Is Codeine an Opioid?

Codeine was once available over the counter in the US, which led to an explosion of misuse and addiction in the 1990s. This was largely due to the popularity of lean, purple drank, Sizzurp, and similar concoctions involving codeine cough syrup mixed with soda or alcohol, and even hard candy.

In this article, you’ll learn what codeine is along with its effects, withdrawal symptoms, and signs of codeine addiction.

What Is Codeine?

The drug codeine, which is used in prescription cough medications, is an opioid. Though it is considered less potent than oxycodone or hydrocodone, it has contributed to the opioid addiction epidemic in the United States and around the world.

Like other opioids, codeine binds to receptors in the brain that are involved in pain perception as well as breathing. While more potent opioids, like oxycodone, are intended to treat pain, codeine is intended to treat severe coughing, and suppressing breathing is one way to manage cough from more serious diseases.

Today, the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) regulates codeine under the Controlled Substances Act (CSA), and a painkilling dose of codeine is considered Schedule II. This means that the opioid drug has an important medical use, but it can lead to substance misuse, too. Lower doses of the drug in different medications may be Schedule III, IV, or even V – hardly regulated and easy to access with a prescription.

Codeine’s Effects

Even when taken as prescribed, codeine can cause side effects; however, these are more likely to become intense or serious in people who misuse codeine.

Common side effects include the following:

  • Dry mouth
  • Racing heartbeat
  • Vision changes
  • Abdominal pain, nausea, vomiting, or constipation
  • Dizziness
  • Drowsiness, sleepiness, or sedation
  • Headaches
  • Sweating

A person who misuses codeine is more likely to experience withdrawal symptoms if they stop taking the drug.

Withdrawal symptoms include:

  • Anxiousness, irritability, or restlessness.
  • Insomnia or other sleeping trouble.
  • Watery eyes.
  • A runny nose.
  • Goosebumps.
  • Sweating.
  • Excessive yawning.
  • Muscle aches and pains.
  • A faster heart rate.
  • Appetite loss.
  • Abdominal cramps, nausea, vomiting, or diarrhea.
  • Enlarged pupils.

A person who takes codeine may develop tolerance to the drug, and experience withdrawal symptoms and side effects even when taking the medication as prescribed. Again, these experiences are more likely to occur in those who misuse codeine, especially at high doses.

Other signs of codeine addiction include behavioral changes like:

  • Talking or thinking about codeine a lot.
  • Lying about, downplaying, or becoming anxious or aggressive when asked about codeine consumption.
  • Feeling nervous about the prescription and when the next dose will come.
  • Being unable to stop consuming the drug.
  • Hiding evidence that it is being consumed.
  • Stealing codeine or money to buy codeine.
  • Struggling at work or school.
  • Experiencing changes to hygiene, sleep patterns, and physical health.
  • Choosing to take codeine rather than attend other social activities.

If you or someone you love is struggling with codeine addiction, help is available. Our inpatient addiction treatment facility in Riverview, FL provides various levels of addiction treatment and employs evidence-based therapies.

Start treatment today by calling an admissions navigator at . Prefer to check your insurance coverage online first? Just fill out our confidential and you’ll receive a prompt response. Take the first step in your recovery journey now.


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