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Codeine Addiction

Because codeine is the most commonly used opiate in the world – and possibly the most widely used drug overall, codeine addiction is a serious issue that affects millions of people globally.  A derivative of opium, codeine has immense therapeutic value in the treatment of pain and inflammation caused by a variety of issues.  However, codeine addiction is also a significant threat, as the drug is in the same class and uses similar manufacturing techniques as morphine, oxycodone, and heroin.  Therefore, it is important that patients and their families become educated on how codeine addiction occurs, and how to treat it once a dependency has been established.


Codeine is made from the dried sap of young poppy plant seeds.  Humans have been making various drugs and compounds using the poppy plant for thousands of years.  Some of these uses are medicinal, while others are spiritual or recreational in nature.  Whatever the case may be, people have become tolerant to and physically dependent on many different opium products.  This includes codeine addiction, and as the 2nd most common alkaloid found in opium, it’s likely that this trend of dependency and addiction will continue until more effective pain management techniques are discovered and implemented.

Codeine is an analgesic- a pain reliever.  It is also used to suppress the cough reflex and treat intestinal complications such as Irritable Bowel Syndrome and diarrhea.  This opiate works by binding with opioid receptors in the brain and other areas of the central nervous system to reduce or eliminate the sensation of pain normally transmitted by those receptors.  While significantly less potent that its closest relatives such as morphine and heroin, codeine addiction is still a very real possibility for many people who use the drug for extended periods or for those who abuse or use the drug illicitly.

Because codeine has an addiction and abuse propensity that is less than that of other drugs, codeine addiction is often not considered as likely to occur by both patients and health care practitioners.  However, all patients develop tolerance, dependency, and addiction to opiates of any sort if the drugs are taken consistently for prolonged periods.  Regardless, there are dangers and side effects that must be guarded against while using codeine therapeutically or illicitly.  Some of these dangers can result in death.

Codeine causes significant adverse reactions such as vomiting, nausea, itching, sweating, hypotension, depression, decreased sex impulse, exhaustion, and severe constipation.  In fact, constipation can be an especially difficult problem for any person afflicted with codeine addiction, as this is one side effect that tolerance does not typically relieve.  However, these effects are minimal compared to the likelihood that abusing or misusing codeine will lead to respiratory depression.  In cases of fatal codeine overdoses, death brought about by respiratory depression is almost always the leading factor.

As with any use of opiates, continued consumption of codeine for more than a few weeks will almost always lead to increased tolerance of the drug.  This means that more and more of the drug will be required in order to achieve the same effects- whether the desired effect is as a cough suppressant, for pain relief, or to reach a state of euphoria.  Tolerance is normal and occurs with many drugs outside of the opiate family.  However, the problem with codeine tolerance is that it often leads to dependence.

As codeine is consistently introduced to the bloodstream, the central nervous system will react in an effort to minimize the effects of the drug on the body’s natural processes.  Consequently, when the drug dosage is significantly reduced or stopped altogether, the body will begin to make the same changes in reverse.  This is known as withdrawal syndrome and is a debilitating part of resolving dependency or codeine addiction.  Nevertheless, it should be noted that tolerance and dependency are not the same thing as addiction.  Many people who suffer from chronic pain and take codeine for months or years develop physical and psychological dependency without ever becoming addicted.  This is why it is vital to be able to make the distinction between dependency and addition.

Codeine Addiction Signs

Codeine addiction is characterized by a series of negative or harmful behaviors as a result of the inability of a person to discontinue taking the drug.  These behaviors can be observed and described as follows:

  1. Loss of Control – A person suffering from codeine addiction will generally lose control over the drug.  This means that they might overdose or lose track of their dosing schedule.  Loss of control also means that a person might hoard the drug, forget when they last took it, or be confused about side effects and reactions to the drug.  They also might increase their dosage or frequency without consulting their doctor.
  2. Disregard for Consequences – Full-blown codeine addiction is most often recognized by an individual’s inability to discontinue using the drug despite severe consequences.  Addicts are often in danger of losing their jobs or careers, experience difficulties in their relationships with family and loved ones, have financial issues, and may possibly get in trouble with the law in relation to their continued abuse and procurement of the drug.  Some codeine addicts may even be able to verbalize and comprehend their addiction but still be unable to stop using the drug.
  3. Obsession – Codeine addiction causes afflicted people to obsess over the drug.  An addict’s thoughts and their entire life may revolve around obtaining the drug, storing it, using it, recovering from it, and suppressing evidence that a problem might exist from family, friends, associates; and especially from health care practitioners.

Codeine Addiction Treatment

When codeine addiction is suspected, treatment should begin as soon as possible to limit more dangerous effects on the body, mind, and in the individual’s daily environments.  The first step in this process is to detox at a professional detox center.  Usually lasting from 4-7 days, a patient will be monitored and treated accordingly for the withdrawal symptoms that they experience while the drug is slowly eradicated from the body by natural and enhanced pharmaceutical methods.  This is the most dangerous time for someone suffering from codeine addiction, and must take place under the supervision of medical professionals.

After a patient is no longer physically dependent upon codeine, they will usually be moved from a detox center to a short-term drug treatment facility.  There, the environments and factors that caused the person to abuse the drug in the first place can be eliminated, and therapy can be implemented to help a person deal with the crippling psychological effects of codeine addiction and withdrawal.  Therapy usually continues well after a person has reintegrated into society, and includes group counseling, individual therapy, and family therapy.  Social support groups such as AA and NA are also usually an integral part of recovery from codeine addiction.

People suffering from codeine addiction should be made aware that there are thousands of others like them around the world- addiction can happen easily to any person under the right circumstances.  This is why there are thousands of groups and individuals dedicated to helping people break the cycle of codeine addiction.  In most cases, help is just a call or email away.