How Long Is Codeine in Your System? (Urine, Blood & Hair)

Codeine is an opioid medication that helps people manage pain and decrease coughing. It is sold in syrup and tablet form. People may know codeine from brands such as Tylenol No. 3 and Tylenol No. 4, Fioricet with Codeine, Fiorinal with Codeine, and Soma Compound with Codeine.

As with all opioids, too much codeine can lead to overdose. Knowing how long codeine remains in your system can help you avoid an accidental overdose.
Codeine shows up on drug screenings that detect opiates. If you need to take a drug test for employment, it is important to speak with the person in charge of this test and let them know that you have a prescription for codeine.

If you are trying to decrease or quit using codeine, it is best to ask your doctor for help. Doctors have all the tools you need so you can safely detox from the drug.

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aerial view of bottle of codeine

How Codeine Works

Once you take codeine, your body has to change it into morphine to provide pain relief. Your gastrointestinal system absorbs it, and this lets codeine travel to other parts of your body to relieve pain. Up to 90 percent of the codeine you take is released from your body once you urinate.

Some people do not respond to codeine because they do not have the gene that allows them to turn codeine into morphine. A person’s metabolism may also affect how slowly or quickly they can absorb codeine, and this might change how much of it they need to take for it to work.

Codeine changes how your brain and body acknowledge pain. It decreases activity in the brain that causes coughing. Tablets of codeine are sold in 15 milligrams (mg), 30 mg, and 60 mg varieties.

Tylenol No. 3, a prescription version of the over-the-counter drug, contains 300 mg of acetaminophen and 30 mg of codeine.

Precautions

Opioids like codeine can cause you to become tolerant of or dependent on them. Because the drugs depress the central nervous system (CNS), they should not be taken with other depressants. This includes alcohol and drugs that affect your breathing. You should let your doctor know if you are taking other prescriptions, vitamins, or even herbal remedies.

The FDA has restricted how and when codeine can be prescribed to children under age 12. 

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The drug is not recommended for children between the ages of 12 and 18 who have respiratory issues, sleep apnea, or who are obese.

Women who are pregnant or breastfeeding are cautioned against taking codeine. This is to avoid neonatal opioid withdrawal syndrome in newborn babies. People with concussions should also not use codeine.

Like any other drug, codeine has side effects, which can consist of the following:

  • Sleepiness
  • Constipation
  • Nausea

Causes of Withdrawal

People who must take codeine for longer periods might start to tolerate it. This may require increases in dosage levels to continue managing pain. If you suddenly stop taking codeine, you may experience withdrawal symptoms such as:

  • Shaking
  • Sweating
  • Agitation
  • Anxiety
  • Excessive yawning
  • Insomnia
  • Accelerated heartbeat
  • Appetite loss
  • Goosebumps
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea

If you want to decrease how much codeine you take, it is important to discuss this with your doctor. You should never attempt to stop taking any opioid on your own after dependence has formed.

How Long Can Codeine Be Detected in the Body?

Codeine can be detected through tests, but this depends on several factors such as:

  • The type of drug test used
  • Your age
  • Your weight
  • Your metabolism
  • How much codeine you take
  • How often you take codeine
  • How active you are
  • Other medical conditions that affect you

According to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the average half-life of codeine is about three hours. Codeine can keep working after four to six hours. It is important to take codeine exactly as instructed to avoid an overdose. Some overdose symptoms might include the following:

  • Decrease in blood pressure
  • Fatigue
  • Small pupils
  • Stomach and intestine spasms
  • Bluish lips and fingertips
  • Drowsiness

Everything mentioned above can affect how long codeine can remain detectable in the body. These are general estimates for how long codeine can be detected depending on the test type.

  • Urine: 2 to 3 days
  • Blood: about 24 hours
  • Hair follicle test: 2 to 3 months

How Different Drug Tests Work

Employers and federal workplaces often conduct drug tests as part of their requirements. In some states, job offers may depend on the results of these tests. The most common are:

URINE TESTS

These are the most commonly used drug tests. They can detect the use of excess alcohol or illegal drugs. Urine is analyzed to check for the remains of drugs that stay in the system after they have been used. Some residue stays even if the drug is no longer affecting you.
In some jobs, you may get randomly tested even after you have been hired. These tests can usually detect marijuana, amphetamines, cocaine, nicotine, opiates, and methamphetamine.

Urine tests can potentially deliver false positives. If you get a positive result, your place of employment might use a different type of test to confirm results.

BLOOD TESTS

This can find out if there are drugs in your blood when it has been drawn. This test can typically find alcohol, marijuana, amphetamines, methamphetamine, nicotine, cocaine, and opiates.

HAIR FOLLICLE TESTS

This test does not detect recent drug use. Instead, it can test for drugs that have been present within 90 days. The tester will cut 100 strands of hair and see what can be detected near the hair’s shaft. This test cannot detect for alcohol; it usually detects opiates, marijuana, methamphetamine, phencyclidine, and cocaine.

Other tests use saliva or breathalyzers (usually for alcohol). People who seek treatment for drug or alcohol use are often tested randomly to make sure they stay on course. These tests are also used for medical reasons, such as general checkups for your health or even in emergency rooms.

The best way to pass these drug tests is to abstain from taking substances. Having an estimate of how long a drug remains in your system compared to the type of test you might face could help you, too.

Detoxing From Codeine

The FDA suggests that doctors taper off (gradually decrease the dose) of codeine and supervise their patient for withdrawal symptoms. They recommend the dose be reduced between 25 percent and 50 percent every two to four days. Patients who experience withdrawal symptoms should have their prescription reduced more slowly and their detox period last a bit longer or as the doctor sees fit.

Doctors are also advised not to prescribe medication such as buprenorphine or nalbuphine along with codeine because this could decrease its effectiveness. These could also increase the likelihood of developing withdrawal symptoms.

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