Signs, Symptoms, & Treatment Options

Codeine Addiction

Codeine is a prescribed medication consisting of opioids
and a cough suppressant. It has long been used as a method
to relieve symptoms in those suffering from mild to moderate
pain, but due to its opioid content, it has a high risk for abuse
and dependency.

What is Codeine Addiction

Codeine is generally thought to be less addictive than other narcotics. However, due to its opioid content, it is possible to become addicted to the medication. The risk of addiction to codeine increases when an individual begins to take the medication in ways not originally prescribed by a physician. This can mean taking more than the recommended dose or beginning to use the drug recreationally. Individuals who use the drug recreationally are typically seeking the codeine effect of euphoria.

The risk for addiction also increases the longer an individual takes the medication. For certain illnesses, codeine may be prescribed for longer bouts and as the body continues to take the medication, it begins to build up a tolerance for the drug. Many physicians will continue to increase the dosage of medication to meet the pain needs of their patient. However, increased dosages over a long period of time tend to increase the risk that an individual will not only become physically dependent on the medication but also psychologically dependent as well.

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Codeine Addiction: Signs + Symptoms

Symptoms of codeine abuse and addiction are similar to those of addiction to other opioids. These can include:

  • Shopping for prescriptions: Individuals with an addiction to codeine will often visit multiple doctors in order to obtain prescriptions.
  • Decreased social engagement: When an individual is addicted to codeine their primary focus soon begins to center on how to obtain the drug and maintaining their addiction. Thus, they may begin to disengage with family and friends and work/school performance may decline.
  • Slowed thought processes and decision making skills
  • Memory loss
  • Difficulty focusing
  • Change in mood: Those with an addiction to codeine may find that they have swift mood changes, going from elation to angry very quickly. This is especially true if access to codeine is limited or restricted. They may also experience increased bouts of anxiety and restlessness.

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Codeine Withdrawal: Signs + Symptoms

Symptoms of withdrawal from codeine begin when an individual with a dependency on the drug stops taking it. These withdrawal symptoms derive from the fact that the body’s chemistry has changed and now needs the drug to function properly. Withdrawal symptoms can be both physical and psychological. Early onset of withdrawal symptoms typically begins to occur within a few hours of the last codeine dose. Most symptoms will get gradually worse for two to three days and then gradually decrease in severity and eventually diminish altogether. Symptoms include:

  • Rapid heartbeat
  • Muscle aches
  • Runny Nose
  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Chills
  • Excessive Yawning
  • Digesting and Intestinal Issues: Diarrhea, Stomach Cramping, Nausea and Vomiting
  • Loss of Appetite
  • Depression and Anxiety
  • Irritability

It is important to note that not everyone will experience withdrawal symptoms in the same way. The severity of symptoms will depend on an individuals length of use, level of codeine abuse, tolerance level, and the method used to stop using the drug. Individuals who abruptly quit using codeine will generally experience more severe withdrawal symptoms.

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Treatment for addiction to codeine typically involves a comprehensive approach. Abruptly stopping the drug is not advised due to the increased risk of severe withdrawal symptoms. Most physicians and addiction specialists will encourage a gradual tapering of the medication to reduce the risk of withdrawal symptoms hindering the recovery process. For some, this may mean simply taking lower doses of codeine and for others, it may mean using an alternative, lower dose opioid in order to transition the individual from codeine dependence into recovery.

There are several medications that are currently used to treat the symptoms of withdrawal and aid in recovery, including methadone and buprenorphine. Both medications are low dose opioids with an added component that blocks the codeine effect of euphoria. This allows the body to slowly taper off the opioids and minimize the physical withdrawal effects while breaking the psychological dependency that occurs with opioid use.

Along with tapering and medication-assisted therapy, those in treatment for an addiction to codeine are encouraged to engage in counseling, both in a one on one setting and group. Counseling sessions allow for individuals to get peer support and learn helpful coping strategies to combat cravings for the drug as well as how to meet life’s challenges without dependence on codeine. Comprehensive treatment gives those in recovery the best chance at being successful.

Struggling with an addiction to codeine can be difficult and it can be hard to know what to do when you are ready to quit. You don’t have to do it alone. There are many treatment options available. If you or a loved one is currently struggling with an addiction to codeine and are ready to begin the recovery process, give us a call.

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