Written by: Dale Conlon
Medically Reviewed by: Dr Mateen Durrani – MBBS, DPM, MSc, BCPsych
Last Updated: February 2nd, 2023
Mixing alcohol and codeine may seem like a harmless way to relax or have fun, but the truth is that doing so can become severely dangerous very quickly.
Codeine is an over-the-counter opioid painkiller widely used to relieve mild to moderate pain and coughs. Together, alcohol and codeine can create highly hazardous side effects when combined — even more so if used in high doses or over an extended period. This guide explores the dangers of combining these two substances and how to get the correct treatment if you or a loved one need a helping hand with codeine and alcohol abuse.
What is codeine?
Codeine is an opioid analgesic drug and a derivative of the opium poppy. It was first isolated in 1832 by French chemist Pierre Robiquet, making it one of the oldest prescription painkillers on record. Though beneficial in treating moderate to severe forms of pain, codeine also has drawbacks. Misuse or abuse of the substance can cause life-threatening side effects and people can develop an addiction to codeine.
Over-the-counter drugs containing codeine are the most common and widely abused legal medications in many countries worldwide, with alarming rates of misuse each year in the UK.
While codeine can still be used safely under medical supervision, codeine carries serious risks when misused. It alters your brain and body’s functions, leading to varying psychological and physical addiction levels. Not following the prescribed instructions could cause one or more of the below symptoms;
- Sleep-related breathing problems
- Slow heart rate
- Loss of appetite
- Weak pulse
- Muscle stiffness
What happens to my body when I regularly mix alcohol and codeine?
Codeine and alcohol are both central nervous system depressants, which can have a potentiating effect on each other when consumed together. Both drugs cause the slowing of vital functions in your body, including respiration, heartbeat and cognitive processes—so taking them together amplifies their individual risks exponentially.
It’s essential to understand the dangers of mixing alcohol and codeine so that you can spot any warning signs if you or someone around you has become intoxicated with this combination of these drugs. Severe reactions to a high dosage could even cause brain injuries, coma and even death.
Can my mental health be impacted if I regularly mix alcohol and codeine?
Prolonged use of codeine and alcohol can have long-lasting psychological effects on an individual. The combination of these two substances is particularly damaging since their respective addictive properties compound the impact on your mental health. Codeine, when used by itself or with other drugs, can create changes in thought processes and behaviour. It can damage the reward system in your brain, leading to high tolerance, a desire to consume more of the drug and changes in usual behaviour.
Similarly, chronic alcohol abuse can lead to depression and cognitive impairments, increasing the likelihood of addiction in those who use it regularly. If you are already coping with a mental health disorder, it could be worth reviewing your actions before considering alcohol and codeine. Dual addiction, also known as co-occurring disorders or dual diagnosis, is an increased challenge for anyone who struggles with both an addiction and a mental health disorder.
If you are concerned about a loved one, knowing the warning signs of an alcohol and codeine addiction is critically important to seek early intervention before the problem worsens.
Side effects of mixing codeine and alcohol
Sometimes, it can be difficult to tell if you have been feeling the effects of either alcohol or codeine independently, or if you are suffering more specific side effects from combining them both. Below, we have provided some tell-tale signs that you might be experiencing side effects from mixing codeine and alcohol.
- Low blood pressure
- Extreme drowsiness or fatigue
- Loss of memory
- Cognitive impairment
- Delayed reaction times
- Loss of motor skills
- Irregular breathing
- Dizziness and fainting
If you have recognised the above and feel you relate to these side effects, it is vital you take steps now to stop taking these substances simultaneously. However, if you cannot control or cut down your consumption, you may be exhibiting signs of codeine addiction and alcohol addiction.
How can I be safe around codeine and alcohol?
If you have been prescribed codeine for medical purposes or even taken a lower-strength over-the-counter codeine for minor pain, it is vital that you understand the implications of mixing it with alcohol.
It’s Tuesday night, and you’ve just finished a long day at work. You’ve been battling against a headache for most of the day, and reach for your medicine cupboard. You find a painkiller like co-codamol or a headache relief tablet. You take the required dosage and then sit down around an hour later to enjoy a well-deserved glass of wine. Sounds okay, right? Well, you are unintentionally mixing codeine and alcohol. Codeine finds its way into many pain-relief medications, and it’s important to know what you can and can’t do after taking it.
Worryingly, a 2015 study found that accidental overdoses resulting in death were more common than intentional overdoses (48.8% and 34.7%, respectively), showing that innocent actions could spell trouble for the user. Although comparing accidental overdoses to the aforementioned scenario may sound like an extreme example, such repeated actions could pave the way for addictions to develop over time, thus potentially leading to further problems in the future.
What are the next steps to treat codeine and alcohol addiction?
At Primrose Lodge, we understand that addiction is a severe illness. Recovery can be challenging for many who suffer from addiction without professional help and support. Our rehabilitation treatment provides this much-needed assistance to aid you in your struggles against addiction. The treatment aims to provide tools that enable individuals struggling with alcohol or substance abuse disorders to manage their psychological, physical and social challenges through a comprehensive codeine or alcohol rehab programme.
If you or a loved one are suffering from a codeine and alcohol addiction, the next step is to seek help as soon as possible. As soon as you put yourself in a position to be helped, Primrose Lodge can provide treatment. Contact us today for more information on how Primrose Lodge can help you overcome your issues.
Frequently asked questions
When taken orally, codeine is quickly absorbed, reaching peak plasma concentrations an hour after dosage and can stay in your system for up to seventy-two hours after ingesting.
- Codipar Tablets 15mg/500mg
- Codipar Capsules 15mg/500mg
- Galcodine Linctus
- Kapake 30mg/500mg tablets
- Migraleve Pink
- Migraleve Yellow
- Nurofen Plus
- Solpadol 30mg/500mg Effervescent Tablets
- Syndol Headache Relief Tablets
- Zapain Tablets
- Zapain Capsules