Short & Long-Term Effects of Codeine Misuse

Codeine is a prescription pain medication that is synthesized from opium, a naturally-occurring opiate native to parts of Asia.1 This medication has several licit medicinal uses in the United States, however, like many other opioid substances, it carries the risk of misuse and addiction.In fact, nearly 27% of Americans ages 12 and older misused codeine in 2021 alone, making this substance the third most misused prescription painkiller within that year (following hydrocodone and oxycodone, respectively).3

What is Codeine Used For?

Codeine is FDA approved to treat mild to moderate pain, but only when treatment with an opioid is deemed appropriate and other treatments are inadequate.2 This medication is carefully prescribed, as it carries risk of addiction and misuse even at therapeutic doses.2 Codeine is not as potent as other prescription opioids like morphine and fentanyl, however it is considered a Schedule II drug because of the risk of physical and psychological dependence.4

Short-Term Effects of Codeine

All prescription medications, including codeine, have the potential to cause some degree of side effects that can vary from person to person. Codeine effects can include:2

  • Constipation.
  • Nausea.
  • Drowsiness.
  • Vomiting.
  • Tiredness.
  • Headache.
  • Dizziness.
  • Shortness of breath.
  • Abdominal pain.

These are some of the most common side effects of codeine, however significant adverse effects can also develop, including but not limited to, severe hypotension, gastrointestinal complications in patients with known gastrointestinal obstruction, and seizures in patients with seizure disorders.2

Health Effects & Risks of Codeine Misuse

The misuse of codeine can lead to more severe health effects that can be extremely dangerous and potentially life-threatening.2 The misuse of a substance refers to taking a medication in a manner other than prescribed, taking someone else’s medication, or taking medication for the sole intent of getting high.5 Individuals who misuse codeine in any of these capacities put themselves at risk for experiencing the following health effects:2

  • Life-threatening respiratory depression: The misuse of codeine can lead to potentially fatal respiratory depression, which is characterized by slow and shallow breathing.2,6 Additionally, the risk of respiratory depression increases dramatically if codeine is misused concomitantly with benzodiazepines or other central nervous system depressants.2
  • Dependence. Dependence occurs when the body adapts to a specific substance after being regularly exposed to it.2 Those who regularly misuse this substance can develop dependence, which can trigger the onset of painful codeine withdrawal symptoms when use is limited or stopped entirely.2
  • Adrenal insufficiency. Adrenal insufficiency has been reported in individuals who continue to consume opioids like codeine for more than one month.2 This health condition, where the adrenal glands do not produce enough specific hormones, can present with symptoms including nausea, vomiting, weakness, dizziness, and low blood pressure.2,7
  • Neonatal opioid withdrawal syndrome (NOWS). Prolonged use of codeine in pregnant women can cause neonatal opioid withdrawal syndrome in newborn babies, a condition that is characterized by symptoms including irritability, hyperactivity, high pitched cry, vomiting, diarrhea, and failure to gain weight.2

While these health effects and risks are associated with the misuse of codeine, it is important to note that the of codeine can also lead to the development of these effects, too.2 If you are prescribed codeine for therapeutic purposes, maintaining clear and regular communication with your provider can help prevent and/or mitigate these and other potential health risks.

Can You Overdose on Codeine?

Yes, overdose is possible when misusing codeine and can be fatal.2 The risk of experiencing an overdose on codeine increases if an individual is also misusing other substances, such as illicit drugs, alcohol, or other prescription drugs.8 In particular, mixing codeine with other depressants can lead to damage to the brain and other organs, as well as death.8

The symptoms of an overdose on codeine include:2

  • Respiratory depression.
  • Somnolence that progresses to stupor or coma.
  • Muscle flaccidity.
  • Cold, clammy skin.
  • Constricted pupils.

In some instances of codeine overdose, slowed heart rate, low blood pressure, and pulmonary edema can occur.1

Signs of Codeine Addiction

Addiction, which is defined as a “chronic, relapsing disorder characterized by compulsive drug seeking and use despite adverse consequences”, is not always blatantly obvious.10 It can be helpful to be aware of the signs of opioid use disorder (the clinical term for an addiction to codeine) so that you or a loved one can get the appropriate level of professional care if necessary.

Some of the criteria outlined in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) for opioid use disorder include, but are not limited to, the following:11

  • Opioids are taken in more significant amounts over a more extended period of time than intended.
  • Cravings, or a strong urge to use opioids.
  • Tolerance as defined by either a need for markedly increased amounts of opioids to achieve the same effect or a significantly diminished effect when using the same amount.
  • Continued use despite recurrent social or interpersonal problems caused or exacerbated by opioid use.

Only qualified professionals can diagnose someone with a substance use disorder. Therefore, it can be beneficial to seek professional help if you are concerned for yourself or someone you love.

Treatment for Codeine Addiction in Mississippi

If you or a loved one needs help to assess whether or not an opioid use disorder is occurring and what steps can be taken to initiate change, reach out to our Mississippi inpatient drug & alcohol rehab by calling right now. Our kind, compassionate rehab admissions navigators can help you get started and answer any questions you may have, including those about rehab insurance coverage, how to pay for addiction treatment, and the different levels of rehab we provide. Recovery is possible, but obtaining support and guidance at this time can be priceless.

Don’t hesitate to reach out and take that first step today. Get started right now by filling out our secure online and have your insurance verified with us within minutes.

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