13 Minutes

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The number of people attending codeine addiction inpatient programs in England was 11,600 in 2016 as reported by the Guardian. Since then, the statistics for codeine addiction have only climbed. Be sure to keep in mind that only 2-5% of codeine addicts seek adequate treatment for their addiction in the UK. The UK consumes almost 16% of the total share of the world’s codeine supply. For this reason, it ranks above the US (12.8%) and below India (19.3%). 

In this regard, it will be appropriate if we say that the opioid crisis of the UK is not ending anytime soon. As per some recent studies, physicians in the UK who readily prescribe codeine or codeine-like opioids belong to poorer areas. GPs in affluent areas of the UK do not indulge in providing reckless prescriptions that remain unaccounted for. Overall, codeine is a dangerous substance.  What are the effects of codeine high? How much codeine is too much? What are the dangers of codeine? Does codeine have opiates in it? 

Codeine, in simple expressions, is a Class B drug in the UK that, if found in possession without prescription, leads to 5 years of the sentence along with a fine. 

If codeine is prepared for injection, it is considered to be a Class A drug and can lead to 7 years sentence. So is codeine a prescription drug? Yes, it is. 

How addictive is codeine? Well, you see, codeine is an opioid drug. Its painkilling properties are responsible for the addictive substance that it is. 

In the body, codeine transforms into a much more potent opioid, morphine. Morphine functions as a chemical to induce the production of endorphins within the brain. The purpose of endorphins is to block the pain signals from passing forth into the body. 

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What are codeine effects on the brain? See, another important consequence of endorphins production is that it creates feelings of euphoria, calmness, and general well-being.

These effects are generally perceived as codeine pills “high.” 

If taken in large doses, the effects of a codeine high will include:

  • Happiness
  • Calmness
  • Pleasure
  • Rushing feeling of relaxation

Despite the fact that codeine is often considered to be a less potent drug than other opioids like Fentanyl and Vicodin, it has immense abuse potential and, therefore, an enraging addictive potential. 

From a much more complex view, it is fair to say that codeine works as an “introductory” drug in the UK party culture since its effects are not as strong as heroin. 

Adolescents who just begin to explore the unlimited and unfamiliar land of opioid abuse are provided codeine to become accustomed to the “high.” Only when the bodies of these adolescents betray them and develop an inevitable codeine tolerance, they are introduced to much more lethal opioids like Vicodin and Fentanyl. 

To put it simply, codeine is a “welcome” drug in the UK. It is nothing but the first step in the chain of addiction events that you intend to experience. 

Codeine, as an opioid, has the potential to be lethal. Do not let your mind obscure this thought. 

It does not take long to develop a codeine dependence. However, it can take your whole life to fight it off.

Even though codeine is primarily used as a painkiller, it has some properties that can help in cough suppression. For this reason, many cough syrups available in the UK include small to moderate amounts of codeine. 

“When I was going to the pharmacy, people in the queue in front of me were buying it. When I was walking away, I could hear the person after me buying it,” said Mark, a recovering codeine addict, from Manchester. 

It is no wonder that codeine is readily accessible in the UK despite it being a Class B controlled substance. 

It is for this reason that codeine has become an integral part of the drug culture in the UK and can be found in a “Friday night party punch” easily, for instance. 

Note: Codeine abuse symptoms are more or less the same as codeine addiction symptoms. Read ahead to explore them! 

Physicians in the UK tend to prescribe codeine at the lowest possible doses for the shortest durations. If people indulge in consuming higher-than-recommended doses even after their pain has subsided, it is considered to be Codeine abuse. 

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Recreational liquid codeine abuse (as cough syrups) is also fairly common. 

There are a few ways that adolescents resort to when simple codeine pills become “not spicy enough.” 

Crushing and snorting the pills is the first easy method. This causes a surge in the strength and potency of the drug. The passage from the nasal route to the brain is much faster as well. 

Codeine can also be mixed in liquids and injected into the veins. This type of administration skips the whole “oral route” assimilation ritual causing the efficacy of the drug to remain stable. 

Both the aforementioned methods of abuse grant quicker and stronger codeine pills high. 

In addition to this, codeine cough syrup is also combined with alcohol to make a drink often referred to as Purple drank, lean, or Sizzurp. 

Alcohol, being a Central Nervous System depressant like Codeine, also gives rise to a similar high. Codeine abuse with alcohol can, therefore, lead to respiratory failure. Codeine with pain pills and benzodiazepines can also cause a stupefying high. 

You know, the way you indulge in codeine abuse does not matter. What matters is the answer to the question: Can codeine kill you? 

Let’s face it; Codeine can most probably kill you if you are abusing it with pain pills, alcohol, and other types of CNS depressants. There’s only so much that your body can tolerate. 

Note: The UK’s opioid overdose crisis is a result of extensive codeine abuse. Even after abusing codeine, people tend to search for something more potent and reach out to consume different opioids. 

Once your body develops a codeine tolerance, it becomes impossible to avoid the concept of dependence on codeine. 

At this point, continuing codeine abuse and not seeking treatment will only lead to a codeine addiction that possesses and coerces your body to unimaginable extents

There are, of course, several risk factors for codeine addiction that are involved in this step. 

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First of all, grief, unresolved trauma, and interpersonal deficits of any kind can often lead to an in-built tendency to fall head over heels for codeine addiction. 

Secondly, if you are born into a family of drug abusers, you will be psychologically and genetically exposed to the concept of codeine addiction. Parents who pop pills at every slight hint of pain often give birth to children who act in the same manner without thinking of the consequences. 

Thirdly, even as a controlled substance in the UK, codeine is readily available at pharmacies. For this reason, the accessibility and availability of codeine have put the entire population of the UK at a risk for addiction. 

Fourthly, if you are exposed to codeine at home, you are more likely to raid the medicine cabinet with every chance that you are awarded. This is often the primary cause of codeine addiction in the UK.

Last but not the least, peer pressure works as the final nail in the coffin. If a person gives in to peer pressure, he will become inevitably prone to codeine addiction. 

Either way, codeine addiction symptoms are typically the same for all cases. They mostly include:

  • Going “doctor shopping” to acquire codeine prescriptions.
  • Forging fake prescriptions to acquire the drug in large quantities. 
  • Purchasing codeine illegally, without considering the possible outcomes of the act. 
  • Lying about consuming or abusing codeine.
  • Stealing codeine pills from others.
  • Consuming the drug under an inherent compulsion, while neglecting all possible side effects of codeine abuse. 
  • Failing to quit codeine even when you try to do so.
  • Consuming codeine cough syrup with alcohol. 
  • Experiencing the withdrawal effects of codeine if you fail to consume the drug. 

Note: The aforementioned codeine addiction symptoms require immediate treatment. Do not delay it as codeine addiction can become a cause of overdose and codeine poisoning. 

Moving on; People tend to have different reasons to indulge in codeine abuse. It can be due to life-altering physical pain, an emotional need to quiet down the toxic thoughts, a way to seem “easy-going” among your peers, or a mere way of indulging in the latest addiction trends. 

But, is there anything in the world that you can say or do to justify codeine addiction and abuse? 

While that is a thought to ponder on, let’s just refer to the fact that the physical effects of codeine are common to all abusers. 

Just because the reason for abuse is different from person to person, it does not alter the fact that codeine drug abuse is a territory that is best left unexplored. 

So what does codeine do to the body? Generally, immediate effects of codeine on the body are represented in the form of:

  • Diarrhoea or constipation
  • Nausea
  • Stomach ache
  • Dizziness
  • Drowsiness 
  • Dry mouth
  • Low blood pressure
  • Tunnel vision
  • Seizures

Short-term effects of codeine abuse can present along the lines of:

  • Depressed breathing rate
  • Headaches
  • Mood swings and irritability
  • Dilated pupils
  • Increased urination
  • Itching skin
  • Coordination difficulties as in alcohol intoxication
  • Agitation 
  • Allergic reactions
  • Flushing of the skin
  • Decreased attention and concentration

If codeine abuse is continued for longer than 6-8 months, the long-term effects of codeine begin to pose significant threats to the body. 

The side effects of codeine in the long term will include:

  • Cognitive deficits
  • Memory problems
  • Liver damage
  • Kidney damage
  • Anxiety
  • Fatigue and lethargy
  • Muscle rigidity and spasms

Note: As soon as long-term side effects of codeine begin to cause problems for you, be sure to check in with a physician. 

Furthermore, in the long term, the effects of codeine on the brain can lead to permanent brain damage and coma. 

If the case is severe, codeine poisoning can even lead to death. That is if you fail to notice the warning signs of codeine overdose. To expand on this, remember to observe the signs that resemble alcohol intoxication. Imbalanced gait, coordination difficulties, slurred speech, and dizziness are the typical signs to look out for. 

What is codeine withdrawal? You see, the human body works in unique ways. When you expose your body to larger amounts of codeine – or even weird combinations of codeine with other depressant drugs – your body becomes habitual to work in the presence of the drug. 

You become codeine-dependent. 

At this point, if you deny your body the right to acquire codeine, it will retaliate in anger and put you through immense discomfort and pain. 

In simple words, withdrawal is your body’s way of saying that it is hungry for codeine. Only if you continually deny yourself the pleasure of relapsing, your body will get back to normal. 

If you are codeine dependent, you are bound to experience the uncharted land of withdrawal from codeine. 

Codeine withdrawal symptoms include:

  • Nausea
  • Diarrhoea
  • Profuse sweating
  • Watery eyes
  • Vomiting
  • Anxiety
  • Runny nose
  • Agitation
  • Restlessness and nervousness
  • Inability to concentrate
  • Insomnia
  • Light-headedness
  • Arrhythmia
  • Weakness in the muscles of the limbs
  • Stomach ache
  • Depression
  • Goosebumps 

As the codeine withdrawal timeline depicts, the typical flu-like and physical symptoms of codeine detox last for no more than a week. 

But the behavioral symptoms of lean withdrawal tend to last for months. Your cravings will continue to set your mind and body on fire as you try to navigate through your life. 

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The symptoms of depression and anxiety can even last longer and become mental health problems in the long term if they are not effectively and timely treated. 

Overall, the opioid codeine withdrawal symptoms can last for as little as 7 days or as long as a month. There is no confirmation. 

Your codeine withdrawal timeline will depend upon the severity of your addiction, as well as how long you have been addicted to codeine. 

Now, the question is, “what is the need for detoxification programs for codeine?” 

First of all, if there is any misinterpretation, remember that codeine withdrawal is not fatal. The symptoms will not immerse you in the black hole of death. 

However, if the detoxification symptoms of codeine are not managed carefully through 24/7 supervision under the guidance of medical professionals, the symptoms can become extremely bothersome. 

It is for this reason that physicians often advise the patients to opt for licensed programs for codeine withdrawal and detox. 

Moreover, abrupt cessation of codeine can cause the symptoms to strike at their full potential. Therefore, addicts of codeine are advised to slowly and gradually taper off their codeine dosage. 

Codeine is prescribed to patients to be consumed at a normal dose of 30-40 mg every four hours. 

Because codeine cannot remain within the human system for more than 24 hours, the doses are well-regulated to manage pain or cough. 

So, how much codeine does it take to overdose? Well, consumption of more than 280 mg leads to an overdose of codeine fairly quickly. 300 mg of codeine can cause you to reach the point which excludes all possibilities of recovery. 

If codeine has overdosed with pain pills, alcohol, benzos, or sleeping aids, the outcomes are never favorable. 

For this reason, keeping an eye out for the symptoms of codeine overdose is crucial. These can include:

  • Blue tint of the skin due to lack of oxygen
  • Low heart rate
  • Cold and clammy skin
  • Decreased respiration
  • Drowsiness
  • Lack of strength
  • Confusion
  • Weak pulse
  • Low blood pressure
  • Delirium
  • Loss of consciousness

If the aforementioned codeine overdose symptoms are not attended to in time, they can lead to death. 

Nonetheless, keep in mind that the prevention of death is not a guarantee that everything will be sustainable. A codeine overdose can lead to the following effects and complications:

  • Brain injury and permanent damage
  • Liver failure
  • Kidney failure
  • Acute pancreatitis
  • Seizures
  • Pulmonary oedema
  • Muscle breakdown and atrophy 

Note: Codeine overdose if a medical emergency. Call for help as soon as you observe the symptoms to ensure that none of the complications arises due to codeine poisoning. 

The bottom line is that codeine addiction has become like a “part” of the normal culture in the UK because of the easy availability and accessibility of the drug. 

It is not due to a lack of legal consequences. Instead, it is because people are determined to feed their addictions to opioids. 

Whether you abuse codeine by crushing and snorting, injecting, or blending it with alcohol, you are merely causing your body to suffer at the hands of your addiction. 

The effects of codeine on the body and the brain are disastrous. Despite the prevalent idea that codeine is “less potent,” the dangers of it cannot be neglected. 

Liver damage; brain damage; kidney damage; pancreas damage; what other collateral damage does codeine have to do before you seek treatment for it? 

Worst-case scenario: Codeine will take your life away from you. It will empty the air from your lungs, cause your heart to get tired of beating, and force your brain to repress all functions. 

Before that happens and before you subject yourself to codeine overdose, acquire necessary treatment, wean off the drug, and seek therapy to prevent relapses. 

You are not alone in your journey. Seek support and you will stand like a concrete wall in the face of your codeine addiction and abuse. 



The Balance RehabClinic is a leading provider of luxury addiction and mental health treatment for affluent individuals and their families, offering a blend of innovative science and holistic methods with unparalleled individualised care.


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