Is Codeine Bad for You?

Even when a medication is prescribed by a physician, it can have negative possible side effects. In some cases, the risks of medicines become greater the longer you use them.

So what about codeine? Is codeine bad for you? More specifically, is codeine bad for your liver and kidneys?

Below is an overview of what codeine is and how it works as well as answers to the questions.

Is Codeine Bad for You? | Is Codeine Bad for Your Liver and Kidneys?
Codeine is a prescription drug that can be taken on its own for the treatment of pain, or it can be used in combination medicines for more effectiveness. Along with treating pain, codeine is also prescribed to treat a cough in some cases, and diarrhea and irritable bowel.

Codeine is a controlled substance, which means it isn’t available over-the-counter, and it has the potential for addiction. It’s an opioid narcotic, so when someone takes codeine, which is derived from the opium plant, it binds to opioid receptors found in their nervous system. This is how codeine can help with pain. It changes someone’s tolerance for pain. To make it even more effective, codeine is often combined with things like acetaminophen or ibuprofen.

Among narcotic opioids, codeine is considered relatively mild. It wouldn’t be given in cases of severe pain, and for some people, it doesn’t work at all, but this doesn’t mean it’s free of risks.

First, in the short-term, some of the side effects of codeine can include itchiness and rash, abdominal pain, dizziness, feeling lightheaded, constipation and nausea. These side effects dissipate over time and aren’t considered severe in most cases.
There is also the risk for addiction and dependence, and those are two of the more serious and detrimental long-term side effects of codeine, although the risk is lower as compared to other prescription narcotics.

Other serious side effects possible with codeine include adrenal problems, low blood pressure, and overdose. An overdose of codeine or any other opioid occurs when someone takes such a large dose that it slows their respiration to a dangerous level, or breathing stops altogether. Abusing codeine can also cause cardiac issues or sudden death.

People who abuse codeine may experience a euphoric high, but also changes in consciousness and motor function and all of the risks of codeine are heightened not only with high doses, but if the drug is combined with other substances that slow the central nervous system.

Long-term effects of codeine can include sleep disturbances, pain when not using codeine, and seizures.

So, is codeine bad for you?

This is a bit of a complex question. Codeine is not necessarily bad for you if you take it exactly as prescribed and for a short period of time. It can be a helpful pain medication with somewhat of a lower addiction and dependence potential than other opioids.

However, codeine can become bad for you if you abuse it, or take it in ways other than what’s prescribed.

Codeine on its own isn’t bad for your liver, but when it’s used in combination with other medications, it can be.

One example are combination drugs that include both codeine and acetaminophen.

Acetaminophen is one of the most commonly used medications in the world, and it’s available over-the-counter in medications like Tylenol. It’s considered fairly safe, at recommended doses, but if you take acetaminophen in excess, it can cause serious health problems. The liver processes acetaminophen, and if you take too much, it can cause liver toxicity.

Acetaminophen in large amounts has been linked to acute liver failure and death. This is why it’s so important for people taking codeine-acetaminophen combination drugs to follow dosing instructions. The risk of liver problems from acetaminophen are even higher if you use other substances that are possibly dangerous to the liver at the same time, such as alcohol.

So, is codeine bad for your liver? No, not on its own, but acetaminophen is, so be aware of this with combination medications.

Another common question people have is “is codeine bad for your kidneys.”

Certain medications can change kidney function and can be toxic to the kidneys and ultimately lead to renal failure in serious cases. One example of this is with NSAIDs or nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs. These include ibuprofen, and these drugs are available over the counter, much like acetaminophen.

They can also be included in combination drugs that include codeine. In this case, it’s important to take only the prescribed dose, and these combo drugs should only be taken for the shortest possible periods to avoid damage to the kidneys.

To sum up, is codeine bad for you? Not if it’s taken as prescribed, for a short period of time to treat pain. Is codeine bad for your liver? Not on its own, but it can be when it’s included in prescription medicines with substances like acetaminophen. Finally, is codeine bad for your kidneys? Again, not on its own, but it is if it’s used excessively in a combination medicine that includes something like ibuprofen, which is an NSAID.

Medical Disclaimer: The Recovery Village aims to improve the quality of life for people struggling with a substance use or mental health disorder with fact-based content about the nature of behavioral health conditions, treatment options and their related outcomes. We publish material that is researched, cited, edited and reviewed by licensed medical professionals. The information we provide is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It should not be used in place of the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare provider.

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