What is Codeine?
Codeine is an opiate painkiller, part of the same class of drugs as heroin, morphine, and oxycodone. As a prescription drug, it is used as an analgesic for moderate pain and as a cough suppressant, and it can be taken orally as a tablet, capsule, or syrup. Some people use codeine recreationally, purchasing it off the street or obtaining valid prescriptions but then abusing the medication. Even though it is a prescription drug, codeine is addictive and affects the body similar to other opiates.
Prescription codeine is available as a painkiller or as a cough suppressant. The painkiller form is Tylenol with codeine, known under the brand name Tylenol 3. As a cough suppressant, codeine is combined with the antihistamine promethazine to make promethazine-codeine cough syrup. Both prescriptions have legitimate medical uses; however, they should only be taken according to the doctor’s instructions for both dosage and timing. Any other use is abuse.
What Does Codeine Do in the Body?
As an opiate, codeine targets the brain and central nervous system. It binds to cell receptors, preventing the release of a chemical called GABA. GABA typically regulates dopamine production, so when GABA is not released, dopamine floods the brain. This flooding produces the euphoric high sought after by codeine users. It can also create a sense of peace or apathy, so some people will use it to escape from emotional stress. Repeated use leads to dependency as the user develops both tolerance and addiction to codeine. Once a person becomes tolerant to codeine, the same dose fails to produce any effect; the user will have to use codeine more frequently or at a higher dose to achieve the high. Addiction to codeine causes the user to crave codeine and feel a compulsion to use it, in spite of any adverse effects. Some people mistakenly think that codeine must be safe if it can be prescribed by a doctor, but it is highly addictive and can be a gateway to abusing other opiate drugs.
Side Effects of Codeine
Codeine acts as a central nervous depressant, slowing down the entire body. A Codeine overdose can cause death. Other short-term side effects include:
- Blurred vision
- Depressed breathing rate
- Irritability and moodiness
Long-term abuse leads to severe damage to many different systems in the body, such as:
- Liver damage
- Kidney damage
- Cardiovascular damage
- Stomach damage
The drugs that are often compounded with codeine have side effects as well. Tylenol (generic name acetaminophen) damages the liver in large doses. Since codeine abusers become tolerant to codeine, they use more and more over time, inadvertently overdosing on acetaminophen as well. This liver damage can be fatal. Promethazine-codeine cough syrup can depress the central nervous system so much as to cause death by slowing or stopping the heart or lungs. This risk is even higher when the syrup is combined with alcohol.
Codeine Abuse: Withdrawal and Treatment
When a person discontinues codeine abuse, the body goes through a withdrawal period that can last for several days. Withdrawal is unpleasant and shares many symptoms with withdrawal from other opiates, such as heroin. The user may suffer from:
- Muscle pain
Quitting “cold turkey” is the fastest way to purge all of the codeine from the body, but it is also the most difficult on the person. Tapering the codeine abuse to a lower dose, day by day, can be easier. Drug substitutes, such as methadone or suboxone, can help with the cravings and withdrawal symptoms. Withdrawal and treatment under a doctor’s supervision can provide the best results. If you or someone you know is suffering from a drug addiction, give us a call today.