Codeine is an opioid painkiller suitable for mild to moderate pain. It is also often used in cough and cold medicine because it can help deal with the pain of coughing while keeping you more comfortable and sedated while you recover.
Like many medications commonly used to treat colds, codeine doesn’t help you get better faster so much as it helps keep your symptoms more manageable. The way this medication works is by making it easier to take care of yourself while you’re taking it, which then makes it easier for your body to recover.
In some cases, codeine may also be used to manage mild to moderate pain from other problems. However, most doctors will explore other pain medication options, including over-the-counter pain medicines and alternative therapy options, before prescribing codeine.
While codeine isn’t typically as strong as other opioid pain medications usually reserved for moderate to severe pain, it still has all the same risks of use as other opioids.
Codeine is a relatively short-acting drug, which means it doesn’t have effects for very long; generally, one dose will be active for about 4 hours.
However, the length of time that a drug is actively working and the amount of time that the drug is in your system are different for codeine.
That’s because codeine gets broken down by your liver, and it takes time for your liver to process the drug fully and then additional time for the metabolites produced by your liver to be eliminated from your body.
For most people (people who aren’t ultra-rapid metabolizers and don’t have another liver or metabolic difference that might change their body’s ability to process codeine), the drug and its metabolites are detectable in a standard drug test for 2-3 days.
That doesn’t mean that codeine is eliminated in 3 days necessarily. Instead, it means that the remaining codeine or metabolites are below the detectible threshold for most tests. So functionally, the drug is out of your system, but it may still be another day or two before you are completely clear of all the traces of codeine.
Your body will also retain evidence of drug use for longer than 2-3 days. For example, hair follicle tests can show drug use up to 3 months before the sample is taken. Hair follicle tests will also typically show the time since taking the drug since the metabolites will no longer be present in either the hair follicle or the produced hair.
For people who have developed a codeine addiction, another measure of how long codeine stays in your system is important: the amount of time after a dose before withdrawal begins.
Like most opioids, most people will start to feel withdrawal effects within 12 hours of their last dose of codeine, but some people may start to feel withdrawal sooner. In cases where people have been addicted to codeine for a long time or have a high tolerance and need to take large doses to get the desired effect from the drug, your tolerance may also mean you go into withdrawal sooner than average.
All opioid medications have some risk of side effects, and the side effects you experience may vary every time you take codeine.
The dose you take, underlying health conditions, and any other medications you are taking at the same time may also change what side effects you experience and the overall severity.
The most common side effects of codeine include the following:
- Changes in mood
- Stomach pain
- Difficulty concentrating
If any of these side effects become severe or if you have side effects more commonly associated with stronger opioid medications, you may need medical attention. Contact a medical care professional, explain the situation and that you recently took codeine, and ask for the next steps. Tell them if this is the first time you have taken codeine.
Yes, While codeine is a common drug and generally thought to come with fewer risks than other opioid medications, there is still a risk of developing an addiction, especially if you have been taking codeine for a long time.
In some cases, you may need to work with your doctor to slowly reduce how much codeine you take if you’ve been taking it long enough to develop a chemical dependence.
If you suspect that you might be starting to develop an addiction or experience symptoms like craving the drug when you don’t need it, it’s a good idea to talk with your doctor about your concerns. They should be able to help you stop taking the drug, and if you still need some medication for symptom control, they should be able to offer alternative medications to help.
First, if you’ve become addicted to codeine, you aren’t the only one. There are plenty of other people who have had codeine addiction as well.
The good news is that plenty of medical care professionals are willing and know how to help you overcome the addiction.
We hope this article was helpful to you if you were trying to understand how long codeine stays in your system and what the detox process may look like.
If you’re looking for places that can help and medical care professionals with the expertise to guide you through the process and get back to your life, you’re in the right place. At Achieve Wellness Treatment Center, we can help. Contact us at 833-680-0142 to learn more about our programs, what therapy we offer to help you overcome addiction, or see if we accept your insurance.
The sooner you start an addiction recovery program, the sooner you’ll be able to get back to living life the way you want to.
Medically Reviewed By
Nicole Rettino-Lambert LCSW, LCADC, CCS, CCTP, CSTIP
Nicole Rettino-Lambert is a dually licensed clinician with over 20 years of experience working with children, adolescents, and adults in both addiction treatment and mental health treatment. Along with extensive experience in clinical work, she has held leadership roles in both inpatient and outpatient addiction treatments centers in New Jersey. Throughout her various leadership positions, Rettino-Lambert has developed clinical programming, assisted staff in their growth and development in the clinical field, and had the privilege of helping numerous individuals on their path to recovery.