Codeine, one of the most commonly used opioid narcotics in the world, is a relatively short-acting analgesic, with most effects lasting a few hours. A member of the opiate class of narcotic prescription medications, codeine is derived from a member of the opium poppy plant. Opiates include other drugs such as heroin, Vicodin, hydrocodone, OxyContin, and Demerol. Codeine is generally prescribed by a physician to treat mild-to-moderate levels of pain, manage a pesky cough, and occasional treat gastrointestinal problems such as diarrhea. Most individuals who are prescribed codeine to manage a medical illness take the drug directly as prescribed and never have a problem, but some individuals develop an addiction.
Used for centuries to manage pain in chronic pain sufferers, codeine and other opiates are becoming the drug of choice for many drug addicts. In fact, opiates are now the most commonly abused drug in the world. Opiates such as codeine are drugs of abuse due to the powerful effects on the user. In addition to pain relief, in higher doses codeine can lead to a pleasurable euphoric sensation. When opiates enter the central nervous system, they activate the reward system of the brain, allowing for excessive release of pleasurable hormones. It is this feeling that codeine addicts crave.
While many individuals do find that codeine is a miracle drug for the relief of symptoms, codeine addiction is no miracle. Like any addiction, codeine use and abuse can lead to devastating health and interpersonal problems. Many individuals who abuse codeine become tolerant to the mild effects of the narcotic and begin to abuse heavier and stronger narcotics to achieve greater highs. In addition, many individuals with codeine addiction begin to use other drugs such as benzodiazepines and alcohol in order to achieve greater highs. Others may abuse codeine and stimulant drugs in order to reduce the side effects of the stimulants and produce a more mellow high.
Codeine addiction is a serious disorder that can cause much suffering for all involved. Prompt medical treatment and therapy are necessary to reduce the ill-effects of codeine.
Many people who are addicted to substances such as codeine find that they have underlying mental illnesses that can worsen with the usage of substances. These co-occurring disorders include:
- Bipolar disorder
- Conduct disorder
- Depressive disorders
- Anti-social personality disorder
- Conduct disorder
- Substance abuse
- Anxiety disorders
Prescription drug abuse is on the rise in the United States. Estimates are that about 33 million Americans use codeine each year for non-medical purposes.
While the causes for codeine addiction are not well-understood, addiction is thought to be a combination of a number of factors working together. Some of the causes for codeine addiction include:
Genetic: It’s been determined that addiction to certain substances runs in families. Individuals who have a first-degree relative, such as a parent, who are addicted to substances are more likely to develop an addiction later in life.
Biological: The interaction of codeine in the brain has caused a number of researchers to question whether or not certain individuals are born lacking the neurotransmitters that cause pleasure and well-being. These individuals may be attempting to correct this inborn deficiency by abusing codeine.
Environmental: Individuals who are raised in a home environment in which addiction runs rampant may be at higher risk for developing addiction disorders. In addition, individuals who begin to abuse drugs at an earlier age may be more prone to develop an addiction later in life.
Psychological: Many individuals struggle with undiagnosed mental illnesses that cause a variety of unpleasant symptoms. In order to alleviate these unpleasant emotions, an individual may turn to substance abuse in order to feel more normal.
The symptoms of codeine abuse are varied among addicts depending largely upon the length of time a person abuses codeine, the amount used, and the frequency of usage. Some of the most common symptoms of codeine abuse are:
- Emotional numbing
- Sense of well-being and calmness
- Mood swings
- Withdrawing socially from loved ones
- Social isolation
- Forging prescriptions in order to obtain more codeine
- Doctor shopping, or visiting a number of doctors in order to obtain greater amounts of codeine
- Frequent ER visits for vague complaints of pain
- Stealing or borrowing codeine from friends and loved ones
- Financial problems
- Fixation on codeine
- Indifference toward loved ones, job, and social activities
- Legal problems
- Healthcare fraud
- Ordering codeine on the internet
- Faking illnesses to obtain more codeine
- Lying to hide the amount of codeine being abused
- Interpersonal relationship problems
- Poor work or school performance
- “Nodding off” during conversations
- Blue tinges on the lips and fingernail beds
- Dry mouth
- Urinary retention
- Low blood pressure
- Decreased sex drive
- Respiratory depression
- Worsening of mental health
- Increased mental illness symptoms
- Decreased memory
- Lack of emotions
The long-term effects of codeine addiction can impact nearly every area of an individual’s life. These effects may include:
- Acute pancreatitis
- Liver damage
- Kidney damage
- Increased sensitivity to pain
- Major depression
- Muscle twitches, cramps, spasms and pain
- Respiratory depression
- Cold and clammy skin
- Lack of muscle tone
- Job loss
- Legal problems
- Domestic abuse
Effects of Withdrawal
Depending upon the length of time an individual is addicted to codeine, he or she may suffer from severe symptoms of withdrawal. Withdrawal from opiates such as codeine should always be done under the care of a medical professional. These withdrawal effects may include:
- Intense drug cravings
- Runny eyes and nose
- Chills and goose bumps
- Stomach cramps
- Nausea and vomiting
- Muscle spasms
- Suicidal thoughts
- Homicidal thoughts
- Racing thoughts