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COVID-19 and Rehab: Facts about drug and alcohol addiction treatments during pandemic.


May 24, 2021

Codeine is a narcotic analgesic that is used to relieve mild to moderate pain. A doctor’s prescription is required to acquire codeine, but since it is an opioid it may be habit forming, especially when it is not taken as directed. Codeine may also be combined with acetaminophen (a non-narcotic pain reliever) in order to treat moderate to severe pain that can’t be treated by acetaminophen alone. One version of this combination medication is called Tylenol 3.

This article will help you learn about what makes this opioid medication addictive and teach you about the effects of codeine abuse on the body. You will also discover a codeine addiction treatment option that can help you prevent drug abuse and return to a healthy life.

What is codeine and why is it addictive?

Codeine is used as a pain reliever and as an antitussive, also called a cough suppressant. This substance is able to relieve pain by altering the way in which the brain receives pain impulses. Codeine binds to receptors in the central nervous system and prevents pain signals from being transmitted. This can also cause a relaxed and euphoric effect, which contributes to the addictive potential of codeine and other opioids.

Cough syrup being measured with a spoon.

As an antitussive, codeine is known for its use in many cough syrups, though it is widely being replaced by dextromethorphan (DXM), a synthetic drug that also has a high abuse potential. Codeine reduces coughing by lowering activity in the part of the brain that produces the coughing reflex.

Much like with other opioid medications, a codeine dependence may develop over time as the brain begins relying on the drug to function normally, or it may develop after excessive or incorrect use. Dependence can lead to addiction if it is not addressed soon enough and treated by a medical professional. In addition to becoming physically dependent on codeine, the euphoric effects that come with excessive use can influence users to keep taking it.

Pharmaceutical and slang terms for codeine 

Codeine does not have any other pharmaceutical or brand names, but may be referenced using several slang terms including “cody”, “captain cody”, “little c”, and “schoolboy”.

A common brand name for the acetaminophen-codeine combination drug is Tylenol-Codeine #3, which may be referred to as “T3”, “doors” or “fours”. When codeine cough syrup is mixed with other substances including soda, hard candy, and/or alcohol, it may be referred to as “lean”, “purple drank”, “sizzurp”, and “Texas tea”.

The dangers of codeine dependence and what it does to the body

A codeine addict experiencing adverse physical and mental effects

If codeine is abused for a long time, it is likely to have some adverse effects on the body and mind. A long-term codeine addict may notice frequent mood swings, drastic changes in their appetite, unusual itching, digestive tract issues, constant exhaustion, muscle weakness, and changes in heart rate. Behaviorally, someone addicted to codeine or Tylenol 3 may isolate themselves from their loved ones, neglect their responsibilities at home and in the workplace, and may simply act “off” or seem as if they are constantly intoxicated.

A great danger associated with codeine dependence and abuse is the increased likelihood of using more powerful opioids such as oxycodone, heroin, and fentanyl. Codeine may lull people into a false sense of security since it is regarded as less powerful than other opioids and has been referenced as a “party drug” in several mainstream rap songs. This can lead people to excessive codeine use or open the path to taking even more dangerous narcotics. 

Overdose is one of the most dangerous aspects of codeine and Tylenol 3 addiction. When taken by itself, codeine must be taken in a high dose to be life-threatening, but many recreational users mix codeine with other prescription medications, alcohol, and marijuana, which greatly increases the risk of overdose.

Short-term and long-term side effects of codeine abuse

One of the most dangerous potential side effects of codeine use is the risk of extreme respiratory depression, which is more likely to occur when it is taken with other substances including opioids and alcohol.

Some short-term side effects associated with codeine use include:

  • Dizziness and lightheadedness
  • Sedation and drowsiness
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Abdominal pain and constipation
  • Unusual itching or the presence of a rash
  • Low blood pressure
  • Shallow breathing

When a drug is abused for a prolonged period of time, it can take a toll on the body and cause lasting health issues. Some long-term side effects of codeine abuse are:

  • Damage to the liver and kidneys
  • Issues with memory
  • Mental health problems including depression and anxiety
  • Constant fatigue and weakness
  • Muscle spasms
  • Death due to overdose

These lists do not include all of the possible side-effects that may occur, and people who take other prescription medications or tend to have allergic reactions may experience different or more severe side effects. Always talk to your doctor before taking a new medication, and avoid mixing codeine with other narcotics or alcohol to prevent the risk of opioid intoxication which can lead to coma or even death.

Contact us for a free online consultation with a medical expert to learn how to manage these side effects and get off of codeine >>>

Treatment for codeine dependence

It is rare for withdrawal from codeine to be life threatening as it is with some drugs such as benzodiazepines. Nonetheless, going through the detoxification process in a medical facility that specializes in addiction treatment is still recommended. This is because detoxification often comes with uncomfortable withdrawal symptoms that cause users to relapse when they attempt to quit alone, so getting help from medical professionals is usually the safest and most successful option.

A medical expert asking a patient questions during the diagnostic phase of treatment.

There are several phases of inpatient treatment. First comes diagnostics, during which medical experts evaluate a patient’s physical and mental state and run a variety of tests in order to determine the best course of action for treatment and to ensure that the patient is in good health.

Next comes the detoxification phase, which may include some pharmacological treatment to help reduce withdrawal symptoms and drug cravings as codeine leaves the patient’s body. Severe withdrawal symptoms during detoxification may call for the use of Naltrexone and buprenorphine, which block opiate receptors and help relieve the discomfort. The goal of this phase is to get through detoxification without relapsing, and to feel as comfortable as possible during the process.

Medical support, counseling, and other therapies are important aspects of the treatment process both during and after detoxification. Behavioral therapy, support groups, and continued checkups with your doctor are a part of beating psychological dependence and maintaining a happy and healthy life after addiction.

Don’t put off getting help just because codeine is “weaker” than other opioids. Contact us today to learn more about the dangers of codeine abuse and why you should seek help now.

Get a free online consultation to find out more about codeine addiction treatment options and discuss the various outcomes with an expert of the clinic >>>

Frequently asked questions 

Why is codeine addictive?

A codeine dependence may develop over time as the brain begins relying on the drug to function normally, or it may develop after excessive or incorrect use. Dependence can lead to addiction if it is not addressed soon enough and treated by a medical professional. In addition to being physically dependent on codeine, the euphoric effects that come with excessive use can influence users to keep taking it.

What are the long-term effects and dangers of codeine abuse?

Prolonged and excessive codeine use can cause mental health issues, organ damage, fatigue and exhaustion, drastic changes in appetite and digestion, and reduced respiratory function. People that abuse codeine are more likely to use stronger and more dangerous opioids such as oxycodone and heroin. Perhaps the greatest risk associated with codeine use is the possibility of overdose, which can occur when too high of a dose is taken or when it is mixed with other substances.

How can I get off of codeine?

Since codeine withdrawal is generally not dangerous, some doctors attempt to slowly wean their patient off of codeine over an extended period of time. Both this method and quitting cold turkey can be very uncomfortable and will often lead to relapse. To avoid relapse and get the support you need, an inpatient treatment program might be the right option for you. This process usually includes diagnostics, detoxification (sometimes medically assisted), and post-procedure treatment including continued therapy and support.

Published on May 24, 2021

by Dr Vorobjev Clinic team

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