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Is Codeine Addictive?

Isaac Alexis, M.D., AAMA, AMP-BC

Medically reviewed by

Isaac Alexis, M.D., AAMA, AMP-BC

May 28, 2019

Codeine is a prescription opioid drug used to relieve pain. Like other opioids, codeine comes with the potential for abuse, dependence, and addiction. Formal treatment is often recommended to overcome an addiction to codeine.

Codeine is a medication used in the treatment of moderate to severe pain. It may also be used as a cough suppressant or as an anti-diarrheal. Codeine is typically only prescribed on a short-term basis and is only available with a prescription.

Codeine is an opiate that is in the same category as other opioids such as heroin and morphine. This drug is typically prescribed in liquid or pill form. While considered far less potent than other opioids, codeine still comes with the risk of abuse and addiction.

Using codeine long-term or taking more than what is recommended or prescribed increases a person’s risk of dependence and addiction to the drug. Codeine addiction can be dangerous and puts individuals at risk for a number of consequences.

What Makes Codeine Addictive?

Like other opioids medications, codeine works by binding to opioid receptors in the brain. Opioid receptors play a role in how the body interprets pain, and codeine acts on these receptors to dull sensations of pain.

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Codeine also affects the reward system in the brain. This drug can increase levels of dopamine, serotonin, and other feel-good neurotransmitters in the brain’s reward system. By doing so, codeine can elicit feelings of euphoria and relaxation.

These positive effects are a primary reason why codeine and other opioids are addictive. Continuing to use codeine reinforces the pleasurable sensations of the drug, causing individuals to want to use more. The more codeine a person uses, the more likely he or she is to develop a tolerance to the drug.

When a tolerance to codeine forms, more of the medication is needed to feel the same effects. Tolerance often leads people to take higher doses of the drug. Continuing to increase how much codeine is taken enhances the risk of physical dependence and addiction.

When a person is dependent on an opioid like codeine, he or she needs the drug just to feel “normal.” This dependence continues to fuel the cycle of abuse, eventually resulting in addiction.

Treatment For Codeine Abuse And Addiction

If you or a loved one is struggling with an addiction to codeine, it’s important to know that help is available. Many people are unable to quit using codeine on their own. This is why a formal treatment program is often recommended to overcome opioid addiction.

Due to the withdrawal symptoms, many people will need to attend a medically supervised detox program to safely and effectively quit codeine. A detox program offers 24/7 support as well as any medical assistance needed to help ease withdrawal symptoms.

Once a detox program is complete, many people will need to go on to an intensive treatment program such as inpatient treatment. Inpatient programs are highly successful at helping individuals achieve and maintain sobriety.

To learn more about the addictive nature of codeine, contact a treatment specialist today.

National Institute on Drug Abuse - Principles of Drug Addiction Treatment: A Research-Based Guide (Third Edition)

Bloomberg - Hip-Hop’s Unlikeliest Icons: Promethazine Codeine Syrup Manufacturers

Narconon - Signs and Symptoms of Codeine Abuse

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