Many people don’t regard prescription codeine with the same wariness as they do other opiates. However, whether in tablet form or taken in a cough syrup, codeine use can progress beyond pain relief to produce dependence or addiction if you aren’t careful about following the recommended dosage.
When taking codeine long-term, anticipate codeine withdrawal symptoms. Codeine withdrawal can be severe, which is one reason the drug is not recommended for children under age 12 and should be given to teenagers under careful supervision.
Codeine Withdrawal Symptoms
“Withdrawal symptoms can begin quickly, within 12 to 24 hours of withdrawal, depending on the dosage you normally consume,” Brian Wind, MD, chief clinical officer at the Nashville, Tenn.-based JourneyPure treatment centers, tells WebMD Connect to Care. According to Wind, possible early symptoms include:
- Muscle aches and tension
- Runny nose and teary eyes
- Intense cravings and irritability
Later, according to Wind, your symptoms may evolve to nausea, vomiting, high blood pressure, dilated pupils, appetite loss and stomach cramps, and goosebumps.
“(Codeine withdrawal) symptoms are usually strongest in the first few days,” Wind says. “Most physical symptoms will fade within two weeks. However, the anxiety, irritability, insomnia and cravings for codeine can last for months.”
What are possible signs of codeine addiction? According to the American Psychiatric Association, a few signs of addiction to opiates like codeine are:
- Finding yourself taking more and more codeine, and more often
- Increasingly strong cravings
- Problems meeting work, family or school obligations
- Scaling back social activities
During your codeine withdrawal timeline, your doctor may prescribe medication to help ease symptoms like muscle aches, stomach cramps, anxiety, nausea and diarrhea. If your codeine problem is severe, your doctor may opt for medication that either dulls codeine’s pleasurable effects or produces a small high that helps reduce your dependence.
Arpan Parikh, MD, an addiction specialist and regional lead for behavioral health at the Cerritos, Calif.-based CareMore health system, tells WebMD Connect to Care that doctors most commonly recommend one of three FDA-approved medications to treat opiate use disorder. They are:
- Naltrexone tablets or injectionsto treat mild to moderate codeine cravings
- Buprenorphine tablets or film for moderate to severe codeine withdrawal symptoms
- Methadone liquid, powder or diskettes (dissolvable tablets) for moderate to severe codeine misuse
While it is advisable that you taper off codeine under supervision of a hospital or treatment center, Parikh says the gastrointestinal and other discomforts are “very rarely medically dangerous or life threatening.”
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