What is Codeine and Its Addiction Risks?

Explore codeine’s uses, addiction risks, and treatment options to make informed decisions about your well-being.

If you’ve ever had to manage severe pain or cough, you’ve likely heard of codeine. This widely used medication is great for pain relief. However, codeine has addictive properties. While it may be effective for short-term use, you may want to shy away from using it for longer durations.

For now, let's learn more about how it interacts with your body.

side effects of codeine

Source: Pacific Crest Trail Detox

What is Codeine?

Codeine is a common pain reliever and cough suppressant. It manages mild to moderate pain. It also directly interacts with your brain to block the signals that urge you to cough. However, codeine is only prescribed as either a pain reliever or a cough suppressant if other first-line medications prove to be insufficient. 

This is because of the side effects of codeine as an opioid. Simply put, opioids are a class of drugs for pain relief. They attach to the opioid receptors in your brain, spinal cord, and gut. By doing this, they block the pain signals sent from your body. This means you won’t feel any pain. Instead, you may feel pleasure. 

How Codeine Affects the Brain and Body

As an opioid, codeine mostly affects your brain chemistry and reward system. As a result, it also has some other physiological effects.

Effects On Your Brain Chemistry

Not only does codeine block pain signals from your body, but it also triggers a surge in dopamine. Dopamine is a neurotransmitter associated with pleasure and reward. It motivates you to eat good food, have sex, and exercise. 

However, codeine triggers a larger amount of dopamine release compared to more typical activities. You might associate its effects with euphoria. When your brain becomes accustomed to this, you may feel that the dopamine release from other activities won’t be as enticing or motivating.

Effects On Your Physiological Systems

Because your brain is the center of your entire body, codeine also affects your other bodily systems. 

  • Respiratory system. It could depress your brain stem activity, leading to slower breathing rates.
  • Digestive system. Because you also have opioid receptors in your gut, codeine could cause constipation due to other potential interactions. 
  • Central nervous system. Codeine could cause drowsiness, dizziness, and impaired coordination. 

codeine withdrawal

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Addiction Risks of Codeine

While the drug may be effective for pain relief and cough suppression, it inherently carries a risk for addiction. 

Potential For Misuse And Dependence

Like other opioids, it interacts with your brain’s reward system. This means you’re likely to experience an intense amount of pleasure. And because this amount is more than normal, other activities won’t feel as pleasurable anymore. This potentially leads to dependence. 

When you begin to depend on this drug, there’s also the risk of misuse. Misuse involves taking higher doses for a prolonged period or entirely just for pleasure.

How Tolerance Develops With Regular Use

You could also become prone to developing a tolerance for it. Tolerance means you need to take higher doses of codeine to experience your desired effects. 

This results in a cycle of increasing your dosage over and over to function normally.

Signs And Symptoms Of Codeine Addiction

If you’re starting to be wary of your codeine use, here are some warning signs to look out for:

  • Urge to take higher doses
  • Withdrawal symptoms such as restlessness, muscle aches, or diarrhea
  • Neglect of responsibilities
  • Risky behaviors for access (eg., contact with drug dealers, spending large amounts of money)

Consequences of Codeine Addiction

Codeine addiction could negatively impact your physical and mental health and overall well-being. 

Health Risks

Here’s a list of some of the potential health risks:

  • Respiratory depression. Slowed breathing could be life-threatening, especially if you have co-occurring respiratory problems. 
  • Increased pain sensitivity. Chronic use could make it difficult for you to manage pain without the drug. 
  • Digestive issues. You may experience codeine-induced constipation. 
  • Mental health issues. Codeine addiction is typically accompanied by anxiety, depression, and sleeping problems.


substance abuse treatment center in Oregon

Source: Pacific Crest Trail Recovery

When to Seek Professional Help

There’s no harm in taking codeine the right way, but it’s crucial to be capable of acknowledging when it’s gone too far. Here are some scenarios where professional help is recommended:

  • Loss of control. If you’re finding it incredibly difficult to manage your intake despite the consequences, it’s a sign to approach a professional. 
  • Cravings and dependence. Feeling as if you need codeine to function normally may mean that you’re developing a dependence.
  • Health concerns. If you’re starting to experience constipation, anxiety, sleeping problems, or other symptoms chronically, it may be time to see a doctor. 
  • Increased dosage. Needing more than to achieve the same effects is a signal of tolerance. 
  • Negative consequences. If your drug use has begun to strain your relationships, affect your progress at work, or spend more of your money, it’s time to seek help. 


Treatment Options for Codeine Addiction

If you’re struggling with addiction, the good news is that there is hope for recovery. There are a lot of treatment options you could look into depending on your needs and preferences. 

  • Medical detox. Drug detox removes the drug from your body. You’ll be prescribed medications to manage any withdrawal symptoms during the process. 
  • Therapy and counseling. These sessions can address the underlying causes of your addiction and help you find coping mechanisms that work better for you. 
  • Medication-assisted treatment (MAT). MAT combines medication and therapy to address the physical and psychological effects of your addiction. 

Devise a personalized treatment plan with your health professionals. This ensures that your recovery is as efficient, safe, and comfortable as possible. 

drug detox

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In Conclusion

While codeine may be effective for short-term pain relief and cough suppression, it’s important to be aware of its addiction risks. Having a good understanding of its mechanisms, potential consequences, and signs of addiction could help you make informed decisions about your overall well-being. 

If you’re currently struggling with codeine addiction, however, remember that there are several treatment options available. Working with the right professionals and devising a personalized treatment plan could be life-changing. When you’re ready to look for a substance abuse treatment center in Oregon, contact us at Pacific Crest Trail Detox to begin your recovery journey!

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