Codeine Addiction: Signs, Overdose and Withdrawal

Codeine: Is prescribed by a physician generally in codeine-based cough syrup to treat severe coughs that don’t respond to conventional cough suppressants. It is also prescribed in pill form to treat mild to moderate pain.  Either way, it’s prescribed it is meant to be a short-term drug. Codeine falls in the class of an opiate.

Some of the effects of codeine use include: feelings of euphoria, relaxation, and drowsiness.

It is easy to develop a dependency on Codeine. Although many people begin to use the drug for legitimate conditions, it is easy to begin to abuse it. Many codeine users begin to use the drug to cope with other physical conditions then turning to treat emotional pain as well.

People think that since the drug has been prescribed by a medical professional it is harmless, but just the opposite can be true. In high enough doses codeine can cause respiratory failure, coma, and even death. This risk for these things to happen rises even higher when combined with alcohol or other opioids. Codeine has been considered the gateway drug to other opiate abuse such as heroin.

Signs and Symptoms of Codeine Addiction

There are many signs of codeine abuse, but the most common one is nausea, especially in cough syrups.  Here are some of the other effects of codeine abuse:

  • Anxiety or depression
  • Mood swings
  • Drowsiness
  • Sleeping more than usual
  • Nodding off
  • Decreased appetite
  • Weight loss
  • Clammy hands and feet
  • Stomach pain
  • Constipation
  • Itching
  • Slow breathing
  • Changes in vision

Over a long period of time, codeine abuse can cause lung infections, bowel damage, sleep disorders, irregular heart rate and even brain damage. Not only can addiction have physical effects, but addiction can also have a profound impact on your quality of life. As you become increasingly preoccupied with finding and taking the drug your professional and interpersonal relationships suffer.  You may lose your job, your family and your friends. The drug will in essence take over your life. This may happen without you even realizing it.

Although codeine is considered a milder opiate in the big picture, overdose is still a possibility and can be just as deadly. Opiates depress your central nervous system. This system is essential for the function of your heart and respiratory system. This becomes especially dangerous when combined with other opioids or alcohol.

Signs of a codeine overdose

  • Slow and labored breathing
  • Cold and clammy skin
  • Extreme drowsiness or fatigue
  • Dizziness
  • Weakness
  • Lightheadedness
  • Loss of consciousness
  • Low blood pressure 
  • Week pulse
  • Bluish lips and fingernails

It is possible however improbable to come off the addiction to codeine yourself.  Many people report that they go into codeine withdrawal. This can present itself as the bad flu. For heavy long-term users, it’s much worse and may require medical intervention in a drug rehab facility.

Signs of codeine withdrawal

  • Runny nose
  • Watery eyes
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Stomach cramps and diarrhea
  • Loss of appetite
  • Weight loss
  • Muscle pains

Despite how easy it is to get addicted to codeine, admitting you have a problem and seeking help may be more difficult.  The first step in getting help is to let your friends and family know that you have a problem. Seeking help from those around you may seem difficult at first but in the long run will prove to be very helpful. If you find yourself without anyone willing to help then seek the help and advice from a medical professional. They will be able to point you in the right direction and may even be able to refer you to a facility that can help you with your addiction.

It is important to remember that doing this on your own is difficult and the probability of relapse is much greater if you go this route.


As with any addiction, getting help is the first step.  Learning about what led you to the addiction and gaining the skills to help to combat it in the future is also something that is necessary to be able to hold onto your sobriety in the future. Remember you are not in a hopeless situation – help is out there all you need to do is reach out for it.

Interesting Related Article: “What is Addiction? Definition and Examples