Before answering “is codeine a narcotic,” it can also be helpful to know what narcotics are. Narcotic is a term that can refer to both legal prescription drugs and illegal drugs. Narcotics are a type of drug with the potential to be addictive. Not every drug can fall into this category. For example, Tylenol isn’t considered a narcotic.
When a drug has an addiction potential, it is a controlled substance by the federal government and should be used under the direction of a physician. If someone uses a narcotic in any way outside of a prescription, it’s considered narcotic abuse, and this heightens the risk they will become addicted.
The term narcotic refers to prescription painkillers (opiates or opioids). Narcotics work by binding to pain receptors in the central nervous system and blocking signals. This helps treat pain in people who don’t show a response to other types of pain relievers. Some of the legal prescription narcotics include fentanyl, hydrocodone, methadone, morphine, and tramadol. An example of an illegal narcotic is heroin.
Side effects of narcotics, whether they’re prescription pain relievers or heroin, include not just a decreased sensation of pain but also dizziness, nausea, vomiting, sweating, and constipation.
Narcotics also have psychoactive properties, so when someone takes them, they may feel euphoria or a pleasant sense of well-being. As that wears off, the person will likely feel drowsy and relaxed. This is why narcotics are addictive. People who take them experience a pleasant feeling and this triggers certain reward responses in their brain that give rise to addiction.
Also relevant to narcotics is the discussion of physical dependence. When people take narcotics, their body quickly becomes used to them. This leads to a higher tolerance for them, meaning larger doses are needed to get the same effects. Eventually, the user’s body starts to feel like the presence of the drugs is normal. To stop taking them suddenly would lead to a type of shock that’s called withdrawal.
Addiction and dependence are key to understanding why narcotics are controlled substances in the U.S.
Other risks of narcotics are overdose and death. Narcotics as they bind to opioid receptors in the central nervous system, slow down essential functions including respiration. If someone takes too large a dose of a narcotic, even when it’s prescribed, they may stop breathing altogether.
So, is codeine a narcotic?
Yes, codeine is classified as a narcotic. It is a controlled substance, although it tends to be less potent than most other narcotic opioids. With that being said, codeine is still addictive, you can still become physically dependent on it, and it still can cause overdose and adverse effects.
Codeine meets the requirements to be classified as a narcotic including the fact that it slows brain activity and reduces pain.
Many times the term narcotic is thought of only in conjunction with illicit drugs like heroin, but legally this isn’t all that narcotic refers to. A narcotic, in technical terms, is anything that binds to the opioid receptors of the CNS and is included in the Controlled Substances Act.
When you’re prescribed to take a narcotic like codeine, it’s important not just to follow your doctor’s instructions, but also let them know how your pain responds to the drug you’re prescribed and if you experience any side effects. It’s also important to let your doctor know about any other substances you might regularly use before taking narcotics. This can include alcohol, other prescriptions, vitamins and herbal substances. Narcotics can interact negatively with certain substances, and it’s important to be completely honest with your doctor to prevent severe side effects or death resulting from these possible interactions.