Is Codeine a Depressant or a Sedative?

Codeine is a prescription opioid that can be given to people on its own to help with mild to moderate pain, and it can also be prescribed as a cough suppressant. Codeine is commonly used in a variety of combination medicines, such as with acetaminophen for better pain relief, or in cough syrups.

Codeine converts back to morphine once it reaches the brain, and then it binds to opioid receptors. This changes how the user senses pain, and it increases their tolerance for pain. It can also cause side effects like drowsiness, nausea or vomiting.

Codeine has a risk of abuse and addiction as well, which is true of all drugs in the opioid class.

People frequently wonder, is codeine a depressant and is codeine a sedative. Below are answers to those common questions.

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A depressant is a type of drug that lowers levels of certain neurotransmitters, which then decreases arousal and stimulation in the brain. One of the most well-known substances classified as a depressant is alcohol and many of the effects of depressants include sedation, euphoria, and impairment of the memory and cognition.

Depressants affect GABA primarily, and they are the opposite of substances classified as stimulants.

In the clinical sense, depressants can be prescribed to treat conditions including anxiety (social, generalized and panic attacks) as well as insomnia, obsessive-compulsive disorders, seizures and sometimes depression.

Other than alcohol, benzodiazepines are also depressants, and this class of drugs includes substances like alprazolam or Xanax.

So, is codeine a depressant? No, it’s not a depressant in the technical sense, but this can get confusing because codeine does depress the functions of the central nervous system, including respiration. The reason opioids like codeine are not in the strictest terms known as depressants is because while they depress certain areas of the CNS, they also excite other areas of the brain.

Codeine and other opioids are classified as narcotics or analgesics, rather than depressants.

Sedatives are drugs that are also known as tranquilizers, and they depress the central nervous system and reduce excitement and irritability by affecting GABA activity, which has a calming effect on the brain.

Sedatives are a particular class of drugs, and benzodiazepines are one example of sedatives. At higher doses, many drugs that are classified as sedatives can induce sleep, while at lower doses they’re good for alleviating symptoms of anxiety.

Sedatives depress the activity of the central nervous system, and sedatives include not only benzos, but also barbiturates, sedative-hypnotics, antihistamines, some herbal combinations, and opioids.

Codeine can be considered a sedative, especially at higher doses, and this is true of other opioids as well.

So, to sum it all up, is codeine a depressant? Codeine and other opioids aren’t technically classified as depressants, although they do depress certain functions of the CNS. Codeine is a sedative, however, as are other opioids and several other classes of drugs including benzodiazepines and antihistamines.

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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