When someone with a codeine dependence stops taking codeine, they’ll experience uncomfortable withdrawal symptoms and cravings. These symptoms can be treated through a medical detox program, but many people have also found success through a medically supervised codeine taper. This involves slowly reducing the dose of codeine over time, which lessens or prevents withdrawal symptoms from occurring. This overview covers how a codeine taper works, why it’s effective and how you can find treatment for codeine addiction.
Table of Contents
What is Codeine?
Codeine is an opioid medication commonly used to treat pain or suppress cough. The drug breaks down into morphine within the central nervous system, and effective, timely pain relief occurs just moments after. Generally speaking, codeine is only 15% as potent as morphine, meaning it is also less potent than oxycodone, hydrocodone and fentanyl.
When someone regularly uses opioids like codeine, their body can build a tolerance to the drug. When this occurs, they will need to use larger amounts of the drug to feel the same effects. Tolerance can easily lead to dependence, which happens when the body needs the drug to function.
Codeine dependence and tolerance may make people move on to stronger but more dangerous opioids in order to feel the same effects that codeine used to provide. Codeine tapers help wean the person off their dependence on the drug so they can enter recovery instead.
Why Do Codeine Tapers Work?
There are three key reasons why a person may want to use a taper to end codeine use:
- Avoiding withdrawal: Tapers require a gradual, incremental reduction of codeine’s presence in the body. The system is never completely lacking the drug, meaning withdrawal is not likely. Even patients with a severe dependence can avoid or lessen the extent of withdrawal by slowly tapering off codeine.
- Gradual healing: The body requires ample time to recondition itself, regardless of how long a person has been using codeine. Tapers allow the body to do what it does best: heal itself physically and mentally, and then continue to push onward.
- Effectiveness: Tapers are designed to work on a schedule outlined by a physician. Quitting cold turkey is not part of such a plan. The two benefits mentioned above are reversed when a user attempts to abandon codeine abruptly — the body cannot adapt, and withdrawal will strike at full force.
If a person attempts to quit codeine cold turkey, they’ll likely go through uncomfortable, unrelenting withdrawal symptoms that can potentially last for several weeks. Side effects they may experience include:
- Flu-like symptoms: Excessive sweat, mucus or tears are common during a codeine withdrawal.
- Nausea: Vomiting or dry heaving may amplify flu-like symptoms.
- Insomnia: Sleep may not come easy at the onset of withdrawal.
- Cramps: Abdominal pain, spasms and bouts of constipation or diarrhea are common.
- Muscle aches: Muscles all over the body may exhibit abnormal or painful behavior.
- Psychological symptoms: The person may have intense feelings of anxiety, panic and even depression. These symptoms are often a sign that codeine withdrawal is nearly over.
How To Taper off Codeine
Whenever possible, a codeine taper should take place with the help of trained medical professionals. Though withdrawal may not be deadly in and of itself, attempting to overcome codeine alone drastically lowers the margin of error. At-home tapers must be meticulously planned and thoroughly supported by loved ones to have any chance of success.
Codeine tapers call for a steady reduction in dosage over time, which helps prevent withdrawal symptoms. The amount of reduction can vary based on the person; some people may be able to reduce their codeine dose by 25% or even 50%, depending on their history with codeine. Overall, the longer the individual used the opioid, the longer the taper should be. If a withdrawal appears to be unavoidable, a physician may decide to prescribe Suboxone to ease the process along.
A highly strategic taper in a clinical setting can benefit most codeine users, whether they use the liquid, pill or syrup variant. With a little persistence and a lot of support, a codeine addiction can be a thing of the past.
Codeine misuse can lead to a serious substance use disorder. If you or a loved one is struggling to stop using codeine, The Recovery Village is here to help. Contact us today to learn more about treatment options and find a rehabilitation program that works well for your needs.
American Academy of Family Physicians. “Opioid Conversion Table.” Accessed August 26, 2021.
World Health Organization. “Clinical Guidelines for Withdrawal Management and Treatment of Drug Dependence in Closed Settings.” 2009. Accessed August 26, 2021.
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.