Warning Signs, Symptoms and Signs of Codeine Addiction

This Page was last reviewed and changed on June 25th 2021

Content Overview

Abuse of opiate drugs, such as codeine, increases the risk of both addiction and overdose. When the use of codeine progresses to abuse, certain symptoms and warning signs occur. Knowing what the physical, emotional, and behavioural warning signs are could prevent you or someone you love from going on to develop a crippling addiction. Taking action when the symptoms appear is key to getting life back under control.

It is often difficult to spot the signs of drug abuse though, particularly when we are talking about a prescription drug such as codeine. Being aware of the dangers means there is a greater chance of being able to react before developing a full-blown addiction.

When Does Drug Use Become Drug Abuse or Addiction?

Opiate drugs such as codeine can affect the way the brain functions. It is extremely easy to develop a tolerance and, when this happens, it will mean that you will begin to need larger doses in order to achieve the same level of satisfaction or relief.
Many people who take codeine for pain relief increase their dose when they feel they are no longer getting the relief required. However, in so doing, they are stepping into the realms of abuse.

It is easy to see how many of us can progress from drug use to drug abuse though, particularly as most do not see prescription drugs as harmful or dangerous in any way. But if a cycle of drug abuse is allowed to continue, it can very quickly develop into drug addiction.

Continued regular abuse of codeine can lead to physical dependence. This then results in withdrawal symptoms whenever the effects of the drug wear off. Avoiding these symptoms means taking more codeine, but this easily leads to a cycle of drug abuse and withdrawal.

Addiction is characterised by a compulsive need to use a particular substance or engage in a specific activity. In the case of codeine, if you feel a compulsive need to use it despite it having a negative impact on daily life, you almost certainly have an addiction. Although having a physical dependence on codeine does not necessarily mean being addicted, it is often the precursor for addiction.

Negative Effects

Any type of addiction can result in negative consequences. While codeine may be effective at relieving mild to moderate pain, continued use of it, especially at higher than recommended doses, can be harmful to your overall wellbeing.

Taking codeine in high doses or mixing it with other sedative substances such as alcohol can increase the risk of overdose. Because of the way in which codeine depresses the central nervous system, there is also a risk of respiratory problems. High doses of the drug can cause breathing to slow down and heart rate to drop. There is also the risk that blood pressure will drop, which in and of itself can bring about respiratory failure or cardiac arrest.

Long-term abuse of codeine will have a negative impact on health. For example, you may become more prone to insomnia or nightmares, or you could potentially suffer liver damage or have an increased risk of seizures. There are, unfortunately, endless possibilities.

How it Can Change Your Loved One

Codeine addiction has a negative impact on more than just physical and mental health though. If one of your loved ones is affected by codeine abuse and addiction, you will have probably noticed a major change in his or her behaviour by now.

When a person develops an addiction to drugs, he or she will become preoccupied with it. After a while, it will become the most important thing in his or her life and everything else will play second fiddle. Your loved one might lose interest in things that were once important as his or her priorities continue to change.

You could notice that he or she has started to miss work or school as well as other important engagements. He or she might also have lost interest in personal hygiene or grooming as the need for codeine is all that matter to him/her.

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Shifts in Behaviour

When drug addiction takes hold, it can change the way in which a person behaves and acts quite drastically. Many will do things that they would never have dreamt of doing before becoming consumed by their need for codeine.

Others will take desperate measures to get their hands on codeine. They will spend most of their time taking the drug or thinking about doing so. They will arrange their lives around it, and if this means neglecting important issues, then so be it.

They might be using codeine to help them feel normal and may continue using it, even if it is having a negative impact on their life as well as the lives of those around them.

Codeine Addiction and the Brain

Codeine works by stimulating the brain’s pleasure centre and by blocking pain messages from travelling from the central nervous system to the brain. When you take codeine, your brain will release a chemical known as dopamine, which is responsible for feelings of pleasure.

However, because the brain’s natural reaction to pleasure is to want to recreate it, you are likely to experience a desire to use codeine again.

Over time, however, your brain will adapt its response to codeine and will produce less dopamine each time the drug is taken, therefore making it less effective. If you are not achieving the level of pleasure or pain relief from codeine that you are expecting, you might respond by taking more of it.

Nevertheless, after a while, this higher dose of codeine will also become less effective. You might again respond by increasing the dose or by mixing it with another substance such as alcohol; both scenarios could significantly increase the risk of overdose. However, because your brain has now learned to associate codeine with positive results, you will feel the need to take the drug continuously, even if you are getting little satisfaction from it. In fact, you may feel that you have to take codeine just to function normally.

Signs of an Overdose

As just mentioned, taking codeine in high doses or otherwise combining it with other sedative substances can lead to an overdose. It is vital to be aware of these signs and to seek help immediately if you notice any of them:

  • Breathing difficulties
  • Blue fingernails or lips
  • Constricted pupils
  • Extreme sedation or loss of consciousness
  • Slow pulse
  • Chest pain
  • Uncontrollable vomiting

Overdose Prevention

Most codeine overdoses occur accidentally and are usually a consequence of individuals not understanding the dangers of taking this drug in high doses or mixing it with another sedative drug.

The obvious way to prevent an overdose is to take codeine only as prescribed, but when an addiction has developed, this might not be that straightforward. Most people do not take drugs with the intention of overdosing, and the amount of the drug that will cause an overdose is different for each person.

It is important to remember that mixing codeine with alcohol is dangerous. You should also remember that your tolerance to codeine can be dramatically reduced after a period of abstinence. So, for example, if you have been trying to quit codeine, even for a few days, your tolerance levels will drop. Then taking the same amount of the drug that you were taking before you quit could lead to an overdose as your body is no longer used to this amount.

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Early Warning Signs of Teen Codeine Use

Teenagers are especially susceptible to substance abuse and addiction, and there are many reasons for this. For some, substance abuse is a means of escaping the pressures of daily life. For others, dabbling with drugs is something that is born out of curiosity or peer pressure. Whatever the reason though, it is important to be alert to the early signs of substance abuse in teenagers because early intervention can prevent things from spiralling dangerously out of control.

It can be difficult to tell if your teenage son or daughter is abusing drugs because many of the signs associated with substance abuse are similar to those associated with the hormonal changes during puberty. Moodiness and withdrawal are two prime examples. Nonetheless, if your teenager displays a sudden change in behaviour and has suddenly lost interest in activities that he or she previously enjoyed, it is probably best to be vigilant for other signs.

Look out for a drop in performance in school and a change in friends. Both may indicate a problem. If you are worried about your teenage child, it is important to look for evidence of codeine abuse. In many cases, teenagers get prescription medication from home and begin by taking drugs that were prescribed for another person. You might have noticed that your teenage child has been getting packages delivered and is reluctant to talk about what is in them.

Respecting the privacy of your child may be something you are keen to do, but if you suspect that substance abuse is an issue, it is important that you press the issue.

Common Physical Warning Signs of Codeine Addiction

We know that codeine addiction can have a negative impact on physical health. To that end, the following are some of the physical signs to look out for:

  • Drowsiness
  • Dilated pupils
  • Slurred speech
  • Nausea
  • Blurred vision
  • Dry mouth
  • Dizziness
  • Abdominal cramps
  • Constipation
  • Low blood pressure

Common Emotional and Social Warning Signs of Codeine Addiction

Addiction causes more than just physical symptoms though. It can change the way a person behaves, and there are a number of such signs that could indicate a problem exists:

  • mood swings
  • defensiveness
  • isolation
  • withdrawal
  • losing interest in activities or hobbies
  • minimising the problem
  • rationalising behaviour
  • blaming others or a particular situation or event

Behavioural Warning Signs of Codeine Abuse

Abuse of any mood-altering substance can have a dramatic impact on how a person behaves. Some will get so used to their drug of choice that they will use it to feel normal. Others will use it to change the way that they feel. They might take a drug such as codeine to make them feel happier or to block out painful memories.

As these individuals become increasingly more consumed by the drug in question, they might start neglecting responsibilities at home, at work or at school and may lose interest in spending time with others. Conversations might become dominated by codeine-related issues and a sudden need for privacy might develop.

In many instances, family members and friends will notice a dramatic change in a loved one’s behaviour, but they might struggle to understand the cause, particularly in the early days. It is easier to hide substance abuse when the drug being abused is a prescription medication such as codeine than it would be for a substance such as alcohol, for example. However, as time goes by and the addiction progresses, it can become harder and harder to hide.

Symptoms of Codeine Withdrawal

When you develop a physical dependence on codeine, you are likely to experience withdrawal symptoms whenever you try to quit or cut back on your use. These symptoms are usually the result of your brain and body trying to adjust to the withdrawal of the substance that they have learned to rely on for so long.

As the body adjusts to the removal of codeine, you might experience symptoms such as stomach pains, diarrhoea, and nausea. Many individuals consider opiate withdrawal to be similar to having the flu, so you might experience symptoms such as fever, chills, muscle aches, and trouble sleeping.

It is important to drink plenty of fluids during opiate withdrawal as dehydration can lead to severe complications.

Once you have completed your detox, it is recommended that you seek rehabilitation services through an outpatient programme, or in conjunction with an inpatient rehab programme.

Frequently Asked Questions

How do drug abuse and drug addiction develop?

Most people who abuse prescription drugs and develop an addiction to them will do so unintentionally. It is usually an increased tolerance to the effects of the drug that leads to abuse. When a drug such as codeine becomes less effective, the temptation to increase the dose is high. Doing this can lead to physical dependence, which in turn results in withdrawal symptoms when the effects of the drug wear off. A cycle of abuse and withdrawal usually ensues, significantly increasing the risk for addiction.

How to know when your teen has a drug problem?

It is important to be alert to the signs of drug abuse in teenagers, however hard these are to spot initially. Look for sudden changes in his or her behaviour coupled with physical symptoms such as slurred speech, dizziness, and disorientation. If you are worried, it might be worthwhile looking for evidence of substance abuse, such as empty pill packets.

Are heroin and codeine the same thing?

While heroin and codeine are both classed as opioid drugs, they are not the same in terms of strength and addictive potential. Although both are derived from morphine, heroin is much more potent and has a much higher potential for abuse. Moreover, while codeine is a prescription drug used to treat mild to moderate pain, heroin is an illegal substance with no accepted medical benefits.

How can you know if a family member is addicted to codeine?

If someone you love has been prescribed codeine for the treatment of pain, it is important to be alert to the signs of abuse and addiction. If this person’s behaviour has changed, and if he or she has become preoccupied with codeine, it may be the case that an addiction has developed.

What does codeine treatment involve?

Codeine treatment usually involves a detox followed by rehabilitation. Both are required to overcome an addiction, as detox treats the physical element of the illness while rehabilitation tackles the emotional and psychological issues.

What to do if you are concerned for a loved one?

If you are worried that someone you love has been abusing codeine and may be addicted, it is important to act as soon as possible. For advice on how to broach the subject with the person, you can speak to your doctor or call us here at UKAT.

When to go to rehab for codeine addiction?

Getting help for codeine addiction is essential. It is an illness that will not go away if you do nothing. If you have tried to quit or even cut back on your codeine use without success, it could be the case that you have an addiction. If so, it is important to seek help immediately. Call us today for information on how to access a programme of rehabilitation.

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