Codeine Addiction

Codeine is easily available

There are many thousands of people who buy Codeine, on a daily basis, throughout the country.  Codeine can be purchased without a prescription and over the counter from any pharmacy. 

For those with a codeine drug addiction, they will end up purchasing from different pharmacies, so they are not identified as a person misusing codeine.  Some of the brands that are being purchased are Solpadeine, Solpadeine Max, Co-Codamol and Boots own brand Paracetamol and Codeine.

Codeine Addiction

Codeine is an opiate with similar effects to heroin

Codeine is and opiate and is found naturally in the sap of the opium poppy. It is used to treat mild to moderate pain and is usually combined with paracetamol for greater benefit.  It works by attaching to pain receptors in the central nervous system and in the brain to block pain signals to the rest of the body. But codeine also creates a more relaxed feeling. Over-the-counter medication usually contains 8mg of codeine. Codeine is generally misused by people who are feeling depressed, stressed or anxious who find that, as an opiate, it can boost their feelings.  However, as with any drug it does not take long for the body to become tolerant to the daily amount that is being consumed and we will start taking higher doses to achieve the same effect.

It is easy to get addicted to codeine

One of the main problems is that, mentally, people are not seeing the dangers of taking this medication as it can be bought directly and without a prescription. Also, when increasing the daily dose people will turn to purchasing it off the internet.  In fact, in Australia they have already banned the purchase unless you are given a prescription from your GP.  As with all opiates it takes only a short period of time to develop a codeine dependency or an addiction to it.

There comes a point when we get stressed when we realise that we are running out of the medication and need more.  Long term use of codeine will also start to change our mood and we will experience rapid mood swings that become more depressive.  Our family and friends will notice these changes and will not understand what is happening to us.

Like all addictions, there is an initial pleasurable feeling and a raise in Dopamine. In time the brain compensates for this and will supress this increased level and hence the high moods turn to low ones. Taking more of any substance to try and regain that pleasurable effect will not work and we end up taking the drug because our body needs it to even just function. 

Codeine addiction is rising

People tend to have a different mental attitude towards medication that can be purchased “over the counter”; their mindset appears to be that it can’t be harmful or we would need to have got it on prescription.  There is a strong argument that people’s addictive behaviour and thinking has escalated over the last three years. We have had lockdowns and covid and working from home and this has had a detrimental effect on a lot of people. This has lead to people looking for avenues to alter their feelings by using substances and alcohol – or gambling or altering their eating patterns.  Certainly, at The Haynes Clinic we are seeing younger people whose addictive behaviour has increased substantially during this time which has meant that they are having to seek help at a much younger age.

Codeine is one medication that is being misused and the number of people misusing it has probably gone below the radar. Certainly, it is being reported that pharmaceutical companies are making vast profits from the huge increase in the purchase of codeine-based medication.

Codeine withdrawal symptoms

The danger comes when we decide that the effect of taking codeine has become so detrimental in our life that we need to stop. If we try and stop or cut down codeine use, we can suffer codeine withdrawal symptoms, similar withdrawal symptoms as someone taking heroin.  This is what people find hard to accept, an over-the-counter medication after medium- or long-term use is having to be treated similarly to someone taking an illegal substance.

It is very difficult to slowly reduce down the intake of any medication, especially codeine.  There is the need to be in a safe addiction clinic environment. A codeine detox at The Haynes Clinic, overseen by our doctor and the trained clinical team, can take up to two weeks – the same as for an opiate. Generally, the medication Subutex is used and is administered on a daily basis which counters the effects of withdrawal from Codeine.  Then the prescribed Subutex is reduced down, daily, to successfully complete the detox.

Codeine rehab

The majority of people admitted into addiction treatment will come into residential rehab care for 28 days and find this time to be beneficial to break their cycle of addictive behaviour and thinking.  Also, there is a daily structured treatment programme consisting of group therapy to understand our old thinking and to gain an understanding of the changes that we need to make when we return home. There will also be the opportunity to process our thoughts and thinking that led us to start on this addictive road.

Also, in residential rehab treatment, we suddenly find that there are others that have started similar journeys and that we are not alone with our behaviour.

Taking codeine over a prolonged period is dangerous

This is a medication that will guarantee a dependency and to reach a drug dependency will be a different time period for everyone.  However, it should be realised the very real dangers of codeine-based medication even if it can be purchased “over the counter’.