Codeine Withdrawal: Timeline, Side Effects, & Detox

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Codeine is an opiate, and it’s one of the naturally occurring psychoactive chemicals found in opium poppy plants, along with morphine. Codeine and morphine were discovered in the 1830s, and it’s been used in various medications since then. As an opioid, it is capable of relieving pain symptoms, but it’s also been used to treat other conditions, such as coughing and diarrhea. Codeine, like other opioids, is a useful medication for many people who have to deal with pain symptoms caused by medical conditions, surgery, and injuries. 

However, codeine can also cause serious side effects, such as chemical dependence and addiction. If you develop a substance use problem related to codeine, you may face unpleasant withdrawal symptoms if you want to reach sobriety. What can you expect from codeine withdrawal, and can it be dangerous? Learn more about codeine and the withdrawal symptoms it can cause.

Will You Experience Codeine Withdrawal Symptoms?

Codeine, like other opioids, can cause tolerance, dependence, addiction, and withdrawal. Not everyone who takes codeine develops a chemical dependency that leads to uncomfortable withdrawal symptoms. However, if you take the drug long enough or misuse it recreationally, you may experience dependence and withdrawal.

It’s unclear as to why some people develop dependence and addiction to drugs while others don’t. People who take the same dose for the same length of time may have different experiences with substance use problems. 

However, some factors can increase your risk of developing a dependence on codeine and experiencing withdrawal symptoms. Recreational use can increase your chances of developing a dependence on codeine, especially if you use the drug in higher doses. Mixing codeine with other opioids or depressants can also increase your risk of a dangerous overdose and dependence. 

Regular prescription use of the drug may also cause dependence if you use codeine consistently for a long time. If you’ve developed a chemical dependence on codeine, there are a few signs and symptoms that you might have to go through withdrawal to achieve sobriety, including:

  • Drug cravings
  • Needing more codeine than your initial dose
  • Needing to use the drug more often
  • Feeling like you need to use it just to feel normal
  • Trying and failing to cut back
  • Needing to use at odd times
  • Neglecting obligations 
  • Loss of interest in regular activities
withdrawal-from-codeine

What Are Codeine Withdrawal Symptoms?

Codeine isn’t as powerful as other opioids, so it might not lead to severe dependence and withdrawal symptoms after regular use. However, it’s often mixed with other substances when it’s used illicitly. Taking it in high doses or using it with other opioids or depressants may increase the risk of developing a severe substance use disorder.

Opioid withdrawal is often compared to a particularly bad case of the flu. Because opioids can bind to receptors all over your body, opioid withdrawal includes full-body symptoms. As with many drugs that can cause withdrawal, some of codeine’s withdrawal symptoms can cause the opposite effects that it created while you use it. 

Codeine can ease pain and create a warm, euphoric feeling. When you stop taking the drug, you’ll feel physical discomfort and body aches. Codeine can also cause constipation. It may be used to treat diarrhea, but diarrhea is common in people who go through opioid withdrawal. However, opioid withdrawal can also cause some symptoms that may not be clearly associated with an intended effect of the drug. For instance, people who go through codeine withdrawal may experience a runny nose, excessive yawning, and teary eyes. Other codeine withdrawal symptoms include:

  • Irritability
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Sweating
  • High body temperature
  • Increased heart rate
  • Stomach cramps
  • Loss of appetite
  • Chills
  • Goosebumps
  • Dilated pupils

Codeine withdrawal may also come with psychological symptoms like depression, anxiety, and powerful drug cravings. Compulsions to use codeine and again may be difficult to resist, especially when they’re combined with other physical symptoms. Going through opioid withdrawal on your own can easily lead to relapse. 

When Will Symptoms Show Up?

Generally speaking, codeine withdrawal symptoms can begin between eight and 24 hours after your last dose. Codeine is a short-acting opioid, which means its effects don’t last as long as other drugs in its class. It also means codeine withdrawal symptoms can begin sooner. However, the exact timeline on which you might experience codeine withdrawal will depend on several factors. These factors include the length of time you consistently took the drug, the size of your average dose, and the size of your most recent dose. For the most part, people that take high doses for long periods of time experience more severe withdrawal symptoms more quickly. 

How Long Does Codeine Withdrawal Last?

Acute codeine withdrawal may last for several days to two weeks. In many cases, uncomfortable symptoms can last between five and 10 days. Symptoms will start mild and increase in intensity until they reach their peak, and then they will fade gradually. The most uncomfortable physical symptoms are usually the first to go, including nausea and vomiting. However, some psychological symptoms can last longer.

In some cases, symptoms can last for months or years unless you address them in treatment. Lingering psychological symptoms may include depression, anxiety, and drug cravings. Addiction is a chronic disease, and cravings may take a long time to cope with effectively. Addiction treatment for severe substance use disorders may be necessary to address cravings without relapse. 

Is Codeine Withdrawal Dangerous?

Opioids like codeine aren’t usually considered to cause life-threatening withdrawal symptoms. They’re often thought of as depressants, such as alcohol or prescription sedatives, because opioids can cause some sedating effects. Depressants can cause potentially life-threatening withdrawal symptoms like seizures. 

However, opioids work in the brain differently from depressants. Instead of causing seizures and nervous system overactivity, opioid withdrawal causes bodily discomfort and flu-like symptoms. However, like the flu, codeine may not cause dangerous symptoms often, but opioid withdrawal can be dangerous in certain circumstances. 

One of the most dangerous consequences of codeine withdrawal is dehydration. Opioids can cause sweating, vomiting, diarrhea, and excessive tearing, which all involve liquids leaving your body quickly. If you don’t drink enough water through withdrawal, you may experience dehydration which can cause serious medical complications. Like the flu, this can be easily avoided by drinking enough. However, severe cases of nausea and vomiting can make it so that it’s difficult to keep liquids down. If this happens, it’s important to seek medical treatment as soon as possible. 

Most deadly cases of opioid withdrawal happen when people don’t have access to water or medical care, like in neglectful prisons or remote areas. Withdrawal may also be dangerous if you have other medical conditions that can be complicated by withdrawal symptoms. If you have medical issues like heart problems, you may need to seek medical care during withdrawal. 

One of the most common consequences of trying to go through opioid withdrawal on your own is relapse. Opioids are notoriously addictive. The unpleasant symptoms and powerful drug cravings may make using the drug again difficult to resist. 

How Is Codeine Withdrawal Treated?

Codeine withdrawal may not be deadly in most cases, but the discomfort and compulsion to relapse can be treated. When you decide you want to stop using codeine, speak to a doctor to determine your specific needs. If you enter an addiction treatment or detox program, you’ll start by going through an assessment process that usually involves speaking to a medical professional. If you might experience severe withdrawal symptoms or if you have medical complications that could complicate withdrawal, you might need to go through medical detox. 

Detox is a process that involves 24-hour care each day of the week. You’ll be treated by medical professionals that specialized in helping people get through withdrawal safely and effectively. The primary goal of detox is to get you through withdrawal safely, treating or avoiding serious complications. However, you may also be treated for symptoms and discomfort. Through detox, you may be treated with medications to help alleviate the symptoms of withdrawal. You may also go through therapies to address other psychological or social issues that might be related to addiction, like depression or anxiety. 

What Happens After Codeine Detox?

Codeine detox might be an important part of your recovery from codeine addiction, but it may not be enough to overcome severe substance use disorders. Addiction is characterized by compulsive drug use, even if the drug is causing consequences in your life. After you achieve sobriety in detox, you may need to address underlying issues to safeguard your sobriety for years to come. Addiction is a complicated disease that may involve various issues like mental health problems, past traumas, and socioeconomic issues. 

Addiction treatment is a complex process designed to address your needs through an individualized treatment plan.

Treatment may involve many levels of care depending on your needs, including inpatient, intensive outpatient, and standard outpatient treatment. Higher levels of care are reserved for people with significant medical or psychological needs. When you can live on your own safely, you can move on to outpatient treatment. 

Sources

American Psychiatric Association. (2017, January). What Is Addiction? from https://www.psychiatry.org/patients-families/addiction/what-is-addiction

Darke, S., Larney, S., & Farrell, M. (2016, August 11). Yes, people can die from opiate withdrawal. from https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1111/add.13512

National Institute on Drug Abuse. (n.d.). Opioids. from https://www.drugabuse.gov/drugs-abuse/opioids

National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2018, January). Types of Treatment Programs. from https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/principles-drug-addiction-treatment-research-based-guide-third-edition/drug-addiction-treatment-in-united-states/types-treatment-programs

National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2018, July). Treatment and Recovery. from https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/drugs-brains-behavior-science-addiction/treatment-recovery

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