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Codeine Withdrawal and Detox

A woman experiencing uncomfortable codeine withdrawal symptoms.

May 31, 2021

Codeine and combinations of medications such as Tylenol-Codeine #3 (Tylenol 3) are prescribed to relieve mild to moderate pain. Codeine is also present in some cough syrups due to its antitussive (cough suppressing) properties. 

Like with all opioids, taking codeine poses the risk of addiction when it is not used as directed. When codeine is taken for an extended period of time or taken in high doses, the body and brain begin to rely on the medication to function normally, which can lead to drug dependence and addiction. This often causes the presence of withdrawal symptoms upon trying to quit taking codeine.

This article will teach you what to expect when going through codeine detoxification, including the type and duration of withdrawal symptoms. It will also help you learn about a codeine withdrawal and detox treatment option that can aid in the prevention of relapse and other health complications.

A bottle of Tylenol-Codeine #3 pills.

Long-term and short-term side effects of codeine

Even when codeine and Tylenol-Codeine #3 are used as directed, they can cause adverse side effects. Some short-term side effects to be aware of 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

These side effects should only last for as long as the medication is in your system and will likely fade away on their own. If you experience more intense versions of these side effects or if they last for longer than expected, contact your healthcare provider.

If codeine is taken for a prolonged period of time or if it is being abused, there may be more serious long-term side effects that are detrimental to your health, including:

  • Damage to the liver and kidneys
  • Issues with memory
  • Depression, anxiety, and other mental health issues
  • Constant fatigue and weakness
  • Muscle spasms
  • Death due to overdose

Decreased respiratory function is one of the most serious potential short-term and long-term side effects of codeine use, and you should contact your doctor if you experience slowed breathing. Though it is unlikely to overdose on codeine if it is being taken as directed, mixing it with other substances such as alcohol or other medications can pose a serious risk.

Codeine withdrawal symptoms

A woman experiencing uncomfortable codeine withdrawal symptoms.

If you are suffering from a codeine dependence or addiction, you will likely experience withdrawal symptoms quickly after trying to suddenly stop your consumption. As the concentration of codeine in your body decreases, you may notice the following early symptoms of withdrawal:

  • Quickened heartbeat
  • Insomnia
  • Irritability and anxiety
  • Excessive sweating
  • Watery eyes
  • Runny nose
  • Muscle aches and pains

As more time passes, your body attempts to normalize itself in the absence of the drug. Some later manifestations of withdrawal may include: 

  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Stomach pain
  • Diarrhea and other intestinal issues
  • Changes in appetite
  • Feeling unusually cold

These lists are not complete and everyone experiences detoxification differently. Some factors that might affect the intensity of withdrawal include overall health, duration of use, and the amount of codeine in your body. If you suffer from a severe addiction to codeine or Tylenol 3, your abstinence crisis may be more extreme and last for longer. 

Get a free online consultation with a medical expert to learn how to manage codeine withdrawal symptoms for you or your loved one >>>

How long does codeine withdrawal last?

Codeine has a half life of about 3 hours, which means that withdrawal symptoms can start very quickly after taking your last dose of the drug.

Similar to other opioids, a codeine abstinence crisis may begin with flu-like symptoms which increase in intensity over the course of several days. Acute withdrawal will likely peak around 3 to 5 days and then slowly subside. Generally, physical symptoms fade after about a week, but drug cravings and psychological symptoms including depressed mood, heightened anxiety, and irritability can persist for longer.

In many cases, a previous user may suffer from post-acute withdrawal symptoms (PAWS), which is a general term for the psychological and emotional disturbances that may be experienced as the brain returns to its pre-addiction or pre-dependence state. In addition to depression, anxiety, and irritability, someone going through PAWS may occasionally deal with insomnia, brain fog, and mood swings for several weeks, months, or even years depending on the circumstances.

This is meant to be a general timeline, as everyone has a different experience with withdrawal. It is also important to note that while withdrawal from codeine may sound relatively simple, the real danger comes from the risk of relapse. The painful detoxification process can often drive users to continue their drug use when they attempt to quit without assistance.

What is codeine detox and withdrawal treatment?

In order to avoid relapse and get relief from uncomfortable withdrawal symptoms, it is frequently recommended that people go through detoxification in a specialized addiction treatment facility.

Inpatient detoxification and withdrawal treatment is meant to help you get through withdrawal comfortably and avoid relapse, as well as provide continued support during sobriety. Codeine withdrawal treatment includes several different stages, including diagnostics, detoxification, and outpatient and post-detox support. 

An addiction treatment expert speaking to a patient going through codeine withdrawal.

The diagnostics phase may include several tests to determine your overall health and to aid the medical experts in creating an individualized detoxification plan. During detoxification, medications may be administered to you to help alleviate any withdrawal symptoms you are experiencing as well as reduce drug cravings. In some cases, this may include the use of Naltrexone and buprenorphine which are used to make withdrawal symptoms more bearable and cleanse the body of opioids. 

After the detoxification process, behavioral therapy, counseling, and pharmacotherapy may be recommended to help with lingering physical and psychological effects of drug dependence and withdrawal.

There is no shame in asking for help. If you or a loved one is going through codeine withdrawal, contact us to get the support you need.

Get a free and confidential online consultation to find out more about the codeine detoxification process. You will discuss treatment options and the various outcomes with an expert of the clinic >>> 

Frequently asked questions

What are the symptoms of codeine withdrawal?

 Traditionally, withdrawal begins with flu-like symptoms that get more severe over time. These may include watery eyes, runny nose, excessive sweating, muscle aches and pains, insomnia, nausea and vomiting, intestinal issues, changes in appetite, and more. You may also experience psychological and emotional disturbances including depressed mood, anxiety, brain fog, and mood swings. Strong drug cravings and irritability are also common.

What is the codeine withdrawal timeline?

Withdrawal symptoms will likely start in a matter of hours after your last dose, depending on a variety of factors. They will slowly grow in intensity over several days before peaking between 3 and 5 days. The majority of the physical symptoms should fade after about a week, but may persist for longer. The psychological manifestations of withdrawal can last for months after acute withdrawal has subsided. Every person’s withdrawal timeline will be different, as the duration of symptoms depends on your overall health, the severity of your dependence or addiction, and more.

How do I get off of codeine?

To prevent relapse and avoid uncomfortable withdrawal symptoms, inpatient treatment is often recommended. There are several phases of codeine withdrawal treatment, including diagnostics, detoxification, and post-detox support, which can include several kinds of therapies that are intended to help you return to a happy and healthy life.

Published on May 31, 2021
Dr Vorobjev Clinic team

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