Codeine is an incredibly common medication, especially cough and cold medication, since it can help you rest comfortably while recovering.

Just because a drug is common, that doesn’t mean it’s safe for all users or that there aren’t known risks.

Honestly, almost every drug used today will cause problems, sometimes severe problems, for at least a small percentage of the people who take it. Between allergic reactions, metabolic differences, and different physical and psychological reactions to the drug, there is no such thing as a perfectly safe drug.

The trick isn’t eliminating risk. Instead, it’s important to understand the potential risks, and signs of a developing problem, and to learn how to get help when and if you need it.

What Is Codeine, And What Is It Used For?

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.

Risks Of Taking Codeine

One of the main reasons that many doctors look for other pain medication options or might prescribe cough syrup without codeine over cough syrup with codeine is that, as an opioid, there are a few risks that might not always be worth taking.

For instance, one of the most pressing risks with codeine is that a small percentage of the population has a condition that can make the drug dangerous. The way codeine works is that your body slowly turns codeine into morphine.

Morphine is an opiate pain medication that can be used for some of the most severe pain, but it also has serious risks when you take more than you need for pain control.

For some people, their bodies turn codeine into morphine much faster than average. That can lead to complications because they’ll have more morphine in their system than they need, which can become a serious problem depending on their metabolism, how much pain they are in, and the dose of codeine they are taking. These people are ultra-rapid metabolizers of codeine.

Unfortunately, nursing mothers who are ultra-rapid-metabolizers of codeine may pass morphine to their babies via breast milk. Children and babies may also be ultra-rapid-metabolizers of codeine without knowing it until the first time they are prescribed codeine.

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How Does Codeine Stay In Your System?

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.

Codeine Side Effects

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:

  • Constipation
  • Diarrhea
  • Drowsiness
  • Headaches
  • Dizziness
  • Lightheadedness
  • 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.

Is Codeine Addictive?

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.

Signs Of Codeine Addiction

The most common sign of codeine addiction is starting to crave the drug, especially if you are craving the drug, even after the symptoms you were treating have passed. You may also notice that you don’t feel like yourself when you aren’t taking the drug, or you might have new symptoms toward the end of a dose that weren’t part of the condition that led to you taking codeine in the first place.
Especially if you start noticing aches and pains, a headache, and general moodiness as codeine starts to wear off, and your other symptoms of illness, injury, or pain haven’t changed or have gotten better, you might be dealing with chemical dependence or addiction.

You may also feel tempted to lie to your doctor about your symptoms to get an additional prescription. Or, you might start feeling guilty or embarrassed by taking codeine, even if you haven’t noticed any changes in your symptoms.

All of these can be signs that you are dealing with an addiction. Don’t worry, though. Many options are available for you to get the help and attention you need.

Ready To Get Help Overcoming Addiction?

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.

We work with most insurance companies. Please note we are not affiliated with or endorsed by insurance companies.

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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.

As a clinician, Rettino-Lambert specializes in addiction trauma, mental health, self-harm behaviors, anxiety, intimacy issues, sex addiction, and personality disorders. She holds certifications as a clinical trauma professional and sex informed professional. Her passion and purpose as a clinician are to help individuals find their voice, purpose, and motivation through their recovery. She takes pride in being part of the process that helps those who are fighting for their lives to achieve both sobriety and wellness.In her role as a Clinical Director at Achieve Wellness and Recovery, Rettino-Lambert works tirelessly to ensure that her staff feels supported in their roles, continues their clinical growth and development, and is empowered to become the best versions of themselves. She firmly believes that all the staff are an essential part of clients’ recovery journey and that they deserve continuous compassion, empathy, acknowledgment, and support from leadership.

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