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Codeine is an opiate drug that is prescribed as a pain reliever and cough suppressant. It can be prescribed in pure form, or as a mixed prescription drug, like Co-codamol. However, some people choose to misuse codeine to get feelings of elation and euphoria. When someone becomes addicted, codeine side effects can have a significant impact on their health, finances and relationships. 

Dr Syed Omair Ahmed (MBChB, MRCPsych, Dip.CBT, Dip.EMDR) consultant psychiatrist at Priory Hospital Woodbourne, has looked at the long-term side effects of codeine misuse and addiction can have on a person's mental and physical health. He has also outlined the support that is available to help someone get on the road to recovery.

Long-term Effects of Codeine Misuse or Addiction on your Health

Long-term codeine use can result in many unpleasant outcomes. For someone misusing or addicted to codeine, or undergoing the long-term effects of codeine can include the following:

  • Insomnia and nightmares
  • Liver damage
  • Pain
  • Seizures
  • Gastrointestinal disturbances
  • Kidney damage
  • Confusion or delirium
  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Lethargy

Other Consequences of Long-term Codeine Abuse

Developing a dependency

Codeine is addictive and when codeine is used repeatedly, a person can develop a dependency to the drug as well as suffer from codeine side effects. As they build up a tolerance from taking it regularly, more codeine is needed to prevent drug withdrawal symptoms. The person will physically and psychologically need the drug to be able to function, which is a one of the unfortunate long term effects of codeine. 

Risk of overdose

One of the riskiest side effects of codeine is that it could result in overdosing. Taking higher doses of codeine regularly comes with a risk of overdose. A codeine overdose can cause respiratory failure, which is the most common cause of death from opiate addiction. Non-fatal codeine overdoses can also be incredibly dangerous.

Respiratory depression

When high doses of codeine are taken, dangerous side effects can occur from respiratory depression including slowness in breathing, heart rating dropping and blood pressure falling.

Breakdown in quality of life

Codeine or Co-codamol abuse and addiction can have a serious impact on a person’s work and home life. They may be unable to keep down a job as a result of their dependency, and suffer from financial problems as a result of their ongoing drug misuse or addiction. 

Relationships can also become strained, as a person concentrates on getting the drug. They can also fall into criminal activity as a way to source the codeine that they need.

Steps to take when Worried About Codeine Usage

If you are concerned about your codeine use, or are worried that someone you care about is addicted to the drug, it is important to know that there are multiple avenues of support available.

You can see a GP to get advice and information on the next steps. Drug counselling and rehab are also available to help someone recover from addiction.

Specialist addiction treatment available at Priory

Priory has specialist treatment available for prescription drug addiction, where detoxification and psychotherapy are among the options available. If inpatient treatment is needed for medical detox or rehabilitation, our hospitals can offer 24-hour care and support in a safe, secure environment with private rooms. Co-existing mental health and physical symptoms will be assessed and treated so that recovery can happen as safely and comfortably as possible, while also helping to reduce the likelihood of relapse.

Our compassionate, caring specialists will offer state-of-the-art intensive therapy, which can include group, individual and family sessions. Priory also provides aftercare and maintenance support, to help connect you to a supporting community network.

This page was reviewed by Dr Syed Omair Ahmed (MBChB, MRCPsych, Dip.CBT, Dip.EMDR), Consultant Psychiatrist at The Priory Hospital Woodbourne

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