Codeine is one of the most common narcotics prescribed by physicians for mild-to-moderate pain relief. It’s short-acting and very effective. It’s a common ingredient in prescription cough suppressants, as well as Tylenol 3.
Though it might not be as potent as some of the other opioids, it still packs a powerful punch when it comes to decreasing pain. However, it also causes a euphoric feeling, especially when someone abuses or misuses it. This good feeling can cause some people to become dependent on or addicted to it within a short time.
Codeine addiction is more common than many people think. People who become addicted to the drug are likely to experience some withdrawal symptoms when they try to quit taking it. The exact withdrawal symptoms vary greatly from person to person. Usually, patients with higher levels of codeine dependency will find their symptoms are more intense than those with lower dependence levels.
Symptoms commonly experienced toward the beginning of the withdrawal period include:
Further along in the withdrawal timeline, patients can expect to experience these symptoms:
All of these symptoms may come and go depending on the individual, and they all may become more intense toward the worst days of the withdrawal period.
The exact timeline and intensity of withdrawal symptoms can vary greatly between individual patients. They depend on factors such as:
However, most people undergoing codeine withdrawal can expect to experience an assortment of symptoms within the following generalized withdrawal timeline.
Days 1-2 – Generally described as the most difficult segment of the withdrawal period, the first couple of days are characterized by the earliest symptoms listed above. During this time, a lack of codeine causes the body to ache due to and crave the drug. Pain and discomfort will be felt at their highest points during these first days.
For this reason, the chance of relapse is also the highest during these early days. Therefore, it is imperative that the individual in codeine withdrawal has a supportive network and the supervision of a medical professional to ensure that relapse does not occur.
Days 3-5 – Once this point in the timeline is reached, much of the patient’s pain will have dissipated, but some uncomfortable symptoms will persist. These can include chills, sweating, nausea, and similar symptoms. For those who are severely addicted to codeine, these days may still be fairly uncomfortable. During this time, the patient may not have much of an appetite, but they must be sure to stay hydrated. The person may also still experience psychological symptoms like anxiety, depression, and some cravings.
Days 6 and beyond – Many of the withdrawal symptoms may have subsided as week one winds down. Minor physical symptoms may persist for a few extra days. However, emotional and mental symptoms, such as anxiety or depression, can linger for up to a month or more depending on how severe the addiction was.
Again, continued professional treatment is recommended to ensure a successful detox and recovery from codeine addiction.
If you stop using codeine immediately after a period of chemical dependence, you will start to experience uncomfortable symptoms fairly quickly. Quitting opioids cold turkey isn’t associated with life-threatening withdrawal symptoms. Other drugs like alcohol and benzodiazepines can cause dangerous symptoms like seizures and delirium tremens that aren’t related to opioid withdrawal.
However, opioid withdrawal can be uncomfortable, and people who go through it often compare it to a very bad case of the flu.
In some cases, vomiting, diarrhea, and sweating can lead to dehydration, which can be potentially dangerous. However, most of the cases of opioid withdrawal death due to dehydration occurred in prisons where prisoners were being neglected. Still, as with the flu, dehydration is a serious concern you should have when going through withdrawal.
Though it’s not often deadly, anyone who might be vulnerable to a bad case of the flu might be vulnerable to opioid detox. Older people and people with other medical conditions, such as heart disease, might be at greater risk of experiencing serious complications.
You will also experience powerful drug cravings that might be difficult to resist. Addiction is characterized by strong compulsion to use a drug despite harmful consequences. Many people feel their strongest cravings during detox. That, mixed with uncomfortable symptoms, is what makes it so difficult to get through the withdrawal phase.
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It’s important to detox under the care of a substance abuse professional rather than quitting “cold turkey.” Quitting cold turkey or abruptly can be dangerous, as your body is used to having the drug, and cutting it out suddenly can shock the body. This can be very dangerous and includes a higher chance of harmful relapse. After you spend some time in detox, your body may start to lose some of its tolerance to codeine. If you relapse by taking your usual dose, it may be too high for your current tolerance level. Overdose often occurs after a period of abstinence for that reason.
Instead, detoxing through a tapering method with the assistance of a doctor can allow the withdrawal to be controlled and symptoms minimized. Through this method, one’s codeine supply is slowly lowered until it is removed entirely, allowing the body to learn how to survive without the drug once again. This is much safer than the alternative.
Once codeine detoxing is complete, treatment at a rehab facility is the next crucial step.
Detox is the first step toward longer-term treatment. Detox rids the body of the toxins associated with the drug and helps your body to readapt to life without the drug. After that, comprehensive treatment and therapy are recommended, as a treatment for the underlying psychological and emotional issues that cause addiction in the first place is crucial for maintaining long-term sobriety.
Several types of treatment programs are available for people in codeine addiction and/or withdrawal. No one type is better than the other, but they are tailored for different patient types.
This first method of treatment is the most intensive, as it requires the patient to remain at the rehab clinic for the duration of their treatment program. During this time, they will be monitored and assisted by medical professionals during all hours of the day. Help or emotional support will also be available whenever they need it—day or night. This is a superb option for those who lack support systems at home or who have a high risk of relapse, either due to their home environment or lifestyle and habits.
An outpatient treatment program allows patients to continue living at home while receiving guidance and care during scheduled meetings throughout the week. This program allows a patient to keep their career or family life intact while still providing regimens or habit-building exercises to minimize the risk of relapse. This is a good option for those who cannot afford to quit work or who have exceptional family-based support systems.
Finally, an IOP program combines the freedom associated with the outpatient plans with the intensity of the inpatient centers. These allow a patient to remain at home but require more meetings than a regular outpatient program. IOPs may require medical professionals to come to a patient’s home for observation or assistance, and the regimens and training plans put forward are more intense than those experienced in a regular outpatient program. This is ideal for those patients who need to keep working but who face a high risk for relapse.
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Mayo Clinic. Codeine. Retrieved from https://www.mayoclinic.org/drugs-supplements/codeine-oral-route/description/drg-20074022
National Institute On Health. Recent Updates On Codeine. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3658028/
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