Codeine Addiction Treatment, Effects & SympToms

Codeine is a mild opioid analgesic commonly used in OTC cough medications. Although not nearly as potent as morphine or heroin, it still provides significant health risks as it is often used simultaneously with alcohol and other drugs.

Introduction to Codeine

Codeine is a natural opioid, and a part of the class of drugs that includes oxycodone, morphine, and heroin. Highly effective at relieving mild to moderate pain – it is also highly addictive. Codeine is commonly used to treat cough and other cold symptoms and perhaps most well-known in the form of an over-the-counter medicine such as Tylenol. 

Because codeine is only considered to have a mild risk of causing physical or psychological dependence, regulation of this substance is fairly lax. As such, codeine is easily accessible and a popular drug of choice amongst teenagers and young adults. It’s most prolific on the drug scene as a concoction called “lean” made of cough syrup, alcohol and/or soda, and other illicit substances. This party drug first came on the scene and was popularized by hip hop artists where it is also frequently referred to as ‘purple drank’ or ‘sizzurp’. 

How Does It Work?

Codeine is a depressant, which means it interferes with receptors, causing them to be less reactive. It is mostly used orally (in liquid form) but can also come as a tablet, capsule, suppository, or soluble powder. Once in the body, codeine is converted to morphine. The effects – drowsiness, mild sedation, increased pain tolerance, and slowing of respiratory functions – can last for several hours. 

Codeine Side Effects

While there are rarely negative side effects associated with adults using it as prescribed, codeine abusers frequently use much higher dosages than what is safe. Due to its nature as an opioid, codeine has a significant chance of resulting in a physical dependency. The most severe and long-lasting effects occur when other drugs or substances are used at the same time.

Short-Term Side Effects

  • Confusion and dizziness
  • Shallow, slowed breathing
  • Constricted pupils
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Constipation
  • Lack of appetite 
  • Blurred vision
  • Restlessness and difficulty concentrating
  • Decreased heart rate
  • Dry mouth
  • An allergic, itchy rash

Long-Term Side Effects

  • Constipation
  • Reduced sex drive and irregular menstruation
  • Muscle spasms
  • Lower blood pressure
  • Mental fog
  • Constipation or inability to urinate

The Best Treatment for Codeine Addiction

Codeine abuse is often to be considered a gateway to using harder and more dangerous opioids. It’s still quite dangerous before it gets to that point, as the risk of overdose is high. Withdrawal symptoms are unpleasant and will typically start within a few hours of the last usage. These symptoms peak around the 2-3 day mark, but until then, can be subtle and difficult to identify. The safest way to handle a codeine withdrawal is under the supervision of a medically trained professional.  

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