Codeine is a short-acting narcotic prescribed by physicians most often used for the treatment of pain relief. Codeine can be highly addictive and provides the user with an overall sense of calm and feelings of pleasure. When codeine is used it enters the brain and causes the release of neurotransmitters that stimulate the reward center of the brain, leaving the user feeling intense feelings of wellbeing and pleasure. This kind of pleasure can lead to both psychological and physical dependence.
Some individuals use for legitimate medical purposes, but over time develop an addiction problem. After prolonged use an individual develops a tolerance for this substance and needs to take more and more of the drug in order to feel the effects. Someone who is addicted to codeine can begin to feel symptoms of withdrawal if they go even a short time without using the substance.
Other individuals become addicted to codeine and begin to use it to manage other problems in their lives, such as emotional pain or stresses due to the euphoric feelings it causes. Many who become addicted to codeine will use it with other substances – polysubstance abuse – such as benzodiazepines or alcohol to increase the calming sense of wellbeing these substances cause. This can lead to major health risks such as respiratory depression and coma if taken in high quantities. Other people may take codeine with stimulants like cocaine or methamphetamines in order to reduce the severity of unwanted side effects of the stimulants. This combination of uppers and downers can lead to cardiovascular failure and myocardial infarction. Furthermore, it can be extremely difficult to overcome Codeine abuse without proper professional treatment.
As codeine is one of the less concentrated narcotics, individuals who develop an addiction to codeine may seek out more powerful prescriptions narcotics such as OxyContin so that they experience even greater feelings of euphoria. If prescription narcotics are not available, an individual may opt to use heroin (a morphine derivative and illegal narcotic) to achieve an even more powerful high.
Often individuals who have a substance abuse problem struggle with other mental health disorders. Some of these disorders may include:
- Anxiety disorders
- Bipolar disorders
- Depressive disorders
- Conduct disorders
- Antisocial personality disorders
Specific statistics on codeine are not well known, however opiate narcotic use is quickly becoming a growing problem in the United States. It’s been estimated that 33 million Americans use codeine and other opiate medications for nonmedical purposes each year.
Addiction to codeine and other substances is thought to be a combination of a number of factors working together. These include:
Genetic: Individuals who have relatives – especially a parent – who are addicted to substances are more likely to develop an addiction problem later in life.
Brain Chemistry: Codeine works by interacting with the neurotransmitters in the brain. One theory is that individuals who abuse codeine do so in order to make up for a lack of the naturally-occurring neurotransmitter. Codeine may be used as a form of self-medication in order to make up for the deficiency.
Environmental: Another hypothesis is that children who grow up in an unstable home environment and may be exposed to drug abuse by watching their parents or older siblings use. Through modeling they learn that drug abuse is an acceptable way of coping with emotional problems and stressful life events.
Psychological: Sometimes individuals who become addicted to substances such as codeine are self-medicating in order to deal with an untreated mental disorder. Codeine is used in an attempt to control unpleasant side effects of the underlying mental disorder.
Symptoms of codeine abuse will vary among users depending upon the amount used and the length of drug abuse. Symptoms of codeine abuse include:
- Mood swings
- Increase in amount of time sleeping
- Decreased appetite
- Increased hospital visits
- No longer caring for loved ones
- “Doctor shopping” or visiting a number of doctors to obtain more codeine prescriptions.
- Prescription forgery
- Stealing prescriptions or opiates from friends and family
- Healthcare fraud
- Lying to cover-up amount used
- Blue tinge to lips and fingernails
- Muscle twitches
- Nausea and vomiting
- Dry mouth
- Urinary retention
- Respiratory depression
- Decreased libido
- Memory loss
- Lack of emotions
Although codeine is a prescription drug the abuse of codeine can cause significant damage to an individual’s life. Some of these effects may include:
- Acute pancreatitis
- Major depression
- Liver damage
- Kidney damage
- Financial problems
- Legal issues
- Domestic problems
- Job loss
- Heightened pain sensitivity
- Uncontrollable muscle twitches
- Muscle spasms, cramps, and pain
- Loss of productivity at school or work
- Impaired social relationships
- Respiratory depression
- Cold, clammy skin
- Decreased muscle tone
Effects of Withdrawal
Someone who is physically dependent upon codeine should not attempt to stop using without the supervision of a trained medical professional. The immediate cessation of codeine can cause a number of withdrawal effects. These effects may include:
- Craving for the drug
- Runny nose
- Intense sweating
- Stomach cramps
- Nausea and vomiting
- Spasms of the muscles
- Agitation and irritability
- Suicidal thoughts
- Homicidal thoughts
- Racing thoughts
If you or a loved one is struggling with an addiction to codeine, it is crucial to seek codeine abuse treatment as soon as possible.