Codeine is an opioid medication that is often used to treat pain or suppress coughs. Unfortunately, it can be addictive and people who misuse it often find that they become physically and mentally dependent on it. The codeine detox period can be difficult and uncomfortable, but it is a necessary first step towards recovering from a substance use disorder.
When a person stops using codeine after their body has become dependent on it, they will go through withdrawal. Codeine detox includes the withdrawal period while the drug is being removed from someone’s system.
Medical professionals can help make the codeine detox process safer and ease withdrawal symptoms. When a person who is abusing codeine seeks help, they can become free from drug dependency.
What is Codeine Withdrawal?
Codeine, like other opioids, binds to special receptors on the surface of nerve cells in your brain and throughout your body. This binding decreases the ability of the cell to pass on signals and helps dampen a person’s perception of pain.
If a person misuses codeine, takes too much of it, or uses it for too long, the drug will build up in their system until their body becomes physically dependent on its presence. Once that person stops using codeine, they will experience codeine withdrawal symptoms as their body adjusts to not having the drug anymore.
Physical dependence is related to addiction, but they refer to different things. Someone who has become dependent on codeine may also experience changes in their brain chemistry, and they may lose control over their ability to choose whether or not to continue to take the drug. At this stage, they may display drug-seeking behavior, lie about codeine use, have cravings, and not be able to stop using despite having financial, legal, or health problems. This stage represents codeine addiction or psychological dependence.
Codeine Withdrawal Symptoms
If someone has taken a lot of codeine or has been using it for a long time, they will probably experience codeine withdrawal symptoms. These symptoms can make it even more difficult to stop using. A person who is experiencing side effects of codeine withdrawal can get medical assistance to help ease some of the symptoms. Doctors and other medical professionals can prescribe other drugs to help with pain or make the patient more comfortable.
It’s important to know that people who are using other codeine-containing medications may experience slightly different symptoms. Common drugs in this category include Tylenol 3 and Tylenol 4. These contain both codeine and paracetamol, also known as acetaminophen. High doses of acetaminophen can cause liver damage, so these drugs should only be taken at doses recommended by a doctor. Codeine and paracetamol withdrawal symptoms include mental changes, blurred vision, abdominal pain, jaundice and passing out.
Physical Symptoms of Withdrawal
Physical signs that a person is going through codeine withdrawal include:
- Muscle aches
- Nausea and vomiting
- Abdominal pain
- Flu-like symptoms
If someone is experiencing symptoms like diarrhea from codeine withdrawal, it is a sign that their body has become physically dependent on the drug. Medical intervention can help ease these issues.
Psychological Symptoms of Withdrawal
Psychological symptoms that some people encounter during the withdrawal process are:
- Cravings for codeine
Medications such as clonidine can help with codeine withdrawal signs like insomnia. These can be prescribed by a doctor at a rehab facility. If a patient is dealing with mental health issues such as depression during codeine withdrawal, a comprehensive treatment center can help treat these issues along with codeine dependence.
Codeine Withdrawal Timeline
How long withdrawal from codeine lasts may be slightly different for different people. It often begins within 8-24 hours after last use and persists for 4-10 days. Additionally, not all physical or psychological signs may appear at the same time, with some manifesting earlier and some later after a person takes their last dose.
Codeine withdrawal symptoms follow a general timeline:
- First 8-24 hours
Restlessness, anxiety, insomnia, watery eyes.
- Days 1-4
Muscle pain, diarrhea, vomiting, sweating, headaches, rapid heartbeat. The withdrawal symptoms are most intense during this period.
- Days 5-7
Physical symptoms begin to disappear, but patients may feel very dehydrated from previous diarrhea and vomiting.
- Following weeks and months
Physical symptoms should be gone, but psychological symptoms such as depression and cravings may remain. Counseling can help address these issues.
If someone is struggling with how to get through codeine withdrawal, they can contact The Recovery Village Palm Beach at Baptist Health to learn more about treatment and detox options. Getting medical help makes the process safer and more comfortable.
Factors Impacting Codeine Withdrawal
Research tells us that addiction affects different people in different ways. For example, genetics can affect which symptoms people experience and how severe those symptoms are.
Other factors that might affect the severity of a person’s withdrawal experience include:
- how much codeine they typically used
- how long and how often they used it
- whether they used codeine along with other drugs
- how much they weigh
- whether they have a history of mental or physical disorders
These factors can affect a person’s experience with both physical withdrawal as well as psychological cravings once they have detoxed.
Environmental cues can play a big role in fighting substance use disorder. If a person struggling with addiction finds themselves in a certain place where they would typically use codeine or surrounded by people they used to use codeine with, they may experience cravings. Someone may also experience behavioral withdrawal, where they find themselves wanting to take codeine in stressful or unpleasant situations where they would previously have used the drug. Behavioral therapy and counseling can help people find different ways to cope with problems.
Undergoing a codeine detox can be incredibly uncomfortable. Medical professionals don’t usually recommend going through a codeine detox at home, because the discomfort often leads people to relapse. There are several options that patients can choose when they are ready to begin a codeine detox:
This is the safest and most comfortable option for people going through withdrawal. Inpatient detox involves living at a treatment center 24 hours a day, where medical professionals can monitor symptoms and immediately address any health issues that arise.
People whose addictions are milder and don’t have any co-occurring health issues may choose outpatient detox. Patients may live at home or at the facility, depending on the program, and still attend work or school.
Certain medicines, such as methadone, lofexidine, and buprenorphine, can help lessen opioid withdrawal symptoms. Medically-assisted detox takes place at a facility where specialists can prescribe drugs to ease cravings and withdrawal symptoms, monitor the patient and provide assistance for more severe symptoms.
Some people choose to go through withdrawal at home. This is often very uncomfortable and in some cases, may be life-threatening. There are not many reliable resources that explain how to detox from codeine at home since there are not many ways to do it safely. Home detox for codeine is not recommended.
Finding a Detox Center
It is important for people with substance use disorders to find a facility that they can trust that can help them through the detox phase. Physical and psychological symptoms may be so strong that a patient can’t stop themselves from using again in order to make the symptoms go away. Enlisting medical professionals helps make the withdrawal process smoother, safer and more likely to be successful.
People looking for detox centers should make sure that the facility is able to offer medical treatment to help ease symptoms and cravings. They should also look for a treatment center that offers behavioral therapy and counseling in order to increase their long-term success and help make relapses less likely. Finally, detox centers should be able to evaluate patients for co-occurring mental health disorders and be prepared to offer treatment for those issues while a patient is going through detox.
Codeine Addiction Recovery
Going through detox is the first step to recovery, but it is not the only step needed. People who go through detox but don’t pursue any other treatment are more likely to keep abusing a drug. A long-term treatment plan is needed in order to recover from addiction.
If a codeine user stops or tries to stop using the drug and their body’s tolerance to codeine begins to decrease, and then they take a high dose of codeine, they may experience an overdose. This risk is why it’s so important to seek professional help when you’re ready to detox from codeine and begin your recovery.
Fighting a codeine addiction is difficult, but recovery is possible, especially when you have the necessary tools and support that a professional medical staff provides.
Frequently Asked Questions
- Am I addicted to codeine?
This self-assessment can help you evaluate your codeine use.
- What are the stages of opiate withdrawal?
While everyone experiences withdrawal slightly differently, there are a few general stages of opiate withdrawal. Symptoms generally start within the first 24 hours of a person’s last dose and are at their strongest within the first few days. This period is characterized by stomach problems, mood changes, muscle aches, and insomnia. Once this period is over, a few days after a person stops using, symptoms will lessen and eventually disappear, although some people continue to experience mild symptoms for up to a week.
- Can you overdose on codeine?
Yes, you can overdose on codeine. Taking too much can lead to severe health consequences or even death.
- How long does codeine stay in your system?
It’s hard for anyone to know for sure how long codeine stays in their system because it’s different for everyone. As a general guideline, codeine can last for up to about six hours before it’s fully metabolized.
- How do you taper off codeine?
Tapering off codeine can be done to lessen some of the withdrawal symptoms when a person stops using. It involves slowly decreasing the amount of codeine taken over a long period of time. Tapering is difficult for people to do on their own, and is best managed by a medical professional.
- Will codeine help with hydrocodone withdrawal?
It’s not a good idea to use codeine to help with hydrocodone withdrawal. Codeine is less potent than hydrocodone but is still addictive. It’s not helpful to replace one addiction with another. Furthermore, some people find that withdrawing from codeine is more uncomfortable than withdrawing from hydrocodone. Rather than using codeine syrup to help with opiate withdrawal, it’s a better idea to go through withdrawal under the care of a doctor who can ease symptoms with other less addictive medications.
If you would like to learn more about codeine addiction recovery, contact The Recovery Village Palm Beach at Baptist Health. Our team can help you learn more about the detox process, and our facilities are a safe, comfortable place to treat withdrawal symptoms and become free from addiction. The Recovery Village Palm Beach at Baptist Health offers medical assistance, inpatient and outpatient programs, family counseling, and counseling that will help you or your loved one get on the road to long-term recovery.
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Gowing, Linda; Ali, Robert; White, Jason M.; Mbewe, Dalitso. “Buprenorphine for managing opioid withdrawal.” Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews, February 2017. Accessed August 7, 2019.
National Institute on Drug Abuse. “Treatment Approaches for Drug Addiction.” Revised January 2019. Accessed August 7, 2019.
Piper, Megan E. “Withdrawal: Expanding a Key Addiction Construct.” Nicotine & Tobacco Research, December 2015. Accessed August 7, 2019.
World Health Organization. “Clinical Guidelines for Withdrawal Management and Treatment of Drug Dependence in Closed Settings.” 2009. Accessed August 8, 2019.
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.