Codeine Addiction: Withdrawal, Signs and Available Help

Codeine is a commonly prescribed and over the counter opiate painkiller. Derived from Morphine it is stronger than Paracetamol or Ibuprofen.  It is used medically to relieve mild to moderate levels of pain and as a cough suppressant. It comes in different strengths and manufactured under different brand names.  As well as providing effective pain relief, it is also provides the individual with a feeling of well-being.  The effects depend on the user, some feel stimulated with increased concentration and stamina, whilst others feel drowsy and unmotivated. Most over the counter codeine based medicines carry a warning sign. Codeine should be used only for short-term relief of mild or moderate pain and non-chronic conditions.  The reason for this is that Codeine can cause a physical dependence very quickly over a matter of days.  More and more individuals are abusing and becoming addicted to Codeine.  Some have had little choice in the matter, after starting Codeine for a genuine pain complaint such as back problems or post-surgery.  Because Codeine is an opiate, the withdrawal effects are very unpleasant; the body also builds a tolerance to it, meaning that over any sustained period of use, higher strengths will be needed to gain the same effects.

Forms of Codeine

As well as being able to get Codeine on prescription, you can buy Codeine based medicines over the counter. Codeine works on the brains opioid receptors and mimics the naturally occurring chemical endorphins; which are a pain blocker and the brains happy chemical.  For this reason, some may use it just for the effect of elevated mood and euphoria when used in large amounts or high strengths.  A stronger form of Codeine is Dihydrocodeine this is available on prescription only for moderate to severe pain, but can be purchased from street dealers and also over the Internet. Tramadol is a synthetic Narcotic painkiller and has similar effects; again, this is only available on prescription or the black market

Over the counter Codeine does not require a prescription but will only go up to certain strength.  It is usually combined with either Paracetamol, Aspirin or Ibuprofen for increased effects. There is no limit on the amount you can buy, but chemist’s are becoming more aware and look out for possible signs that a repeat purchaser may be abusing the medication.  Common brand names are Paramol, Cocodamol, Nurofen Plus, Nurofen Max and Solpadine Plus. 

Codeine Withdrawal

All forms of Codeine based painkillers have the potential to cause a physical dependency after only 3 days use.

Codeine withdrawal is very unpleasant and manifests in a number of symptoms as the body and brain adjust to not having the drug.  The higher the dosage and the longer the dependency, the more severe the withdrawal symptoms.  Common withdrawal symptoms include:

  • Sweating
  • Shaking
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhoea
  • Chills
  • Anxiety and Panic attacks
  • Loss of appetite
  • Insomnia
  • Muscle cramps and pains
  • Agitation
  • Sneezing and runny nose
  • Yawning
  • Coughing
  • Dilated pupils
  • Stomach cramps
  • Low and emotional mood
  • Headaches

Codeine withdrawal symptoms will diminish over time, it may be a few weeks before you start to feel better depending on the amount you are withdrawing from. Codeine has similar withdrawal symptoms to any opioid-based drug, even Class A drugs such as Heroin. This is why codeine addiction is considered severe and dangerous.

The Dangers of Codeine Abuse and Addiction

Many think that because Codeine is prescribed and available over the counter that it is not harmful like illegal drugs, this couldn’t be further from the truth.  Most over the counter medicines containing Codeine are combined with other medicines such as Paracetamol, prolonged use or abuse can cause liver damage and even liver failure. Codeine mixed with Ibuprofen can damage the stomach lining and cause internal bleeding and ulcers.  Codeine combined with Aspirin can cause lowered blood pressure, nosebleeds, internal bleeding, rapid heart rate and heart failure.

(Please note that these medications are only dangerous when not used as prescribed as per the manufacturer’s instructions, or are used for prolonged periods of time.)

Mixing Codeine with other substances

Individuals who are addicted to or abuse Codeine may mix it with other drugs to gain a greater effect.  This increases the risk of developing dangerous side effects and can lead to respiratory failure, coma and death.

Mixing Codeine with any kind of depressant drug is particularly dangerous as the effects are more than doubled. You should not mix Codeine with any of the following in particular:

  • Alcohol
  • Valium
  • Sleeping Tablets
  • Heroin
  • Methadone
  • Tranquilizers

Did you know that under the Misuse of Drugs Act (MDA) and Driving Legislation it is illegal to drive or operate heavy machinery under the influence if you are deemed unfit?  A new Drug Driving law came into force in March 2015 and includes controlled drugs such as Codeine.  If taking Codeine slows down your reactions, affects your concentration or causes drowsiness, you should NOT drive or operate heavy machinery.  Being caught Drug driving can carry heavy penalties and a ban from driving.

Signs of Codeine abuse and Addiction

The following signs and symptoms indicate that there is a strong chance you or a loved one has a problem with Codeine that requires professional help:

  • Going to different chemists to buy Codeine so as not to raise suspicion or be challenged by the pharmacist
  • Inventing pain related ailments in order to get prescription strength Codeine
  • Buying Codeine from a Street dealer or off the Internet
  • Going through packets and clearly taking more than the prescribed/recommended amount
  • Mixing Codeine with Narcotics or Alcohol for greater effect
  • Wanting to stop but finding yourself unable to cope with withdrawal
  • Taking Codeine in increasing amounts and strengths
  • Risk taking under the influence
  • Loss of interest in family, friends and loved ones
  • Secretive behaviour and lying about the amount you are taking
  • Taking Codeine to get high rather than for pain
  • Lying and manipulating your GP for early prescriptions and/or higher dosage

Help for Codeine Addiction

Liberty House provides a full detox and rehabilitation program for those wishing to stop suffering with Codeine addiction. We will ensure that your detox is as comfortable as possible, monitored, and reviewed continually by our in house Detox Prescriber. Alongside of your detox, you will have the option to undergo a tailored intensive therapy program to help safeguard against relapse, and to rebuild you physically, mentally and spiritually.  You will be in a safe and secured environment, with around the clock support and supervision, to ensure your best chances of success and in maintaining abstinence on leaving treatment.

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