Codeine Abuse & Addiction Symptoms, Signs, Causes & Effects

Codeine addiction can rob you of your health, your dignity, and your hope for a better tomorrow. At Blue Ridge Mountain Recovery Center, you will reconnect with your best self, and begin to build the foundation for a more promising future.

What is Codeine Abuse

 Learn More About Codeine Abuse

Codeine is a moderately strong, short-acting narcotic prescribed by a physician for mild-to-moderate pain relief as well as cough suppression and relief from diarrhea. Codeine is an opiate analgesic derived from the opium poppy; other opiates include morphine and Demerol. Codeine is often combined with other painkillers, such as acetaminophen and aspirin, to increase their analgesic effects in a process known as drug synergy.

Codeine and other opiate analgesics have been used for many centuries to manage pain, and while intended for use by physicians, opiates like codeine have quickly become a drug of choice for many drug addicts. In fact, opiates are now considered the most commonly abused drug worldwide. Abuse of opiates often begins as an individual develops tolerance to codeine and requires more and more of the drug to create the same effects.

Codeine and opiates have a high potential for abuse as they create powerful effects on the user. In high doses, codeine provides the abuser with feelings of pleasure and reward as well as a sense of calm and well-being. When opiates like codeine enter the brain, the brain releases neurotransmitters providing individuals with a feeling of rapture and happiness. This release of neurotransmitters and stimulation of the reward center of the brain can quickly lead to psychological and physical addiction. Using prescription medication for a nonmedical purpose is considered prescription drug abuse.

While not as serious a threat and less addicting than stronger opioid narcotics, such as OxyContin or heroin, a person who begins to abuse codeine may progress toward abusing stronger and stronger opiates. After a person abuses codeine for a period of time, the joyous effects of the codeine abate and an individual may continue to abuse codeine to function each day and stave off the withdrawal symptoms.

Many individuals who begin to use codeine for a legitimate medical purpose become physically addicted to the drug and experience withdrawal symptoms when codeine use is stopped. An individual may become addicted to codeine within 5-7 days of continued use. Withdrawal symptoms occur as the brain has become accustomed to the influx of codeine and must readjust to functioning without the codeine.

With prompt care and treatment, individuals who are suffering from codeine addiction can regain functionality and go on to live healthy and happy lives.


Statistics on Codeine Abuse

It’s been estimated that 33 million Americans use codeine and other opiate medications for non-medical purposes each year. Second only to marijuana usage, opiate abuse is a rapidly growing problem that must be addressed.


Causes of Codeine Abuse & Addiction

Addiction is thought to be a combination of a number of factors working together. These include:

Genetic: Individuals who have a parent who are addicted to substances are more likely to develop an addiction problem later in life.

Brain Chemistry: Due to the way codeine interacts with the neurotransmitters in the brain, it’s been postulated that individuals who seek out codeine and other drugs of abuse are doing so in order to correct an inborn deficiency of these neurotransmitters. Abuse of codeine may allow for replenishment of these lacking neurotransmitters, leading to a form of self-medication.

Environmental: Children who grow up in a chaotic household where addiction is present may grow up with the understanding that drug use and abuse is the way to cope with unpleasant emotions or stressful situations. In addition, watching a trusted caregiver abuse drugs normalizes these drugs thus making them appear “normal” and not scary in later years.

Psychological: People who become addicted to codeine often have other undiagnosed or untreated mental illnesses that they are struggling with. Often, they will abuse narcotics such as codeine in order to stave off the unpleasant symptoms associated with their mental illness.

Co-Occurring Disorders

Co-Occurring Disorders and the Complexity of Codeine Addiction

Many individuals who struggle with a codeine addiction have an undiagnosed or untreated mental illness. Some use codeine as a way to “self-medicate” the symptoms of mental illness. These co-occurring disorders include:

  • Depressive disorders
  • Anxiety disorders
  • Bipolar disorder
  • Schizophrenia
  • Conduct disorder
  • Antisocial personality disorder

Signs & Symptoms

Signs and Symptoms of Codiene Abuse

Symptoms of codeine abuse will vary among users depending upon the brain chemistry of the user, the amount used, the length of time the drug is abused, and purity of codeine. Symptoms of codeine abuse include:

Mood symptoms:

  • Euphoria
  • Calm
  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Mood swings

Behavioral symptoms:

  • Drowsiness
  • Increased sleeping
  • Decreased appetite
  • Apathy
  • Increased ER visits for vague pain complaints
  • Faking illness to obtain more codeine
  • Indifference toward loved ones
  • “Doctor shopping” or visiting a number of doctors to obtain more codeine prescriptions.
  • Prescription forgery
  • Ordering codeine or other opiates from the internet
  • Stealing prescriptions or opiates from friends and family
  • Financial problems
  • Healthcare fraud
  • Lying to cover-up amount used

Physical symptoms:

  • Constipation
  • Blue tinge to lips and fingernails
  • Muscle twitches
  • Dizziness
  • Fainting
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Dry mouth
  • Itching
  • Rashes
  • Urinary retention
  • Hypotension
  • Seizure
  • Respiratory depression
  • Decreased libido
  • Seizures

Psychological symptoms:

  • Hallucinations
  • Delusions
  • Memory loss
  • Lack of emotions


Effects of Codeine Addiction

Although codeine is a prescription drug, abuse of the drug does cause negative effects. These may include:

  • Acute pancreatitis
  • Major depression
  • Liver damage
  • Kidney damage
  • Financial problems
  • Legal issues
  • Domestic problems
  • Job loss
  • Heightened pain sensitivity
  • Uncontrollable muscle twitches
  • Muscle spasms, cramps, and pain
  • Loss of productivity at school or work
  • Impaired social relationships
  • Seizures
  • Incarceration
  • Respiratory depression
  • Bradycardia
  • Cold, clammy skin
  • Decreased muscle tone
  • Coma


Withdrawal Symptoms of Codeine Addiction

Chronic abuse of codeine can cause physical and psychological dependence. In the event someone who is physically dependent upon codeine stops taking the drug, withdrawal effects may occur. Codeine should always be reduced under the supervision of a trained medical professional to reduce and minimize the unpleasant and dangerous effects of withdrawal. These effects may include:

  • Craving for the drug
  • Runny nose
  • Intense sweating
  • Chills
  • Goosebumps
  • Stomach cramps
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Spasms of the muscles
  • Agitation and irritability
  • Psychosis
  • Suicidal thoughts
  • Homicidal thoughts
  • Racing thoughts
  • Hallucinations
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