Medically Reviewed

Codeine Withdrawal Symptoms, Timeline & Detox Treatment

3 min read · 4 sections

Codeine is prescription opioid commonly used to manage pain and cough.1,2 Though it is a valuable tool for pain management and other medical uses, over time, codeine misuse can increase the risk of developing physical dependence and, ultimately, opioid use disorder (OUD).3

When significant opioid dependence on codeine develops, people will often experience withdrawal symptoms when they attempt to stop using it or abruptly try to decrease their dosage.3

As with other acute opioid withdrawal syndromes, codeine withdrawal is not typically life-threatening. However, withdrawal from codeine can be severely unpleasant and present significant challenges to recovery attempts.3 Codeine dependent people can benefit from supervised detox and medical withdrawal management to more comfortably weather this difficult period and continue on with more focused recovery efforts.3

If you or a loved one are seeking more information on codeine withdrawal symptoms and treatment, this article will give you a broad understanding of what codeine withdrawal might consist of, as well as show you ways to seek help to manage withdrawal and treat opioid use disorder.

American Addiction Centers offers medical withdrawal management for opioid addiction at many of our nationwide treatment facilities. Call

What is Codeine?

Codeine is among the most widely prescribed prescription opioid painkillers in the United States.1 Opioids are a class of substances derived from (or pharmacologically similar to) opioid alkaloid substances found in the opium poppy plant. Some opioids, such as codeine, are naturally derived, while others are either semi- or fully synthetically manufactured.2

Codeine and other opioids work as painkillers by activating opioid receptors throughout the body to alter the perception of pain signals sent to the brain. In addition, the use of codeine and other opioids is associated with increased dopamine activity within regions of the brain involved with reward, which can serve to reinforce the continued use of these drugs (which, in turn, makes opioid use disorder development more likely).2

While prescription opioids like codeine provide serious medical benefit in pain management situations, their ability to elicit a rewarding euphoria at certain doses can lead to many the misuse of these drugs for non-medical or recreational purposes.2

Is it Safe to Detox at Home for Codeine?

Though opioid withdrawal is rarely medically dangerous, acute opioid withdrawal symptoms can be markedly uncomfortable. Due to symptom severity, attempts to manage codeine withdrawal without medical supervision and pharmacological support could result in needless suffering for someone during this early stage of recovery.3

Though rare, medical complications sometimes do arise from opioid withdrawal syndrome. For example, a person with underlying cardiac issues could experience a worsening of the condition at the point their heart rate goes up or their blood pressure rises during codeine withdrawal.3 Opioid withdrawal-related gastrointestinal distress, which may include severe vomiting and diarrhea, could lead to dehydration and electrolyte distrubances.6 At times, this dehydration can lead to a need for intravenous fluids and medical attention.3 In another potential scenario, a person who struggles with certain types of anxiety could experience severe panic attacks during codeine withdrawal, which would necessitate medical intervention.3

As part of a medical detox protocol for opioid withdrawal management, various medications may be used to stabilize someone in codeine withdrawal. Medication options include two FDA-approved opioid agonists that may be used in conjunction with other medications to manage a full range of troublesome symptoms of opioid withdrawal, such as nausea, vomiting, stomach cramps, and diarrhea.

Opioid receptor agonist medications that may be used to effectively manage opioid withdrawal include methadone (a full opioid agonist) and buprenorphine (a partial agonist). These two medications are able to bind to and activate opioid receptors to minimize withdrawal symptoms and cravings.3,7

In certain cases, other medications that professional detoxification facilities might use for opioid withdrawal management include the adrenergic receptor agonists clonidine (used off label) or the more relatively recently approved medication lofexidine (Lucemyra). Both clonidine and lofexidine are alpha adrenergic receptor agonists that help alleviate opioid withdrawal symptoms without creating a feeling of reward or causing the patient to feel intoxicated.3,7

Current treatment recommendations indicate that opioid use disorder rehabilitation begin with medical withdrawal management. Doing so helps alleviate needless discomfort in a group of individuals who may have a lower tolerance to pain than members the population who don’t suffer from opioid use disorder.

Codeine Addiction Treatment

People with codeine dependence or otherwise at risk of experiencing opioid withdrawal can benefit from medical detox and pharmaceutical withdrawal management to ensure their OUD treatment efforts begin as smoothly, safely, and comfortably as possible.

Though professional detox and withdrawal management is an indispensable part of treatment for many, detox is only the first step on the journey to long-term recovery from an opioid use disorder.3 Detox enables a person to rid themselves of the influence of codeine as safely and comfortably as possible.3 However, detox alone is not a substitute for more comprehensive addiction treatment.3

Successful codeine withdrawal management can serve as a starting point for additional recovery work.6 Treatment and rehabilitation beyond the initial detox for codeine can provide a range of therapeutic services to better address factors that led to compulsive misuse of codeine in the first place, prevent relapse in the future, and ultimately help a person with long-term recovery from substance use disorder.3

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