Codeine is an opioid pain medication. This drug is considered a narcotic that is used to treat moderate to severe pain. It is also a cough suppressant that is similar to morphine and Hydrocodone. When codeine is consumed a small amount of the drug is converted to morphine in the body. The drug works by mimicking the action of natural pain-relieving chemicals in the body called endorphins. When endorphins combine with opioid receptors they reduce pain; endorphins are found in the brain and spinal cord. When these endorphins combine with opioid receptors in the brain and spinal cord they limit/block the signal of pain signals from the nerves to the brain. In the treatment of a cough, codeine reduces nerve signals coming from the part of the brain from the ‘coughing centre’ to the muscles that produce the cough. Coughing is a useful action that is a reflex response to irritation of the airways. The action is important to help the body remove dust, particles, and mucus from the airways to make breathing easier. In some cases coughing serves no purpose that is painful and irritating. Codeine is useful in these cases to suppress unnecessary coughing. Codeine is also used to treat diarrhea. A side-effect of opioid use/abuse is limited bowel movements. Codeine helps to reduce diarrhea by reducing muscular contractions of the intestine. The speed with which the intestine pushes food and fecal matter along is reduced, which reduces the discomfort of diarrhea. This allows for water and electrolytes more time to be reabsorbed in the body.

Codeine Addiction

Codeine abuse can become an addiction for several reasons. Like other drug addictions, codeine addiction can develop from genetics, brain chemistry, environmental, and psychological issues. Those individuals who have a history of substance abuse and addiction are more likely to develop an addiction to codeine. Brain chemistry is an integral part of addiction. Codeine works on neurotransmitters in the brain. Many individuals begin to use and continue to use codeine to balance a lack of a natural occurring neurotransmitter. Like other drugs, codeine is used for self-medication. The environment that a person grows up in or is surrounded by can contribute to the risk of developing an addiction. Young adults that grow up in a hostile environment can have an increased risk for developing and addiction. Modeling is another factor in becoming addicted to drugs. Children that witness family members abusing drugs are more likely to develop an addiction. Psychological factors can add to a person’s likelihood of developing an addiction. Many individuals dealing with an addiction do so in a self-medicating manner. Those dealing with mental disorders use drugs like codeine to deal with those unpleasant side effects.

Symptoms of Codeine Abuse and Addiction

The signs and symptoms of codeine abuse and addiction will vary from person to person. Since codeine is an opioid pain reliever many of the symptoms will be similar to other opioids. Symptoms can be visible in the addict’s psychological state, physical state, behavior, and moods. Side effects of codeine include a calming and euphoric feeling. Those on codeine will appear extremely relaxed in a euphoric state. The drug will also cause individuals to feel depressed, anxious, and suffer from wide mood swings.

The behavior of the addict will also be erratic. They will display drowsiness, increased time sleeping, decrease in appetite, apathy, increased hospital visits, doctor shopping, prescription forgery, stealing, healthcare fraud, and lying. Codeine is a prescription medication that requires written consent to obtain. When you abuse this drug you use it more than it is supposed to be used, which will require frequent refills. This will cause the individual to seek medical attention much too often. Doctor shopping is an action where an individual visits several different doctors to obtain mass amounts of a drug. Many addicts steal their prescriptions form other family members or friends if they must.

The physical symptoms of a codeine addict will vary depending on how long the individual has been abusing the drug and the dosages to which they abuse it. Codeine addiction can cause:

-Blue tinge to lips and fingernails
-Muscle twitches
-Nausea and vomiting
-Dry mouth
-Urinary retention
-Decreased libido
-Respiratory depression

Codeine works on the neurotransmitters of the brain and will cause significant amount of damage. Codeine will cause hallucinations, delusions, memory loss, and lack of emotions.

Effects of Codeine Abuse

Codeine is a prescription drug, which means it is monitored by a governing agency. This fact gives individuals a false sense of safety. Those that use and abuse the drug believe that since the drug is legal it is safe, but abusing this drug can cause severe damage to the body and life of the abuser. Some effects include:

-Acute pancreatitis
-Major depression
-Liver disease
-Kidney damage
-Heightened pain sensitivity
-Uncontrollable muscle twitches
-Muscle spasms, cramps, and pain
-Respiratory depression
-Cold, clammy skin
-Decreased muscle tone

The non-physical effects of codeine abuse are: legal issues, domestic problems, job loss, impaired social relationships, and financial problems. These issues are similar to all other drug abuse and addiction. When addiction takes control of an individual they, depending on the individual and addiction, take a back seat to the addiction. Whether the individual is capable of functioning normally (functional addict) or not addiction is on their mind constantly.

Codeine Withdrawal

When a codeine addict or abuser suddenly stops using the drug they will experience withdrawal. Withdrawal is the body’s reaction to not having that chemical in their body. They will experience a craving for the drug, runny nose, intense sweating, chills, goose bumps, stomach cramps, nausea, vomiting, muscle spasms, agitation, irritability, psychosis, suicidal thoughts, homicidal thoughts, racing thoughts, and hallucinations.


The exact statistics of codeine abuse and addiction are not known, but opioid abuse is understood to be extensive. It has quickly, and relatively quietly, become a major issue in the United States. It is estimated that 33 million Americans use codeine and other opiate medications for non-medical purposes.

Codeine Addiction Treatment

Getting treatment for codeine addiction is like any other drug or opiate. It first takes the addict to realize there is a problem and they need help. Support from family and friends can help in an addict’s road to recovery. Entering an inpatient treatment center is the best way to overcome an opioid addiction. It is recommended that opioid addicts seek professional treatment because the withdrawal symptoms can be severe. Medical assistance can help to relieve these discomforts and is sometimes necessary. Many recovering addicts relapse during this withdrawal period because of the discomfort. Treatment centers also prepare addicts with the best tools and techniques to ignore and cope with triggers. These techniques help recovering addicts stay sober for long periods of time.