Codeine Abuse Signs, Symptoms & Side Effects

A Survey on Drug Use and Health indicated about 1.9 million Americans had a prescription painkillers use disorder. Unlike the illicit opioid heroin, doctors frequently prescribe painkillers to people suffering from painful injuries. For example, if a person fractured their arm in a car accident, a doctor may prescribe them the opioid painkiller OxyContin. Whether a person begins using illicit or prescribed opioids, they can develop addiction disease. In recent years, medications have been synthesized expressly to treat opioid addiction through drug replacement therapy. The opioid partial agonist Suboxone is among them. Just like pure opioids themselves, Suboxone can be habit-forming. Read further for additional Suboxone information, including details on the drug’s chemical behavior and abuse potential.
Codeine impacts both behavior and physiology. Understanding what these signs look like is critical in getting a person the help they may desperately need. Behavioral signs include:

  • Drug-seeking activity (like stealing money to obtain codeine, and constantly talking about or thinking about obtaining or using the drug)
  • Using the drug for its euphoric effects rather than its medical intention
  • Using the drug for longer or in greater doses than prescribed

Physiological signs include:

  • Nausea
  • Drowsiness
  • Changes in vision
  • Cold, clammy skin

Some of these physiological signs can also be precursors for more serious issues like codeine overdose, which can be fatal. Even if you have encountered this disease before, keep an eye out for these signs, as they can also indicate an addiction relapse.

Codeine misuse is technically considered over-the-counter drug abuse, but opiates are all related. Thus, it is not surprising that the side effects of codeine abuse are similar to those caused by the abuse of other opioids. The drug’s euphoric effects keep the user coming back for more, which is where the addictive potential of the drug kicks in: what starts off as prescribed usages can evolve into a dangerous addiction. Side effects include:

  • Abnormal heart rate
  • Temporary euphoria
  • Seizures
  • Breathing issues
  • Lightheadedness
  • Dependency
  • Withdrawal symptoms (such as depression, nausea, fever, issues with sleep, and more)
codeine abuse
Recognizing and acknowledging addiction behaviors is a major step toward recovery. Mental health professionals consider addiction (otherwise known as a substance use disorder) a mental disorder, defining it in the DSM-V (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders) with the following 11 criteria:

  1. Taking the opioid in larger amounts or for longer than medically necessary
  2. Inability to control or reduce codeine use
  3. Spending a great deal of time to obtain and use codeine
  4. Strong desire or craving for codeine
  5. Consistent inability to meet major obligations
  6. Continued codeine use despite interference with normal function
  7. Using codeine to the detriment of important social, work-related, or personal obligations
  8. Recurrent use of codeine in physically hazardous situations
  9. Consistent use of codeine despite knowledge of difficulties due to codeine use
  10. Tolerance (Not applicable to people who are using codeine under medical supervision)
  11. Withdrawal symptoms after stopping codeine (Not applicable to people who are using codeine under medical supervision)

To determine the severity of one’s addiction, a clinician considers how many of these 11 criteria are exhibited. Clinical determination of codeine addiction is as follows:

  • Absent Addiction – zero to one criterium met
  • Mild Addiction – two to three criteria met
  • Moderate Addiction – four to five criteria met
  • Severe Addiction – six or more criteria met
If someone you know is battling a codeine dependency or addiction, entering treatment can be a difficult decision. In these cases, consider staging an intervention to shower the person with support. This can help direct them toward getting treatment for substance abuse.

Consulting with an intervention specialist is especially critical if you pursue the intervention route. A professional can help you and your loved ones plan the conversation and strategize for a positive outcome. Factors to consider here include timing, who will be attending, and how to communicate your thoughts with love. While the decision to undergo opiate addiction rehabilitation ultimately falls on the person who needs it, your support may be what gets them headed in the right direction.

“Opioid Use Disorder Diagnostic Criteria.” PCSS-MAT, American Psychiatric Association, Accessed 30 Jan. 2017.

“DrugFacts: Cough and Cold Medicine Abuse.” National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), National Institutes of Health, May 2014, Accessed 30 Jan. 2017.