Codeine Addiction & Treatment

Codeine, a commonly used prescription opioid, is found in common cough medicines and other relatively mild medications. It can be used for the treatment of pain and diarrhea and as a cough suppressant.

The recent rise of abuse of medications containing codeine has resulted in stricter laws and regulations designed to control the substance and reduce addiction rates.

What Are the Effects of Codeine Abuse?

There are a number of adverse side effects associated with codeine misuse. Though most are harmless if the medication is taken as directed, abuse of the substance significantly increases the chances of experiencing a dangerous effect.

Common side effects from codeine include:

  • Rapid heartbeat.
  • Dry mouth.
  • Vision changes.
  • Sweating.
  • Headache.
  • Drowsiness or fatigue.
  • Dizziness.
  • Nausea, vomiting, constipation, or other abdominal changes.

More serious side effects include:

  • Weak pulse.
  • Low blood pressure.
  • Shallow or depressed breathing.
  • Mood or cognitive changes.
  • Mental disturbances, including aggression, agitation, confusion, or hallucinations.
  • Intestinal blockage.
  • Cardiac arrest.
  • Stopped breathing.
  • Seizures.
  • Coma.

Anyone taking codeine should read the list of side effects and warnings carefully to determine which effects should warrant a call to the doctor or emergency medical treatment.

What Are the Signs of Codeine Addiction?

Codeine induces a euphoric high in many people, which can be addictive; the drug can also lead to tolerance and dependence.

Tolerance occurs when a person takes a drug consistently, and the body becomes used to the presence of the substance, so it does not induce the same reaction as the first dose. The person feels like they must take more of the substance to induce the same effect.

Dependence occurs when the body needs the presence of the drug to produce neurotransmitters or other chemicals in the brain in order to feel normal.

While tolerance and dependence can occur when a person takes medications as prescribed, especially for a long time, they can also be signs of addiction.

Other symptoms of addiction to codeine include:

  • Feeling the need to take codeine regularly, even when symptoms of illness or injury have passed.
  • Intense cravings or urges for the drug.
  • Compulsively ingesting codeine, even when attempting to quit.
  • Hoarding large quantities of codeine or worrying about where the next dose will come from.
  • Taking codeine instead of participating in social activities, family obligations, work, or school.
  • Experiencing an injury or performing risky activities, like driving, while under the influence of codeine.
  • Withdrawal symptoms when not taking the drug.

How Do You Treat Codeine Addiction?

Addiction to opioids can be treated with certain medications designed to reduce both cravings and withdrawal symptoms. Drugs like methadone and buprenorphine are themselves opioids, but do not produce the same kind of euphoric high created by substances like heroin, hydrocodone, and codeine, even if abused. This therefore takes away the temptation to abuse the drug, for the most part, but the opioid content prevents withdrawal. The dose of the new medication can then be gradually reduced over time until the addicted individual no longer needs it at all.

Standard addiction treatments, such as inpatient or outpatient rehabilitation, are effective for treating codeine addiction. It’s recommended that either method is followed with long-term therapy and/or support group participation in order to reduce the chance of relapse.

If you or a loved one are ready to seek treatment for your codeine or other opioid addiction, we’re ready to help. Call our Admissions Navigators at to learn more about our facilities and evidence-based treatment.

What is Codeine Withdrawal Like?

Codeine withdrawal is similar to withdrawal from other narcotic drugs. Symptoms can include:

  • Agitation, restlessness, and irritability.
  • Anxiety.
  • Panic attacks.
  • Depression.
  • Insomnia.
  • Watery eyes.
  • Runny nose.
  • Joint aches and muscle pain.
  • Yawning.
  • Sweating.
  • Diarrhea.
  • Stomach cramps.
  • Dilated pupils.
  • Nausea or vomiting.
  • Goosebumps.

Typically, withdrawing from narcotics like codeine is uncomfortable, but it is not physically dangerous. However, the discomfort and cravings can be uncomfortable enough that many people attempting to overcome addiction without help relapse back into drug abuse.

This is more dangerous than withdrawal, as it can lead to taking too much codeine, which can cause overdose.

Frequently Asked Questions

Codeine is an opioid-based medication used to subdue coughs and reduce pain in people who have serious conditions like strep throat or mono, or who have just had a tonsillectomy or other throat surgery. In the United States, it is no longer sold over the counter in most states, and it is tightly regulated when being prescribed because codeine has proven to be a target of abuse among people struggling with opioid addiction.

The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) lists codeine as Schedule III, so it is less controlled than other narcotics like morphine, hydrocodone, and oxycodone. In other countries, like Canada or Australia, the drug is less regulated and sometimes sold over the counter.

Opioids are very addictive for many people. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), in 2014 alone, almost 2 million Americans abused or struggled with addiction to prescription opioid drugs, including codeine.


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