Codeine is an opiate derived from the naturally occurring poppy plant. In contrast to other prescription opioids, codeine occurs naturally. It is not as potent as many other opioids, so it does not have the same addictive potential as oxycodone, heroin or fentanyl. However, just because codeine has a lower addiction potential does not mean it cannot lead to addiction.
Codeine is available in various forms, including oral tablets and oral solutions. By itself, codeine is a Schedule II controlled substance according to the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA). When mixed into a formulation with other products, the schedule of the drug is typically lower, meaning there is less risk of addiction. For example, when formulated with acetaminophen (Tylenol), it is a Schedule V drug.
Codeine and opiate abuse are major public health issues in Ohio. In 2007, unintentional drug poisoning became the leading cause of death. By 2019, the number of overdoses continued to increase.
In 2019, the age group with the highest rate of unintentional drug overdoses was those in the 35–44-year-old age group. Black non-Hispanic males had the greatest overdose rate, while Black non-Hispanic females had the lowest. However, this group saw the largest increase in overdose deaths of any group, increasing 21%.
About 84% of drug overdoses in Ohio were attributable to opioids, with fentanyl alone the cause of 76% of them. Since codeine is less potent than other opioids, it tends to be involved in fewer overdose deaths. However, it is important to understand that codeine can be laced with other drugs like fentanyl, so it shouldn’t be considered safer.
Codeine is a naturally occurring opiate that can be used to treat short- and long-term pain. It is also prescribed to treat cough. When ingested, codeine is converted by the liver into morphine, and they attach to opioid receptors, causing a reduction in pain and increased feelings of euphoria and well-being.
Codeine is available under several brand names:
A full list of codeine brand names can be found on MedlinePlus.
If you are prescribed codeine for cough or pain, it will likely be administered at the lowest dose for the shortest time possible. Doctors in Ohio recognize this and are required by the Ohio Pharmacy Board to take this into consideration.
Using it in a way that’s not prescribed is considered codeine abuse. This includes using codeine too often, in too high a dose or without a prescription. Codeine abuse can lead to dependence, which greatly increases the risk of addiction. If the brain becomes dependent on codeine, withdrawal symptoms will occur when the person attempts to stop taking it.
Codeine addiction can happen even if the drug is taken exactly as prescribed. If you are taking codeine as prescribed, it’s important to speak with your doctor if you are experiencing cravings or withdrawal.
A person addicted to codeine is likely to show signs and symptoms of withdrawal, which can include:
All opioids have a similar set of withdrawal symptoms, so it is challenging to identify a codeine use disorder based on symptoms alone.
Long-term use of opioids is associated with mood deficits like depression and dysphoria. It can also lead to health consequences, including constipation and the inability to absorb nutrients from food.
Codeine works in the central nervous system (CNS), which includes the cells of the brain and the spinal cord. Neurons in the brain use chemical signals called neurotransmitters to communicate with each other, and this facilitates the functioning of the body.
Neurons use many neurotransmitters, including serotonin, norepinephrine, dopamine and endorphins. Codeine mimics the effects of endorphins, causing an increase in dopamine levels. Dopamine is responsible for generating pleasure, reward and motivation. Codeine activates this pathway, which can eventually lead to addiction as the brain begins to crave the substance.
A codeine use disorder is challenging to treat. Prolonged codeine use often leads to dependence because of the withdrawal symptoms, which increase the risk of relapse.
When choosing an addiction treatment center, consider the location, the staff’s accreditation and training, and the types of treatment offered. A good-quality treatment center will include medical detox as well as facilities that provide both inpatient and outpatient treatment options.
For those with more severe addiction, inpatient treatment helps remove outside influences that may trigger a relapse. When it comes to a less severe addiction, outpatient treatment allows someone to continue fulfilling their obligations like work and school during treatment.
The Recovery Village Columbus is available as a treatment resource for those who live in the Columbus, Ohio area and beyond. The addiction specialists are trained to manage codeine and other substance use disorders.
If you or a loved one have a codeine use disorder, it’s never too late to seek help. Reach out today to discuss your treatment options with our compassionate, knowledgeable intake team.
Other helpful resources include:
Codeine is used to treat short-term pain, long-term pain and cough. It should only be used for the shortest period possible to minimize the risk of addiction.
This depends from person to person. Always follow your prescription when using this medication. It should only be taken with a valid prescription.
Codeine is available in dozens of different formulations, shapes, colors and sizes. It is available in solid and liquid forms. If you’re unsure whether a medication contains codeine, ask your pharmacist.
Codeine is a naturally occurring opiate present in poppy seeds. Poppy seeds are refined and codeine is purified to result in the prescription drug.
The Recovery Village aims to improve the quality of life for people struggling with a substance use or mental health disorder with fact-based content about the nature of behavioral health conditions, treatment options and their related outcomes. We publish material that is researched, cited, edited and reviewed by licensed medical professionals. The information we provide is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It should not be used in place of the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare provider.