dangers of codeine

Codeine is a pain medication that is available in both over-the-counter and prescription formulas; it’s also used as an ingredient in some other medications. Although codeine is sold in over-the-counter formulations, including in some Tylenol products, it is an opioid.

Medications containing codeine include, but aren’t limited to, Diabetic Tussin C, Robitussin AC, Codafen, Cheratussin, Nalex AC, and Ambenyl.

When used as directed to treat mild to moderate pain associated with ailments such as headaches, toothache, or muscle ache–or as part of cough syrup–codeine is generally safe. However, the misuse of codeine can lead to adverse effects and a possible dependency on the substance.

Codeine Misuse

As an opioid, codeine has addictive properties similar to those of morphine or oxycodone. Using codeine over a long period of time to treat pain, particularly under the care of a medical professional, does not mean a person is addicted.

According to WebMD, only a small number of people who use pain medications according to medical instruction have a risk of addiction. The risk of codeine addiction is much higher in someone who has previously struggled with addiction and / or self administers the drug outside of doctor supervision.

An Easy to Access Drug

Codeine is easy to access and is not an illicit drug, however, there is the danger of dependency for both those who begin taking the drug under medical supervision and others who are seeking it for recreational use. Individuals may buy over-the-counter codeine products or misuse prescription codeine products—including cough syrups—that were prescribed to someone else.

Individuals seeking to use codeine in a recreational manner may take pills or syrups as is or combine them with other drugs and alcohol.

Adverse Effects of Codeine Misuse

As with most narcotic pain medications, codeine can have side effects. Some side effects of codeine, which may be exacerbated by misuse, include:

  • blurred vision
  • chills
  • confusion
  • problems breathing
  • fainting or dizzy spells
  • a weak pulse
  • loss of appetite
  • changes in blood pressure
  • pain in abdominal area
  • weakness
  • fatigue
  • and vomiting

Suddenly stopping the use of codeine can lead to withdrawal symptoms, such as headaches. The adverse effects of codeine are generally multiplied when the substance is combined with alcohol or other drugs.

Building Tolerance

Because bodies eventually develop a tolerance for greater and greater amounts of a consistently used drug, those who misuse codeine are at risk of overdosing. Overdose symptoms include:

  • blue lips
  • unconsciousness
  • unusual drowsiness
  • irregular heartbeat
  • chest pain
  • and constricted pupils

Heavy use of codeine can even lead to severe health problems, including heart disease. The National Institute on Drug Abuse notes that misuse of codeine presents a high risk for fatality, because an abundance of the drug in the body works to reduce the functioning of the central nervous system and can result in a shutdown of lung or heart activity.

Treatment for Codeine Addiction

It’s easy to overlook codeine misuse, in part because the drug is legal and is often prescribed for pain relief. Family members and friends may write off excessive codeine use as a temporary need for an ailing loved one.

Because codeine misuse has serious side effects and dependency can occur quickly, contact us today if you suspect a friend or loved one may be misusing codeine.


  1. http://www.fda.gov/downloads/Drugs/DrugSafety/UCM302557.pdf
  2. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12006904
  3. http://www.webmd.com/pain-management/guide/drug-tolerance-addiction
  4. http://www.webmd.com/drugs/2/drug-2920/promethazine-vc-codeine-oral/details
  5. http://www.drugabuse.gov/drugs-abuse/emerging-trends
  6. http://www.drugs.com/sfx/codeine-side-effects.html
  7. http://www.drugs.com/codeine.html
  8. http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/druginfo/meds/a682065.html