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Codeine Withdrawal Symptoms & Codeine Withdrawal Timeline

Codeine is an opioid drug used in pain management.1 If a person who is dependent on codeine stops taking it, they could experience withdrawal symptoms.2 Codeine withdrawal symptoms can vary, although they’re similar to withdrawal symptoms from other opioids, as can how long they last. They range from uncomfortable to potentially serious, and treatment is available to help you experience withdrawal symptoms safely and comfortably.2 This article will explain what codeine is, how dependence and withdrawal work, and how detox programs can help.


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What Is Codeine?

Codeine is an opioid medication that is used to manage pain and sometimes to control diarrhea, restless leg syndrome, or coughing.1 It may be taken as an oral solution, a tablet, or by injection.1(admin) It has some potential side effects, including constipation and nausea, but its real danger is in its potential to lead to addiction and overdoses.1

Codeine also has the potential for misuse, and at times, people can struggle with codeine addiction, which may be more likely to occur when a person takes codeine:2

  • In a way that wasn’t prescribed.
  • To get high.
  • Without a prescription for it.

People can become addicted to codeine because it can create a sensation of euphoria when taken.2 Codeine and other opioids work by binding to opioid receptors in the brain and body and blocking pain signals. Codeine and other opioids lead to increased activity of dopamine, which reinforces feelings of pleasure and reward, and makes people want to repeat the experience.2


Codeine Dependence and Withdrawal

When a person keeps taking an opioid like codeine, they may develop physiological dependence.3 Dependence occurs when a person’s brain adapts to recurring codeine exposure and it can no longer function normally without the drug.4 Once a person is dependent, their body has adapted to the regular presence of codeine, and if codeine use is stopped, the person will have symptoms of withdrawal.3

It is important to note that physiological dependence is not the same thing as addiction. Dependence can occur even if a person uses codeine exactly as prescribed.3 An addiction to codeine, however, is characterized by the compulsive need to use codeine despite negative consequences that impact a person’s daily life and ability to function normally.4


Codeine Withdrawal Symptoms

Codeine withdrawal symptoms resemble those of other types of opioids, and the symptoms may be mild to severe. Typical symptoms of codeine withdrawal include:5

  • Nausea.
  • Abdominal cramps.
  • Vomiting.
  • Diarrhea.
  • Anxiety.
  • Teary eyes and/or runny nose.
  • Gooseflesh and/or chills.
  • Excessive yawning.
  • Muscle and/or bone pain.
  • Fever.
  • Sweating.
  • Fast heart rate.

People sometimes describe withdrawal from codeine and other opioids as being like a bad case of the flu.5 These symptoms of codeine withdrawal may be highly uncomfortable and unpleasant and difficult to cope with, and many people benefit from a supervised medical detox, where medicines and other form of support can help reduce or eliminate withdrawal symptoms.6

There are rare cases in which opioid withdrawal symptoms can become serious and lead to medical complications, such as having extreme dehydration from vomiting and/or diarrhea, and a person might need to go to the hospital to get IV fluids.6 Should a person be at higher risk of these kind of medical complications, it is likely they will benefit from medically supervised detox.6


How Long Will Codeine Withdrawal Symptoms Last?

Many factors impact the length and severity of withdrawal. In general, however, when a person who has developed a physiological dependence on codeine stops taking it, a withdrawal symptoms timeline will be similar to the following:5

  • Onset of symptoms: The first symptoms are likely to start around 8–24 hours after the last dose and are likely to include yawning, sweating, restlessness, insomnia, and runny nose. Some people will also have muscle aches, gooseflesh, stomach pain, and twitching muscles.
  • Peak codeine withdrawal typically will occur 1–3 days after the last dose of codeine. The symptoms people can display at this time include fever, nausea, high blood pressure, rapid heart rate, as well as diarrhea, vomiting, and dehydration.
  • Symptoms start to go away around 7–10 days after the last dose of codeine.
  • Withdrawal symptoms may persist in some people recovering from opioid addiction, and these symptoms usually consist of cravings, depression, and insomnia and may last for several weeks to months after they have stopped using.

The severity and length of withdrawal symptoms can be affected by such factors as:6

  • A person’s health condition and genetics.
  • The severity of a person’s addiction, including the dose of codeine they took regularly and how long they have been taking codeine and other opioids.
  • Having a co-occurring disorder.
  • Withdrawing from other substances at the same time as codeine.

Getting Help for Codeine Withdrawal

Medically monitored detox programs are readily available to help a person withdraw from codeine comfortably and safely. The average length of stay in detox is very different for everyone, but the national average for all substances is about 7 days.6

Detox is a process designed to get substances out of a person’s body while keeping them medically stable, and it is often the first step for many people when it comes to drug rehab treatment.6 Rehab treatment following detox can help the person understand how they became dependent on codeine and to learn new ways to cope that does not include taking substances, avoid relapse and stay in recovery.6

A person entering treatment for codeine addiction has the option for inpatient treatment, where programs are live-in and 24/7, as well as outpatient treatment, that lets patients go home at night and sometimes work or attend school while in recovery. Whether a person enrolls in an inpatient or outpatient program, treatment for opioid use disorder, the clinical term for opioid addiction, usually involves a combination of behavioral therapies and medications.7,8

There are several types of medication used to treat OUDs, which include:5

  • Buprenorphine, which helps people manage their cravings for codeine and other opioids and helps to control withdrawal symptoms. Buprenorphine can be given as a sublingual tablet, or by injection.
  • Methadone, which helps eliminate or reduce withdrawal symptoms and ongoing cravings for codeine and other opioids and typically comes in a liquid form that is taken by mouth.
  • Naltrexone is not used to manage withdrawal symptoms but helps control cravings for opioids like codeine. Naltrexone blocks the effects of opioids like codeine so that when a person uses them, they will feel no effects from the drug. Naltrexone comes as a long-acting injectable or in tablet form.

Sources

  1. Peechakara, B.V., Gupta, M. (2021). Codeine. Treasure Island (FL): StatPearls Publishing.
  2. National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2021). Prescription opioids DrugFacts,
  3. National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2018). Principles of Drug Addiction Treatment: A Research-Based Guide (Third Edition): Is there a difference between physical dependence and addiction?
  4. National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2019). Teaching addiction science: The neurobiology of drug addiction.
  5. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. (2021). TIP 63: Medications for opioid use disorder.
  6. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Treatment Services Administration. (2015). TIP 45: Detoxification and substance abuse treatment.
  7. National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2019). Treatment approaches for drug addiction drug facts.
  8. National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2018). Principles of Drug Addiction Treatment: A Research-Based Guide (Third Edition): Principles of effective treatment.

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