If you have ever had a persistent cough or have experienced ongoing pain, it is likely that you have taken codeine. While it is a prescription drug and therefore limited in its distribution, codeine is frequently used as a pain reliever and can be found in prescription cough suppressants. Codeine is an opiate—putting it in the same drug class as oxycodone, morphine, and heroin, though it is generally considered safer than many other opiates. Nevertheless, codeine can be abused. And it can be a gateway to more dangerous drugs and to the development of a substance use disorder.
Codeine – What Are the Risks?
While codeine might seem innocuous enough, it is still an opiate. That means that those taking it can build up a tolerance to it which can eventually become a dependency. As tolerance is developed, a user may begin to ingest more and more of the drug. This is particularly dangerous because at high doses, the drug can cause respiratory failure, coma, and in some cases death.
Those dangers increase when codeine is taken in combination with other drugs, including other opioids and alcohol.
But why would anyone take more codeine than they need to address specific problems like a cough or pain? In some cases, increased use may be due to some of the effects of the drug, which include feelings of relaxation and euphoria (it can also cause drowsiness or apathy). Those positive feelings might be enough to tempt someone to take more of the drug than they should or for a longer period of time than their prescription indicates. That might involve attempting to acquire prescriptions from multiple physicians or even buying the drug from an illicit source.
At some point, due to an increased tolerance or a desire for a more potent effect, some codeine users will turn to other dangerous drugs. In this way, codeine serves as a gateway to other substances—a shocking, but undeniably real, danger that most people wouldn’t expect could stem from a cough suppressant.
Misuse Can Lessen Pain Relief Properties of Codeine
We have talked about the potential for building up a tolerance to codeine. That tolerance could mean that the pain alleviating aspects of the drug may no longer work for you. Other opioids may be less effective for managing pain as well. This can be problematic for anyone experiencing pain, but particularly so for those who struggle with chronic pain issues. Misuse of codeine has also been linked to cases in which a person finds themselves much more sensitive to pain—even to the point that they experience pain from contact that wouldn’t generally be thought to be painful.
You Know the Rules: Use Only As Directed
You hear it on pharmaceutical commercials and read it on labels of medication: Use only as directed. And that is exceptionally good advice for all drugs—including codeine. If your doctor prescribes codeine for pain relief or cough suppression, be aware of the dosing instructions and stick to them.
And if you find you are having problems doing that (or if you notice a loved one who seems to be having trouble doing that), it is important to get help right away. A residential recovery center, like St. Gregory, may be best able to help you overcome your addiction to codeine—and will also be able to address co-occurring disorders (like anxiety, trauma, or depression) that may be contributing to your substance use issues.
We Are Here to Help You – Not to Judge You
The opioid epidemic has been front of mind for a lot of people over the last several years. If you are experiencing the symptoms of an opioid addiction—whether you have been using codeine or another opioid—you might feel ashamed and try to hide your problem. At St. Gregory Recovery Center, we want you to know that we are here to help you, not to judge you. With compassion and expertise, we will develop a personalized treatment plan that will help you put codeine use behind you and give you the resources you need to fend off relapses. If codeine cravings are calling out to you, call us.