A prescription medication, codeine is used to treat mild to moderate pain, dry irritating coughs, and diarrhea. It is the main ingredient in prescription cough suppressants. When combined with acetaminophen or aspirin, codeine is used to treat severe pain. Combined with decongestants or antihistamines, it is used to treat colds and the flu.
A Controlled Substance
A controlled substance, codeine is classified by the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) as a Schedule II drug. Drugs in this classification are considered dangerous. They have a high potential for abuse. Their use can lead to severe physical or psychological dependence and addiction. In the United States, Schedule II drugs currently have a medical use, but they may have strict restrictions.
Is Codeine an Opioid or a Narcotic?
The simple answer is that codeine is both. Sometimes people are confused about the terms and what they mean. According to the CDC, the term opioids refer to all opioids, whether they are natural, synthetic, or semisynthetic. They are all chemicals that affect the opioid receptors in the brain and body. Codeine is a natural opioid analgesic. All opioids and opiates are narcotic drugs.
How Does It Affect the Brain?
Codeine, like other opioid drugs, is a central nervous system depressant. When taken, it binds to opioid receptors in the spinal cord, brain, and other locations in the body. The drug mimics the effects of the brain’s naturally produced pain-relieving chemicals, blocking feelings of pain. Codeine also causes feelings of euphoria, relaxation, well-being, and pleasure.
Codeine Is Addictive
Some people think this drug is a weak painkiller and therefore not addictive. Both assumptions are inaccurate. When it processes in the liver, it metabolizes into morphine. It is the morphine that reduces coughs and relieves pain. When codeine changes to morphine, it can result in slowed breathing and accidental death depending on the strength and amount taken.
Although codeine is not as strong as some other opiates, such as hydrocodone or oxycodone, they all have similar effects when taken in high doses. Unfortunately, even those who take codeine exactly as prescribed can build a tolerance to the drug. Others enjoy the euphoric feeling the drug produces and take it more often or in higher doses to achieve that feeling. They need to take more of the medication as their tolerance develops. Dependence quickly develops, followed by addiction. Some people turn to other opioids to satisfy their cravings.
Signs of Codeine Addiction
There are several common signs and symptoms of codeine addiction.
The individual feels like they have to take codeine. They often isolate themselves from family and friends and are preoccupied with getting and taking the drug. They may go to multiple doctors to get multiple prescriptions or say they lost their medication to get another prescription. Borrowing or stealing medications containing codeine from friends or family is another way of getting more drugs. They may experience personal, financial, or legal problems.
Additional signs of codeine addiction include:
- Withdrawing from family and friends
- Losing interest in activities
- Having constant cravings for codeine
- Being unable to stop using the drug regardless of negative consequences
- Experiencing symptoms of withdrawal when you stop taking the drug
When a person is addicted to codeine, they often feel nauseous and vomit, have stomach pains, and are constipated. Their feet and hands may be clammy, their breathing slowed, their blood pressure elevated, and their heart rate irregular. They may feel tired, weak, and drowsy. Mood swings, depression, agitation, nervousness, and anxiety are common. They may have flu-like symptoms, dilated pupils, and yawn excessively.
Using codeine for long periods of time can cause bowel, liver, and kidney damage. It can also result in lung infections, brain damage, coma, seizures, and death.
If You Need Help
If you or a loved one is struggling with an addiction to drugs or alcohol, help is available. You are not alone. At English Mountain Recovery, located in the Smoky Mountains of East Tennessee, our highly skilled professionals will guide you as you travel along the path to recovery. You will learn the skills you need to live a sober life. Now is the time to get the help you need. Take the first step. Call us today.
About the Author:
Terry Hurley is a retired educational professional and freelance writer with more than fifty years of experience. A former reading specialist and learning center director, Terry loved her years working with children in the educational field. She has written extensively for print and online publications specializing in education and health issues. For the last six years, her writing focus has been on addiction and mental health issues.