Codeine is an opioid that’s used in medications all over the world. It’s one of the most common opioid ingredients, and it’s used in a wide range of products from pain relievers to cough medicines. However, as with an opioid, it comes with serious potential side effects, including chemical dependence, addiction, and withdrawal. Opioid addiction can be difficult to overcome, and it can progress from a mild substance use disorder to a severe addiction quickly.
According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, prescription opioid abuse often leads to the abuse of illicit heroin.
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Quitting codeine means going through uncomfortable withdrawal symptoms that can be extremely difficult to overcome on your own. However, medical detox can help guide you through the process safely. Learn more about codeine withdrawal and how you can get through it as safely and comfortably as possible.
What Are the Codeine Withdrawal Symptoms?
Codeine withdrawal, as with other opioids, can be extremely uncomfortable, which makes it difficult to get through on your own. One of the most common effects of withdrawal is an intense, compulsive desire to use the drug again.
When that is coupled with extreme discomfort, trying to detox on your own often ends in relapse. Opioid withdrawal symptoms aren’t known to be life-threatening, but people report experiencing symptoms that are similar to the worst flu they’ve ever had. Symptoms can include:
- Runny nose
- Teary eyes
- Muscle and joint pain
- Dilated pupils
Though codeine withdrawal isn’t usually life-threatening, bad cases can lead to dehydration. Because sweating, vomiting, and diarrhea can cause you to lose fluids quickly, it’s important to hydrate through detox. If you are very weak or nauseous, you may not feel compelled to drink water, and if you are by yourself, you may become dehydrated, which can be life-threatening.
According to the Society for the Study of Addiction, deadly dehydration from opioid withdrawal is a threat to prisoners without proper care. However, the idea that opioid withdrawal is uncomfortable but not dangerous can lead to neglect. Opioid withdrawal, like the flu, should be taken seriously and safe detox is essential.
What Are the Stages of the Codeine Withdrawal Timeline?
The timeline on which you might experience codeine withdrawal will depend on several factors that can be different for each person. The dose you were used to, the size of your last dose, whether or not you mixed in other drugs, and your size and weight, all play a part in when you might start feeling withdrawal. However, opioid withdrawal does follow a general timeline that you might be able to expect.
At first, you will start to feel mild symptoms like anxiety and general discomfort. Then you will feel like you are coming down with the flu. Finally, you’ll experience peak symptoms before it starts to dissipate. The most severe symptoms will most likely occur after a few days. After the first week, your uncomfortable physical symptoms will start to go away. However, things like anxiety and drug cravings may persist for much longer. Without treatment, psychological symptoms can continue indefinitely, especially if they come from a pre-existing mental health problem.
The codeine withdrawal timeline might follow the following pattern:
- First 24 hours. You will most likely start to experience your first symptoms within 24 hours of your last dose of codeine. If you last took a small dose, you may experience symptoms earlier than that. Your first symptoms will be mild, but they will slowly worsen over time. It will likely feel like you’re coming down with a cold with a runny nose, fatigue, restlessness, body aches, and general discomfort.
- 3 days. After two or three days, your symptoms will peak, causing extremely uncomfortable flu-like symptoms like nausea, vomiting, sweating, diarrhea, and fever. You may also experience strong compulsions to use the drug. Between physical discomfort and powerful cravings, you are at a high risk of relapse during this stage, especially if you go through relapse on your own.
- 5 days. After five days, your symptoms will begin to subside, starting with the physical ones. It’s possible for psychological issues like anxiety, depression, and insomnia to linger after other symptoms have dissipated. Cravings may also continue after other symptoms go away. However, by the end of five days, you will start to feel better physically, and potential complications like dehydration may become less dangerous.
- 1 week. Without treatment, some symptoms like anxiety and insomnia can linger indefinitely, especially if they were present before you started taking codeine. Plus, drug cravings may continue to occur for a long time. In many cases, these symptoms can lead to a relapse of drug use. Addiction treatment might be necessary to help deal with cravings and psychological issues without using drugs.
What happens If I Quit Cold Turkey?
Quitting codeine cold turkey after developing a chemical dependence on the drug can lead to uncomfortable symptoms and potential complications. However, opioids like codeine are rarely deadly during withdrawal. Opioids are often put into the same category as other central nervous depressants like alcohol and benzodiazepines.
Though they all cause sedative effects, opioids work in the brain differently, and they cause different symptoms during withdrawal. While depressants can be potentially deadly during withdrawal, opioids typically only cause uncomfortable symptoms.
Still, opioid withdrawal symptoms are so unpleasant that they represent a significant barrier to sobriety for many people. People who struggle with opioid addiction may find withdrawal difficult to get through. Withdrawal symptoms and powerful cravings often lead to relapse. Relapse can sometimes be dangerous. If a person has lost some of their tolerance after a period of abstinence and then takes a large dose, it can lead to relapse.
Opioid withdrawal symptoms can sometimes lead to potentially dangerous complications on rare occasions. Symptoms can include diarrhea, sweating, and vomiting, which can cause you to lose water quickly, leading to dehydration. It’s important to stay hydrated while you go through withdrawal, just like it is when you go through the flu.
Opioid withdrawal can also cause physical strain, which can affect your heart rate and blood pressure. If you have a heart condition or some other medical complication that would make this type of strain dangerous, withdrawal could be potentially deadly. The safest way to get through opioid withdrawal is with medical assistance.
Why Should I Detox?
Medical detox services in a detox center or a hospital setting can help to alleviate your symptoms and avoid any potential complications. Even though codeine withdrawal isn’t typically deadly, you may still want to start treatment with medical supervision. Quitting cold turkey without help from professionals can lead to complications or relapse.
If you have become addicted to opioids and other drugs, your detox process may be complicated, especially if a depressant like alcohol or benzodiazepines were involved. Depressants can be deadly during withdrawal, causing seizures and delirium that can be fatal without medical intervention.
In medical detox, you will be treated by board-approved medical professionals that have experience with withdrawal, and its potential complications. Through 24-hour care, your safety will be at the top priority, and your uncomfortable symptoms will be alleviated as much as possible.
Detox is the highest level of care in addiction treatment, and it lasts between five to ten days, depending on your needs.
Medically managed care means that you may be treated with medications that ease your symptoms or help wean you off codeine. In some cases, drugs like buprenorphine are used to let your body gradually adjust to life without the drug in your system.
However, weaning drugs can prolong the detox process, and it may last longer than a week. Addiction is a chronic disease that can have many underlying causes and consequences that need to be addressed. The full continuum of care can help address deeper needs.
What Is the Next Treatment Step?
After you complete addiction treatment, you may move on to the next level of care that’s appropriate for your needs. Clinicians will help you find a treatment program that can address any continuing medical and psychological issues you might have, while you begin to address your substance use disorder more deeply.
If you still have a high-level medical or psychological need, you may go through an inpatient or residential treatment program that involves 24-hour medical monitoring each day. In a residential program, you will live on-site in an accommodation and have access to clinical services at all hours.
If you can live on your own without risk to your health or sobriety, you may move onto intensive outpatient treatment (IOP). In this level of care, you may attend therapy for more than nine hours every week. Partial hospitalization services are a sublevel within IOP that can provide as much as 12 hours of treatment per day.
If you only require a low level of care, you may go through outpatient treatment that involves fewer than nine hours per week. This is an important step in easing you into independent life. Throughout treatment, you will go through a variety of therapy options according to your unique treatment plan. Therapy options can include individual, group, and family therapy, along with several behavioral therapies that are designed to facilitate lasting change.
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If you or someone you know is struggling with a substance use disorder that’s related to codeine or other opioids, it’s important to seek addiction treatment as soon as possible. Addiction is a chronic and progressive disease that affects the brain.
If you are dependent on a prescription opioid like morphine, you are at risk of moving on to heroin other illegal drugs when prescriptions become too hard to obtain. Illicit opioids are unpredictable, and any given hit may be more powerful than you realize, leading to an overdose.
Addressing addiction early can help avoid serious consequences, but even people with severe substance use disorders can be treated.
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National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2018, January). Prescription Opioids and Heroin. Retrieved from from https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/research-reports/relationship-between-prescription-drug-abuse-heroin-use/introduction
National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2018, January). Behavioral Therapies. Retrieved from from https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/principles-drug-addiction-treatment/evidence-based-approaches-to-drug-addiction-treatment/behavioral-therapies
National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2018, March 06). Prescription CNS Depressants. Retrieved from from https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/drugfacts/prescription-cns-depressants