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.