Codeine is a prescribed opiate medicine used to relieve mild to moderate pain in individuals, and you can easily find it in cough syrups and tablets to ease the symptoms of chronic or long-term pain and cough. Unfortunately, though codeine helps relieve the symptoms and create a feeling of euphoria or relaxation, it can also lead to codeine abuse. Used for centuries as a short-acting analgesic to manage pain, codeine has become the drug of choice for many. In fact, the UK has significantly more high-risk opioid users than any other country, with 8.4 users per 1000.

codeine addiction

In addition to pain relief, higher doses of opiates can cause a euphoric sensation. It happens when opiates enter the central nervous system and release pleasurable hormones by activating the brain’s reward system. And the feeling of craving the intake of codeine in the body is called an addiction. Also, like any other substance use disorder, codeine abuse leads to devastating health and interpersonal problems. Codeine is an addictive opiate that may cause withdrawal symptoms due to abstinence. If you or someone around you is struggling with codeine misuse, learn more about signs of codeine addiction to take an informed decision.

Side Effects of Codeine

As mentioned above, codeine acts on the central nervous system for pain relief and drinking alcohol or using drugs that affects the central nervous system can worsen codeine’s effects. Common side effects of codeine include:

  • Trouble sleeping
  • Drowsiness
  • Dizziness
  • Poor concentration
  • Unusual dreams

When an individual uses codeine regularly, they are at a high risk of developing tolerance within a short time. In addition, its opiate effect increases the potential of an individual to misuse codeine, resulting in addiction.

Codeine addiction is a severe disorder that affects an individual personally and physically. In other words, like any opioid disorder, codeine addiction may lead to adverse health and interpersonal problems. For example, a person with codeine addiction might be seen ignoring commitments and responsibilities, unexplainably skipping school or work, and avoiding problems. In addition, how they conceal their codeine use from their loved ones may increase feelings of shame, isolation, guilt, and secrecy.

7 Signs of Codeine Addiction

We described symptoms and signs of codeine addiction to look for in an individual to get them the proper treatment options include the following:

1. Increased Tolerance

Like opiates like oxycodone and heroin, codeine is potent in its action and effects. In fact, even under the prescribed doses, one can get addicted to codeine. Even in the data from National Drug Treatment System, codeine was the primary and secondary drug for 2.2% of clients in the UK. Also, many individuals become tolerant to the mild effects of opiates who misuse or abuse codeine frequently and begin to abuse more potent opiates to achieve more significant highs. Codeine tolerance can develop quickly, causing the individual to require drugs in high amounts to get the same effect.

2. Withdrawal Symptoms When Not Using Codeine

Codeine withdrawal is dangerous and painful. According to medical sciences, codeine is an opiate that causes pupils to constrict and dilated pupils are one of the main symptoms of withdrawal. According to several studies, common codeine withdrawal symptoms include the following:

  • Diarrhoea
  • Sweating
  • Fever
  • Body aches
  • Vomiting
  • Tremors
  • Trouble sleeping
  • Runny nose
  • Anxiety
  • Nausea
  • Stomach cramps

When codeine addiction develops, the body and brain adapt to the drug’s constant presence and find it difficult to function normally without it. So, when a person stops taking codeine, it leads to unpleasant codeine withdrawal symptoms. Hence, before attempting withdrawal on your own, it is crucial to check in with a medical care provider. They will help you reduce the codeine prescribed doses gradually instead of stopping the intake immediately.

3. Using Other Drugs

Codeine affects the body the same way as any other opioid would. According to a recent study, it is also found that frequent prescription opiate-dependent users are more likely to switch to heroin. To put this into perspective, most opiate users start using other substances to counter their withdrawal. It may be referred to as “cross-addiction”, where people seek out and use other substances due to addiction.

Though codeine is converted to morphine in the body, it is only 8-12% powerful than pure morphine. And if a person develops tolerance to codeine, they may use other more potent drugs to achieve the same euphoric high as before. Most people with codeine abuse problems may switch to other drugs, such as:

  • Xanax
  • Alcohol
  • Heroin
  • Oxycontin
  • Fentanyl

Codeine abuse is referred to as both physical and mental dependency. Hence, medical intervention in combination with behavioural therapy services is recommended to treat codeine addiction.

4. Dry Mouth

Other codeine addiction sign that indicates a high dosage of codeine in individuals involves extreme thirst and dry mouth. While dry mouth is an uncomfortable symptom of various medications, codeine effects can also be seen by slowing down essential bodily functions like heartbeat, digestion, breathing, and saliva production. Also, chronic use of codeine reduces saliva production, leading to dry mouth.

5. Irregular Appetite and Nausea

Nausea is one of the common signs of codeine addiction. Some people also experience nausea after withdrawal or as a codeine side effect. And people end up taking more codeine to alleviate nausea, worsening the addiction cycle. Nausea, in combination with dizziness and light-headedness, also results from slowed gastrointestinal motility. Even according to a study by PLOS ONE, the exact mechanism of opioid-induced nausea is unclear, but the drug may affect the semi-circular canal in the ear. These canals are fluid-filled tubes responsible for balance, and any disturbance can cause a mismatch, resulting in nausea and potentially vomiting.

Other signs of codeine addiction include:

  • Constipation
  • Itching
  • Slowed breathing
  • Changes in vision
  • Mood swings
  • Decreased appetite
  • Drowsiness

6. Development of Health Issues

Lung infections, sleep disorders, brain damage, and irregular heart rate are some health conditions people may develop due to prolonged codeine addiction. While the presence of these conditions indicates an unhealthy relationship with codeine, if more than one condition persists, it can be hazardous. Also, if you have increased your dosage of codeine over time without any medical reason, there are chances that you have developed an addiction.

Other codeine effects include skipping meals, using alcohol or marijuana, and lying about regular codeine usage. These effects are a sign of a more significant problem or that you have a potential codeine addiction.

7. Itching

The use of opioids can trigger a histamine response. Though the exact mechanism is not fully understood, codeine interacts with the central nervous system to trigger histamine, which is inflammatory and may lead to itching.

Bottom Line

Conclusively, codeine is a dangerous substance use disorder that affects a person’s physical, emotional, and psychological well-being. Though no exact causes of codeine are evident in the medical sciences, there are several signs of codeine addiction to look for to determine codeine addiction in an individual. Also, the codeine withdrawal symptoms are equally painful and dangerous as they are in people with alcohol abuse. But, the suitable treatment options, such as medications and behavioural therapies, can help a person recover for a long, happy, and sober life.