Codeine Addiction

Are you worried that you or someone close to you is addicted to codeine?  Help is at hand. Here we tell you a little about codeine, what to look out for and how we can get you or a loved one the best possible treatment.

What is codeine?

Codeine is an active ingredient found in some analgesics (painkillers) and cough syrups. Like morphine, codeine is an opiate, derived from opium. Analgesics with codeine are readily available as over-the counter medications such as Co-Codamol. Street names for codeine include Captain Cody and cody. Users can develop a physical and emotional dependency to codeine. It produces seemingly pleasant effects such as drowsiness and euphoria, and this can be addictive. The body’s tolerance to codeine can be quickly built up and users may find they have to take increasingly high doses to obtain the same effect.

Am I at risk of addiction if I take it?

Codeine AddictionTaking codeine in accordance to medical instructions should pose no risk. However, taking it too frequently and in high doses may result in severe side effects. These include nausea, constipation, breathing problems and even seizures. Combining codeine with other drugs or alcohol is dangerous and could lead to overdose and, ultimately, death.  An addiction to codeine is all too easy to feed; users will frequent a range of pharmacists to obtain their “fix”.

If you find it hard to believe someone could be addicted to codeine without knowing it, you are not alone. In fact, that’s the case with most people addicted to this common painkiller. They have no idea they are completely dependent upon codeine until someone points out the symptoms to them.

Co Codamol Addiction

Co Codamol is an every day OTC medication that many people take unsuspectingly, not realising that daily use can lead to physical dependence. This product comes in varying strengths, the strongest form coming from a prescription only medication from your GP.

If you think you might be a codeine addict, or you know someone who likely is, the symptoms of addiction are visible. We have listed them below for your consideration. Should they indicate an addiction, then we strongly urge you to seek out the help that will let you or your loved one regain control.

To make this as easily understandable as possible, we will deal with two types of symptoms: those that might be observed by family and friends (common) and those that would be observed by a doctor (medical).

What are the common addiction signs?

  • Compulsion – Codeine addicts often feel compelled to take the drug without any reasonable explanation as to why it’s necessary
  • Self-Control – A lack of self-control in frequency and dosage
  • Withdrawal – Codeine addicts demonstrate physiological withdrawal symptoms when dosages are reduced or missed
  • Neglect – Addicts will often neglect things like personal hygiene and appearance because they are no longer important
  • Tolerance – A codeine addict continually needs larger doses to enjoy the same effect
  • Continued Use – Even when an addict is presented with facts regarding the effects of long-term codeine use, he continues to use the drug anyway.

If you recognise any of these symptoms in yourself or a loved one, there is a strong possibility of codeine addiction. It is a good idea to seek the advice of a doctor or drug addiction centre right away. Though some find it hard to believe, codeine addiction can be life threatening. You can do significant damage to the liver and other vital organs that could result in loss of life.

Will my GP help?

When a doctor is presented with a possible codeine addiction case, he looks for specific clinical evidence. Symptoms he will attempt to observe include:

  • Repeated requests for codeine prescriptions
  • Potential liver or kidney damage
  • Gastrointestinal issues (constipation, nausea, pain)
  • Low blood pressure, low heart rate
  • Vision problems (blurred vision, difficulty seeing at night)
  • Prolonged depression
  • Sexual dysfunction.

Any of these symptoms, combined with the common symptoms listed earlier, is a strong indication of a codeine addiction. If a doctor believes addiction is present, he or she will recommend a course of action that could include detoxification, rehabilitation, or both.

It cannot be stressed enough that codeine addiction is not harmless. It may not be as quickly and openly destructive as addictions to illicit drugs, but it is just as destructive over the long term. If there is any evidence of codeine addiction in yourself or loved one, please seek appropriate help immediately. The sooner the addiction cycle can be broken, the greater the chances of regaining normal life.

Some facts about codeine addiction

Here are five important facts you need to know about codeine addiction:

1. Roots of Codeine Addiction

Codeine is a legally prescribed drugs used to relieve pain. It is often prescribed for people recovering from surgeries, traumatic accidents, serious infections, and so on. As a result, the roots of codeine addiction are often based in a legitimate medical therapy. The typical codeine addict starts out as a patient in genuine need of pain relief who, for whatever reason, comes to depend on the drug.

2. Addiction Can Happen Slowly

Unlike some illicit drugs like crack cocaine, addiction to codeine can come on slowly. That’s what makes it so dangerous. More than one codeine addict has found himself dependent on the drug without ever realising how he got to that place of dependence.

Codeine addiction starts when patients believe they cannot tolerate any amount of pain. They take the drug as prescribed, but they are afraid to wean themselves according to doctor’s instructions because they’re afraid of unbearable pain returning. Before long, they believe codeine is appropriate as a means of preventing any future pain. At that point, a person is addicted.

3. Addiction is Costly

Although codeine is a prescription/OTC drug it, can be a costly one. It is just as capable of ruining your financial situation as any illicit street drug. The financial damage may come more slowly, but come it will.

4. Addiction Can Be Life-Threatening

Because codeine is a prescription drug, society tends to not view it as potentially life threatening. Nevertheless, it is. Any drug that is abused can have serious negative effects on the body to the point of eventual death. There’s no such thing as a non-life-threatening drug addiction.

5. Addiction Ruins Lives

Another common misconception about codeine addiction is that it hurts no one but addict. But that’s no truer for this drug than it is for alcohol, cocaine or another substance. Addiction to codeine can ruin the life of the addict as well as his relationships with family members, friends, co-workers, etc.

The good news is that codeine addiction can be overcome with proper therapy, counselling and medical intervention. If you or a loved one is suffering with codeine addiction, now is the time to act. Now is the time to get the help necessary to overcome codeine addiction, so that a normal and productive life can be enjoyed.

Codeine statistics

We can get some idea of the scope of the problem by looking at the number of prescriptions being written for opioids. Codeine is part of that class of drugs.

Statistics show that between 1999 and 2008 the number of prescriptions went from approximately 6.2 million annually to 14.8 million. That’s an increase of 400%. Experts say this number does not reflect an increased number of patients experiencing pain. Rather, it reflects a greater willingness among doctors to prescribe opioids rather than rely on safer analgesics.

Among the most powerful in this class of drugs are substances like morphine and oxycodone. Statistics show that their use has also jumped from 1.4 million to more than 4 million over the last 10 years. Such a staggering rise in the use of these drugs is frightening

Codeine addiction withdrawal

Addiction withdrawal is uncomfortable regardless of the substance involved. It is no different when breaking codeine addiction. Unfortunately, withdrawal symptoms are enough to drive many addicts right back to the drug they are trying to kick. Knowing the symptoms beforehand, so the preparations can be made, can be helpful.

The good news about codeine withdrawal is that it is not necessarily as difficult as some other drugs. If an addict can prepare for 5 to 7 days of discomfort, detoxification can be accomplished comparably quickly. From there it is a matter of maintenance for as long as it takes to remain drug-free.

As with any drug, there are two types of symptoms that accompany codeine withdrawal: physical and psychological. For some, the physical withdrawal symptoms are worse, for others it is just the opposite. Both can be overcome with some persistence and support.

Physical codeine withdrawal

Withdrawal from codeine begins at the point where the amount of the drug in the system prompts the addict to take the next dose. The severity of the symptoms is different in each individual person:

  • Headaches – Most codeine addicts report headache as being the first symptom. The headaches are described as dull and persistent, lasting three days or longer.
  • Pain – Because codeine addiction usually begins because of pain management, the pain the addict is trying to cover-up returns with the withdrawal. Accompanying the original pain is also general body aches in the muscles and joints.
  • Nausea and Vomiting – Codeine does do damage to both the liver and kidneys. During withdrawal, some of that damage can manifest through nausea and vomiting. Furthermore, gastrointestinal pain and diarrhea are usually part of the equation.
  • Shakes and Sweating – Involuntary muscle movements, also known as ‘the shakes’, will usually be present along with sweating. The severity of these muscle movements can be significant.

Psychological codeine withdrawal

codeine tabletsThe psychological symptoms of codeine withdrawal can be just as powerful and discouraging. Nevertheless, the addict who can persist through them will prevail. These psychological symptoms include:

  • Habitual Compulsions – Any habit a person develops can be difficult to break simply because habits become a normal part of what he does. Like cigarette smoking, the actual habit of taking codeine may be more powerful than the addiction to the drug itself.
  • Unreasonable Fear – The fear of unmanageable pain or an inability to cope is another powerful psychological withdrawal symptom. Patients often believe that without codeine they will never be able to make it.

Recognise addiction in yourself or loved ones

Marilyn is a single woman in her early 30’s who, under normal circumstances, would probably be married with a couple of children and a decent job. She would probably have hobbies and interests typical of most other women in the UK, along with dreams for the future. However, Marilyn is not living under normal circumstances. She is addicted to codeine.

Marilyn’s addiction began almost eight years ago after a skiing accident resulted in a back injury. Her doctor prescribed codeine to help her manage her pain – a chronic pain that continued for months. Marilyn became addicted to her prescription drug because she knew no other way to cope.

Unfortunately, Marilyn is not alone. Official government estimates put the number of codeine addicts in the UK somewhere near 30,000 or more. Moreover, most of them got started the same way Marilyn did, by taking a prescription codeine product to deal with pain after an accident, injury, or illness.

If Marilyn’s story sounds similar to your own life, it would be wise for you to step back and take an honest look at where you are. Have you been using codeine for an extended amount of time? Do you feel compelled to take the drug even though it doesn’t make sense that you should need it? Do you find you need larger doses as time passes to get the same effect?

If you answered ‘yes’ to these questions then you may have a codeine addiction problem. It’s time you make the decision, right now, to stop once and for all. There is help available, but you will never be successful until you commit yourself to stopping. That requires you recognise your addiction for what it is.

Treatment for codeine addiction

Getting someone with an addiction to prescription drugs to accept help is difficult. Many users don’t realise they have an addiction.  The common image of a drug addict is of an individual “shooting up” in a seedy environment, not of someone taking tablets that are legally available. But addiction to codeine is very real. Addicts can take between 20 and 30 pills daily, or the equivalent in cough syrup. codeine-bottles

As a result, abrupt withdrawal can be painful and dangerous, leading to seizures and convulsion.  Detox should be carried out in a residential treatment centre or under a medically controlled home detox programme.  It is also important that a codeine addict addresses the psychological issues behind their addiction as part of their long-term recovery. At Addiction Helper, we’ll guide you through the available options for treating codeine addiction, and give you and your family all the support you need.

The number of people suffering from codeine addiction is not clearly known in the UK, but statistics show it is on the rise. Dependable numbers are hard to come by because codeine and codeine-based painkillers are available through both prescriptions and over-the-counter (OTC). However, statistics aside, codeine addiction is a very real condition that requires professional treatment to overcome.

Codeine addiction treatment offers two primary methodologies: detoxification and rehabilitation. Some patients choose one or the other while others choose a combination of both. The treatment for any individual addict is up to him and those providing the care.


Sometimes known simply as detox, this treatment is designed to make sure the addict is drug-free within a matter of days. It is a ‘cold turkey’ approach that can include intervention or be exclusive of it. Both have their advantages:

  • Intervention – When intervention is involved, it usually comes by way of a mild sedative allowing the addict to sleep through most of the first few days. By sleeping, the symptoms of withdrawal are more easily tolerated. Sedation typically last for 3 to 4 days.
  • Non-intervention – Detoxification without intervention is simply a matter of allowing the addict to go through withdrawal without medical assistance. Those assigned to care for the patient make him as comfortable as possible while helping him get through.

Upon completion of the codeine detox, some patients can walk away without having any further problems. This method is chosen usually when an addict needs to break his addiction cleanly and quickly. Others still struggle with the temptations of codeine addiction even after detoxification. For them, an opiate blocking medication can be used for up to 12 months to help prevent relapse.


The principle of codeine rehabilitation is one designed to get to the core issues of why a person is abusing codeine. Make no mistake; substance abuse is always more than just a physical addiction. It involves mental and emotional issues as well. For example, codeine addicts often have an unreasonable fear of pain.

Rehabilitation makes use of a number of components:

  • Group Therapy – Group therapy allows addicts to spend time together discussing their lives as addicts and their objectives for being drug-free. The mutual support is an encouragement for each individual to keep going regardless of how difficult things become.
  • Counselling – One-on-one counselling is also used to address specific issues with the individual addict. This type of counselling is invaluable because it can be custom tailored as needed.
  • Aftercare – The most successful rehabilitation programs include aftercare; a type of intervention that makes sure the addict continues seeking support and counselling even after leaving a rehab centre. Aftercare is vital in preventing relapses among those addicts who have used the rehabilitation method.

Depending on the extent of the codeine addiction, rehabilitation therapy can be anywhere from three to six months. If a rehab centre believes it is necessary, the addict’s family will also be involved as a support system and a means of accountability.

Getting help for codeine addiction

Even if you do suffer from long-term, chronic pain that is disruptive to your life, prolonged use of codeine is not the answer. Codeine can damage the liver and kidneys and can eventually lead to death. It is not a drug to be taken lightly just because it is so easily available.

If you have been using codeine for more than a few weeks, you should make it a priority to speak with your doctor about the potential for codeine addiction. If you exhibit any of the symptoms of addiction, perhaps you need to seek out a rehabilitation program.

Whatever you do, do not take codeine addiction lightly. If there is any chance at all that you might have a problem with the drug, get help right away. The sooner you do the better off you and your loved ones will be.

For more information, help, advice or to talk to us about your own or a loved one’s codeine addiction, call us on 0800 44 88 688.

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