Depression
  • Insomnia
  • Light-headedness
  • Irregular heart rate
  • Stomach aches
  • Muscle weakness

Codeine Withdrawal Timeline

As far as the codeine withdrawal timeline is concerned, there is no specific demarcation. The flu-like symptoms and physical effects of withdrawal can last for about 7 days. 

The behavioral symptoms, on the other hand, have the ability to last for months even after your cravings for codeine have subsided. 

Depression and anxiety can often turn into chronic mental health conditions. 

Overall, there is no saying as to how long your codeine withdrawal and detoxification will last. The symptoms can last between 1 week and 1 month. 

However, the extent of your withdrawal timeline will depend on the severity of your addiction to codeine. 

There are two things that doctors often advise against when it comes to codeine withdrawal. First off, a person should not opt for a home withdrawal. 

You see, codeine withdrawal can be intense. The emotions can blast out of control, while your body betrays you. 

You might feel like you are about to be deceased. And, even though codeine withdrawal does not prove fatal, it requires 24/7 medical attention. 

Secondly, doctors advise that codeine should not be quit cold turkey. Abruptly ceasing the use of codeine can often lead to worse complications. 

The process of withdrawal is extremely difficult for people to traverse through alone. For this reason, the company of medical professionals can make the journey easier for you and your loved ones.

Note: Cravings for codeine can last for months after withdrawal. Managing your cravings will require coping strategies that you can only develop under the supervision of medical professionals. 

You see, codeine does not remain within the system for more than 24 hours. For this reason, the doses of codeine are well-regulated in the patients who have been prescribed the drug, which is the right protocol for the prevention of overdose. 

The normal dose of codeine is 30-60 mg every four hours. 

But the question is, how much codeine is too much? 

With codeine, the point of no return is reached when people consume more than 250-280 mg of the drug within 24 hours or if they consume a fairly large amount of codeine with pain pills and/or alcohol. 

The most common risk factor to reach this stage is codeine abuse. For people who are addicted to codeine, it is fairly easy to go overboard with the consumption of the drug and barge into the territory of codeine poisoning.  

You see, even a single overdose of codeine can lead to death. 

But, even if you do not consume an amount large enough to be fatal, there are multiple consequences of “OD-ing” that can lead to the destruction of your brain and body. These include:

  • Brain injury
  • Liver failure
  • Kidney failure
  • Seizures
  • Pulmonary edema
  • Skeletal muscle breakdown

For the sake of avoiding the aforementioned consequences of codeine overdose, make sure to call for help as soon as you observe the following symptoms of overdose:

  • A blue tint to the skin and nails
  • Cold skin
  • Decreased heart rate
  • Depressed breathing
  • Low blood pressure
  • Drowsiness
  • Fatigue
  • Loss of consciousness
  • Weak pulse
  • Weakness
  • Loss of coordination
  • Confusion
  • Delirium

Note: Look out for these symptoms if you are suspicious that your loved ones are addicted to codeine. They might be inches away from overdosing.

Now, the reasons for codeine abuse can vary from person to person. But, does the way of abuse vary? Well, not so much. 

Whether it is through a crushing and snorting ritual or a wicked brew of purple drank, codeine abuse can be extremely dangerous. 

The immediate and short-term adverse effects of codeine are enough to cause enough discomfort to the abuser. 

But, the long-term effects are not only discomforting; they are also dangerous. Liver damage, kidney damage, pancreatitis, jaundice, and so forth, are all life-threatening medical conditions. 

Codeine addiction is a one-way ticket to a destructive life. The withdrawal symptoms of codeine might scare you now. However, once you are past the first week of withdrawal, you will get the surge of motivation that you long for. 

Prevent yourself from becoming a subject to codeine addiction complications and lean overdose because of the “drug culture” that you are deeply buried in. 

Help yourself. Make a vow to change your life today. Codeine addiction does not have to be your gateway to death. 



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