Contrary to what you may believe, addiction doesn’t always develop overnight. Often, it’s a slow progression of substance misuse. A person starts using larger and more frequent doses of one substance, develops a tolerance, and then turns to a more powerful and more dangerous drug in search of a stronger and longer-lasting high.
Public health experts refer to substances that are likely to lead to this sort of continued experimentation as gateway drugs. There are many different types of gateway drugs—including one that may be in your medicine cabinet right now.
The Risks of Codeine Are Often Overlooked
Codeine is commonly used in prescription cough syrup and the pain relievers prescribed after minor medical procedures. It’s intended for short-term use only but not recommended for people under 18, pregnant women, or individuals with a history of asthma or other breathing problems. The drug can also interact with a wide range of medications, including antidepressants and stimulants used to treat ADHD, to create a dangerous complication known as serotonin syndrome.
Since it is derived from part of the opium poppy plant, codeine is an opiate—which means it is in the same class of drugs as heroin, oxycodone, and morphine. In addition to stifling the cough reflex and alleviating pain, codeine creates a feeling of euphoria. Even though the effects of codeine aren’t as strong as other opioids, the sensations it creates can be addictive. This is especially true when the drug is being misused by young people whose brains have yet to fully develop. The United States Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) classifies codeine as a Schedule II drug due to its relatively high potential for abuse and addiction.
As with other types of substance abuse, someone who is misusing codeine can experience a wide range of negative consequences. Signs of addiction may include:
- Declining performance at work or school
- Trouble maintaining relationships with friends and family
- Financial problems due to the amount of money spent on codeine, alcohol, and other addictive drugs
- Legal problems associated with driving under the influence or other risk-taking behavior
- Worsening of depression or other preexisting mental health conditions
- Impaired cognitive function
- Diminished sex drive or sexual dysfunction
- Liver or kidney failure from taking large doses of Tylenol with codeine
People who are using codeine regularly can experience withdrawal symptoms if they stop taking the drug. Those symptoms may include:
- Sleep problems
- Nausea and vomiting
- Diarrhea or stomach cramping
- Loss of appetite
- Increased heart rate
How Codeine Can Be Abused
Misuse of codeine can take a number of forms. Sometimes, people may think that if the prescribed dose relieves pain and makes them feel better, then a larger dose would be even more effective. They may also start to take the drug preemptively instead of waiting until they are actually experiencing pain or respiratory issues.
For people who don’t have a valid prescription, codeine cough syrup is often mixed with soda or juice and Jolly Ranchers or other hard fruit-flavored candies to improve the taste. A cocktail made with codeine cough syrup and Sprite or Mountain Dew is referred to by young people as purple drank and widely referenced in various movies, TV programs, and songs.
Codeine is also commonly mixed with alcohol to intensify the euphoric effects. However, since alcohol and codeine are both depressant drugs, combining the two drastically increases the risk of a potentially fatal overdose.
When codeine is being abused for a prolonged time period, a person will develop a tolerance. They’ll need to continue taking larger doses to achieve the same euphoric effects. This makes it more likely that the individual will begin seeking out stronger opioids.
Help Is Available
People who are issuing codeine are often embarrassed or ashamed, even if they’re not abusing other opioids or addictive substances. However, it’s important to remember that substance use disorders are chronic illnesses with complex biological and environmental triggers. They are not caused by a character flaw or a lack of willpower.
At St. Joseph Institute for Addiction, we provide evidence-based care personalized to meet individual needs. Our Pennsylvania residential treatment center provides an assessment for each client that identifies strengths, risk factors, and recovery goals. Detox helps remove all addictive substances from the body and establish a sober baseline. Then, clients receive intensive group, individual, and family counseling accompanied by various holistic support services designed to build the foundation for a wellness-focused lifestyle.
If you or someone you love is struggling with an addiction to codeine or other opioids, don’t wait to get help. Our admissions representatives are standing by to answer any questions you might have about the best way to begin the recovery journey.