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Codeine is one of the major naturally-occurring opiates that is found in the opium poppy seed pods, but is also commercially produced. Codeine is about 10% as strong as morphine. In fact, in some countries it is a legal, over-the-counter medication found in cough suppressants, antidiarrheal, and headache-relief formulations. Since codeine is less potent than most of the other common opiates, developing a codeine addiction may take longer than to that of other drugs. The reality is, codeine is an opiate and causes opiate addiction that presents like that of other opiates.

photo of a poppy plant where codeine can be extracted from its seeds.

Codeine Side Effects

The side-effects of codeine include constipation, sleepiness, lethargy, itching, and nausea. The most dangerous side-effect of codeine use is addiction. The development of codeine addiction may be due to chronic use for a true medical condition, or may arise from those who simply seek the drug for recreational activities. In countries that allow codeine to be sold over-the-counter usually have regulations that mandate the addition of other substances to the codeine formulation, like aspirin or acetaminophen and sometimes caffeine. This is meant to prevent its abuse.

Since the amount of codeine in each table is limited, one would reach an aspirin or acetaminophen overdose before reaching the sought-after “high” from this opiate. However, some have learned how to purify the codeine-containing tablets and they can still be abused in this way.

Codeine is converted to morphine in the body, primarily in the liver. It is morphine that gives the actual action of codeine. Nonetheless, when taken in sufficient quantities, one can reach a state of being “high” and become addicted. When taken in high quantities, codeine can also lead to an opiate overdose situation.

When To Use Codeine

Codeine is indicated for mild to moderate pain, cough, diarrhea, and for headache relief. In the United States, codeine is a Schedule II – V drug, as listed by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA), depending on the formulation. In its pure form, codeine is a schedule II drug, the highest schedule for medically-approved drugs.

Codeine Addiction Treatment

Opiate addiction due to codeine is treatable, but its effective resolution will require determination and perseverance of both the addict and the addict’s support system. The treatment for codeine dependence is like that of other opiates, such as heroin, morphine, and Oxycontin.

Drug detox usually consists of the administration of an opiate replacement drug, such as buprenorphine (Suboxone or Subutex) or methadone. The Suboxone or methadone is then tapered over a week or so, until ultimately the patient is no longer on an opiate. Sometimes, codeine detox is carried-out without using another opiate, and only symptomatic treatments are given for withdrawal symptoms, such as medications to control vital signs, sleep, muscle cramping, nausea, and vomiting.

There are those who are unable to stay opiate free, even after extensive treatment, or those who relapse is likely. In these codeine-addicted individuals, a long-term opiate replacement therapy (ORT) can be initiated; whereby, the codeine addict is maintained on another opiate like Suboxone or methadone for a period of time.

Codeine detox centers also treat other types of opiate addiction, so the patient population is likely to be mixed. In any case, the signs and symptoms and consequences of the addiction will be similar. Things like medical, legal, social and relationship problems are common in addiction.

Drug rehab for opiate addiction is a good place to start after undergoing drug detox. Opiate detox will safely remove the drug from one’s system. However, treatment of any underlying emotional or psychiatric conditions is important in maintaining a drug-free lifestyle. In drug rehab, the essential tools for maintaining long-term sobriety from codeine will be learned.

If you or a loved one suffer from codeine addiction and would like to locate the resources that can assist you in overcoming addiction, you may confidentially contact the addiction specialists at Behavioral Wellness and Recovery at 800-683-4457, or complete the online contact form.


Behavioral Wellness & Recovery is a Joint Commission accredited program. The Joint Commission recognizes excellence in health care organizations and programs.


Behavioral Wellness & Recovery is a Joint Commission accredited program. The Joint Commission recognizes excellence in health care organizations and programs.

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