Codeine Addiction: Signs, Symptoms, Detox and Treatment

At Primrose Lodge we can provide a full medical detox and rehabilitation programme for those with an addiction to codeine.

Addiction comes in many forms and it’s not just illegal drugs and alcohol that individuals can become dependent on.

Prescription drugs are often dispensed for a genuine symptom, but due to their addictive properties, some become dependent without even realising it. Others, seeking a high or a way to suppress uncomfortable feelings, may abuse over-the-counter medicines or manipulate their GP for a prescription; actually believing they have a genuine need for the medication.

Addiction to a prescription drug or over-the-counter medicine can be just as life-threatening as any other addiction, and carry the same devastating consequences to the individual and their family and loved ones.

What Is Codeine?

Codeine is a commonly purchased over the counter and prescribed opiate analgesic (painkiller). Derived from morphine it is stronger than paracetamol or ibuprofen. Used medically to relieve symptoms of mild to moderate pain, it comes in varying strengths and also acts as a cough suppressant. A doctor or medical physician can prescribe stronger variations of the drug.

Those who use codeine can develop a dependency to the drug in as few as 3 days of daily use.

Most over-the-counter codeine-based medicines will carry an addiction warning on the box, label or inside the leaflet, as will the prescribed varieties. It can come combined with other painkillers such as paracetamol or ibuprofen for a more powerful analgesic effect. As well as providing fast and effective pain relief, it also provides the user with a feeling of well-being. The effects depend on the individual and how they react to it. Some will feel stimulated with increased concentration and stamina; whilst others feel drowsy/sleepy and unmotivated. Codeine should only be used for short-term pain relief of non-chronic physical conditions, unless managed carefully by a medical professional.

Codeine Dependency

Addiction to codeine is common as the body builds a tolerance to the drug very quickly. This means that larger and larger amounts are required to achieve the same pain relieving effects as the body acclimatises. This process is also known as dependency. Abrupt discontinuation from codeine can cause some very unpleasant withdrawal symptoms; propelling the user to keep taking the drug. Recent statistics show that as many as 900,000 people across the UK could be misusing a form of codeine at present.

Different Forms of Codeine

Codeine can be purchased or prescribed in varying forms:

Commonly abused over-the-counter codeine based medicines

Co Codamol –Codeine combined with paracetamol; can be purchased with up to 8 mg of codeine per tablet

Solpadeine Max and Solpadeine Plus – Codeine combined with paracetamol contains 12.8mg of codeine per tablet

Nurofen Plus –Codeine combined with Ibuprofen; contains 12.8mg of codeine per tablet

Paramol –Dihydrocodeine 7.5 mg combined with paracetamol

Feminax –8mg of codeine per tablet combined with paracetamol

Codis –8mg of codeine combined with aspirin

Codeine is also used in certain over-the-counter cough medicines as it acts as a cough suppressant

Commonly abused prescription only codeine based medicines




Prescribed codeine comes in varying strengths, usually combined with another non-opioid analgesic for maximum effect. Some variations are synthetic and made to mimic the effects of codeine and can be even more difficult to detox from because of their complex make-up and hold more potential to be abused.

How Codeine Works

Codeine is a type of opioid and works on the brain’s opioid receptors causing them to mimic the body’s naturally occurring chemicals, endorphins, which are released, to deal with pain. By combining the endorphins with the opioid pain receptors in the spine and brain, the transmission of pain signals are blocked and so give the individual relief from symptoms but not from the cause of the pain. The level of pain present will dictate the amount of codeine required to provide adequate relief from pain. Mild to moderate levels of pain can be dealt with by over the counter medicines. Moderate to severe usually require prescription strength from a medical professional. Endorphins are also the body’s “happy chemical”; codeine, taken in large doses, provides the user with feelings of warmth, euphoria and elation. The feeling of euphoria is the effect the individual becomes addicted to and craves more of. Those that abuse and become addicted to codeine based medications will find themselves using larger and larger amounts to gain the same euphoric effects; this happens when the body has become tolerant to the drug.

Addicted to Codeine?

If you or a loved one has concerns of a codeine addiction, there are some key signs to watch out for:

  • Using larger doses of the drug to gain the same effect
  • Suffering withdrawal symptoms if a dose is missed
  • The original source of the pain has been resolved, yet the craving for more codeine is overpowering
  • Using codeine when there is no genuine physical pain
  • Going to different chemists in order to avoid being challenged over the amount being purchased
  • Hiding the amount consumed from others
  • Binging on medication to achieve a state of warmth and sleepiness
  • Mixing codeine medications with other medications, alcohol or drugs for a greater effect.
  • Manipulating others/medical professionals to get more of the drug
  • Feelings of fear and agitation rising when the supply is running low
  • Taking more than the prescribed amount or for prolonged periods
  • Experiencing financial difficulties due to purchasing codeine
  • Missing appointments/work/commitments due to getting high
  • Experiencing difficulties within relationships due to codeine
  • Resorting to crime/stealing to get money to buy codeine

Of course there is no finite list, as the addiction progresses the individual will become more entrenched in uncharacteristic and destructive behaviours. As a general rule, addiction can only be hidden for so long, most addicts will go to bigger and bigger extremes to get the next high. Their appearance will alter, they may lose weight, neglect their personal hygiene and affairs. Often they will start to withdraw from others and isolate, unmotivated and becoming more depressed or anxious; expressing negative emotions such as anger, fear and self-pity. If there is any marked change in the individual’s appearance and behaviour, this should not be ignored. Turning a blind eye or not admitting the problem, only allows the addiction to continue and progress. As with all addictions, the end result can be death.

The Risks of Codeine Addiction

Codeine carries risks both in the short-term and long-term use. Short term abuse or binging on the drug, especially when it is combined with another pain reliever or suppressant, can lead to damaging the internal organs, sleepiness, coma and death. Long-term use, again especially when combined with another suppressant or pain reliever, can lead to internal bleeding, compromised organ function, organ failure, and death.

Medical Codeine Detox

Primrose Lodge can facilitate a full medical detox from codeine in its varying forms. If you or a loved one have a dependency to this medicine, it is likely you will have a lot of fear around withdrawal and stopping. We understand this fear completely, and will do everything we can to ensure your detox is as comfortable as possible without compromising your safety.

Once admitted to our clinic, we provide a comprehensive medical assessment of each patient. During the consultation, our doctors will discuss with you a possible medical detox. If required, a detox regime will be prescribed, taking into account all aspects of your addiction and your physical and mental health condition. This will be continually monitored and reviewed by our therapeutic staff and medical professionals throughout your stay. Our doctors are addiction specialists, so you can be assured that you are in safe hands; each individual is different and we take this into account at all times. It is important to us that you complete your detox and leave our clinic drug free; we will do all we can to help you achieve this.

Codeine Withdrawal

Withdrawal from codeine can lead to some very unpleasant physical and mental symptoms if not carried out in a controlled way. Primrose Lodge’s medical detox helps to reduce physical cravings and physical withdrawal symptoms. The higher the dose and longer the dependency, the more severe the withdrawal tends to be.

If the codeine intake is stopped abruptly without medical help, you or your loved one can expect to experience the following symptoms:

  • Sweating
  • Shaking
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhoea
  • Chills
  • Anxiety and Panic attacks
  • Loss of appetite
  • Insomnia
  • Muscle cramps and pains
  • Agitation
  • Sneezing and runny nose
  • Yawning
  • Coughing
  • Dilated pupils
  • Stomach cramps
  • Low and emotional mood
  • Headaches

Codeine withdrawal symptoms will diminish over time, it may be a few weeks or even a few months before you start to feel better, depending on the amount you are withdrawing from. Codeine has similar withdrawal symptoms to any opioid-based drug, even Class A drugs such as heroin. This is why codeine addiction is considered severe and dangerous. If you are mixing codeine with other substances such as alcohol or other drugs, it may be that you will need a detox from both. Our doctor will discuss this with you fully during your initial consultation.

Codeine Combined with Alcohol and Drugs

If you or your loved one are mixing any form of codeine with alcohol or another drug, detox and withdrawal symptoms can be particularly dangerous. It is vital that you get medical advice before attempting any kind of detox alone. The safest way to detox is with medical supervision and support, which is why we provide this service for all of our patients.

Combining codeine with any of the following substances, is considered particularly dangerous and even life-threatening, as is the withdrawal:

  • Alcohol
  • Valium
  • Sleeping tablets
  • Heroin
  • Methadone
  • Tranquilizers

Did you know that under the Misuse of Drugs Act (MDA) and Driving Legislation it is illegal to drive or operate heavy machinery if you are deemed unfit? A new drug driving law came into force in March 2015 and includes controlled drugs such as codeine. If taking codeine slows down your reactions, affects your concentration or causes drowsiness, you should NOT drive or operate heavy machinery. A drug driving conviction can carry heavy penalties and a ban from driving.

Our Codeine Addiction Treatment Programme

If you or your loved one have an addiction to codeine, we can help.

In addition to a full medical detox from the drug, we also provide a full rehabilitation programme. We have found that this is essential for a long and happy recovery. Addiction is a chronic relapsing brain disease and without the correct treatment and maintenance, the sufferer is prone to relapse and destructive behaviours. We provide a rehabilitation programme that addresses the root causes of the addiction and enables the individual to undergo a complete change in thinking and behaviours. We can free you or your loved one from the psychological as well as the physical dependence.

Whilst the principles of our programme remain as a foundation for all of our patients, no matter what their addiction, we tailor the programme to ensure it is fully personalised. Our goal is to fully restore each individual to physical, mental and spiritual health, free from the constraints of addiction. Addiction is a life-threatening illness. We take our role very seriously and believe in the treatment that we offer. We only use proven and effective treatment methods, with our speciality being our personalisation of each and every treatment

If you or a loved one have an addiction to codeine, there is hope and a solution. Please call us to discuss your individual case with one of our highly trained and experienced clinical team.

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