Codeine Facts

  • Generic Name or Active Ingridient: Codeine

Codeine is a prescription narcotic medication used to treat mild to moderate pain. It is also combined with other drugs and used to relieve a cough. Prescribed alone or as a combination drug, codeine comes in tablets, capsules and liquid formulations meant to be taken orally. This medication is usually taken every 4 to 6 hours as needed. The adult dosage of codeine is 15, 30 or 60 mg. Patients' response, along with the severity of pain, usually determines the dosage.

Because codeine can be habit forming, it's important to take this medication exactly as directed. It should never be taken in a higher dose or more often than recommended. Misuse of codeine could result in dependence, addiction or overdose. As with any medication, there is always the risk for codeine side effects. The most serious is respiratory depression. Another severe but less common side effects is circulatory depression. Because of codeine's side effects, caution should be used among patients who are driving or operating machinery.

Codeine Side Effects Range From Common to Severe

Frequently reported side effects include dizziness, nausea, sedation, lightheadedness, vomiting and sweating. Other side effects can include dry mouth, constipation, euphoria, weakness, headache, visual disturbances, confusion, insomnia, agitation, flushing, palpitations, faintness, reduced libido, urinary retention, rash and edema. Codeine is not usually prescribed in pregnancy except when doctors determine that benefits outweigh risks. Taking this medication with other drugs or substances that depress the central nervous system can be dangerous. These include other narcotics, tranquilizers, sedative-hypnotics and alcohol.

The Harsh Reality of Codeine Use and How Problems Can Arise

Codeine has the potential to be abused. Repeated use of this drug can lead to physical and psychological dependence. Regular use, even among those who are taking it as prescribed, can lead to the development of a tolerance. This is when a person's medication becomes ineffective at the current dosage and more must be taken to achieve the desired effect. Patients should talk to a doctor before increasing their dose. He or she may decide to switch medication or look to other alternatives. Overdose is another possibility and can include respiratory depression, stupor, coma, cold or clammy skin, circulatory collapse, cardiac arrest and possible death.

A physical dependence on codeine will manifest in withdrawal symptoms once use is stopped. Opiate withdrawal can include symptoms of nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, runny nose, watery eyes, restlessness, anxiety, insomnia, muscle pain and rapid heartbeat. Physical and psychological dependence together are indicative of codeine addiction. Compulsive behaviors and thoughts surrounding the use of codeine or other opiates may require professional attention. Codeine addiction can be treated through programs that include detox, rehab and rapid opiate detox. Patients can recover fully and return to a healthy, productive life.