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What Does Codeine Do to You?

Codeine is an opioid, usually prescribed to treat moderate pain. It is also used to help relieve pain and discomfort from painful coughs. However, there are some significant risks and side effects of codeine, including substance abuse, addiction, pregnancy risk, and even death.

While it is common knowledge that heroin is a dangerous and deadly opioid, prescription painkiller abuse has accounted for nearly double the overdose deaths of heroin. Medical professionals, treatment experts, and public health officials have struggled to curtail prescription drug abuse in recent years.

Aside from the health risks of using codeine, many current and former addicts report that they began using codeine or hydrocodone before switching to stronger opioids such as OxyContin, morphine, and heroin.

How Codeine Works

Like other natural opiates such as morphine, codeine is derived from the poppy plant. This is the same plant that is used to produce morphine, heroin, and opium.

Chemicals in opioids bind to neuroreceptors in the brain and stop the neurotransmitters from communicating pain signals to the rest of the body. The mu receptor, the one that opioids bind to, is responsible for more than just pain, though. These receptors also regulate respiration rate, can cause constipation, lower blood pressure, and decrease alertness.

Addiction to codeine begins when the oversupply of opioid receptors in the brain effectively turn off a batch of nerves that regulate the release of endorphins and dopamine. When this happens, the brain becomes reliant on the artificial supply of chemicals to control these essential functions. Withdrawal begins as the brain and body “craves” a new supply of chemicals to replenish the receptors.

All of this means that no matter who someone is if they use or misuse opioids for long enough, he or she will become physically and chemically dependent on codeine.

Withdrawal From Codeine

Codeine causes the same withdrawal symptoms as any other opioid, prescribed or illegal. These symptoms include:

  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Muscle fatigue
  • Increased muscle pain
  • Diarrhea
  • Cramping and constipation
  • Extreme dehydration

While the withdrawals of codeine are not fatal, complications from the symptoms of withdrawal can be fatal. Medical and health care experts recommend medical supervision for withdrawal, and studies show that long-term opiate abstinence is more likely with detox under these conditions.

Not Effective as Cough Suppressant

As of January 2018, the FDA began limiting prescriptions for codeine to people 18-years-old and up because of the high risk of abuse and overdose. Using codeine carries a severe risk beyond addiction. Codeine presents a significant risk of Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome in which babies can die from complications caused by opiate withdrawal.

Dr. Richard Klasco published an article in The New York Times criticizing almost any use for codeine. Leading research demonstrates that the benefits of codeine used as a cough suppressant was no more effective than the placebo. Any benefits of codeine as a helpful aid in treating coughs is a medical myth.

The Many Forms of Codeine

Codeine can be ingested or used in a variety of forms. As a prescription, it is produced as a tablet or as a liquid syrup. Taken as directed, codeine is either swallowed with a glass of water or measured out like any cough syrup.

Codeine is abused in many different ways. In liquid form, codeine with promethazine is referred to on the street as “Lean,” “Purple,” “Dirty Sprite,” “Syrup,” and “Texas Tea.” Liquid codeine has been responsible for many deaths and has gained increased attention following the overdose deaths of several musicians.

As a tablet, codeine can be abused by taking more pills than directed or by crushing and snorting the powder.

Because codeine doesn’t sound as scary as the more notable opiates such as heroin, morphine, OxyContin, or fentanyl, this doesn’t mean that codeine is any less dangerous. For many young people experimenting with drugs and alcohol, codeine seems like a safer drug. This is a deadly myth. Codeine is just as dangerous and addictive as any other opioid.

Struggling with Codeine Addiction

If you or a loved one is struggling with codeine addiction, or any other opioid dependency, it is not as hopeless as it may seem. Thousands of people are recovering from addiction every year.

Only about 10% of people with a substance abuse disorder seek treatment, though. Treatment is more available than ever before. If you are thinking about seeking treatment or know somebody who needs addiction treatment, Boardwalk Recovery Center is always available to answer any questions you have about treatment for codeine dependence.

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