What Is Codeine Withdrawal?
Codeine is a highly addictive opiate painkiller. As a user’s tolerance to the drug builds up, they’ll need higher doses of codeine to feel its effects. After prolonged abuse, users can become physically and psychologically dependent on codeine.
Just like other opiates, codeine use prompts changes in the body’s central nervous system and brain chemistry. Over time, the brain becomes dependent on the drug and is unable to function correctly without it. If a dependent user stops taking codeine, withdrawal will set in as their body relearns how to function without the drug.
Codeine withdrawal symptoms will vary by person, as will the severity and duration of the withdrawal process. The timeline and severity of an individual’s withdrawal process can be affected by:
- The length of time they used codeine.
- The average dose of codeine they regularly took.
- How frequently they used codeine.
- Whether they combined codeine with alcohol or other drugs.
- Their mental health.
- Their medical history.
- Their gender.
- Their body weight.
- How they took codeine.
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Symptoms Of Withdrawal
Although codeine is less habit-forming than other painkillers, such as oxycodone or hydrocodone, users can still develop an addiction to the drug. Codeine addicts—especially those with severe addictions—may begin to feel the effects of withdrawal within a few hours after taking their last dose.
Codeine withdrawal symptoms are similar to those of other opiates. Codeine withdrawal can be quite uncomfortable, producing symptoms that are usually moderate to severe.
Common symptoms of codeine withdrawal include:
- Muscle aches
- Stomach pains
While the withdrawal symptoms alone are not typically life-threatening, there’s always a chance that symptoms will get worse. For example, if not treated properly, dehydration can lead to dangerous and sometimes fatal health complications. It’s best to err on the side of caution and find a medical detox program.
Duration Of Withdrawal
Symptoms of codeine withdrawal can present in as little as a few hours from the user’s last dose.
The duration of withdrawal varies by individual, but the worst physical symptoms usually last for about a week.
The user’s method of detox will play a role in the duration of withdrawal. Quitting “cold turkey” is the quickest way to rid the body of codeine. A taper method can take weeks or even months, but it’s usually the recommended method.
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Codeine Withdrawal Timeline
|Days 1-4||During the first four days of withdrawal, physical symptoms peak. User may experience muscle pain, nausea, insomnia, restless legs, headaches, sweating, diarrhea and vomiting. These symptoms are usually very intense during the first few days.|
|Days 5-7||During this period, most physical symptoms begin to fade. Psychological symptoms, such as depression, set in. Users might be dehydrated due to excessive sweating, diarrhea or lack of fluid intake during the first few days of withdrawal.|
|Days 8-30||Almost all codeine withdrawal symptoms should be over by this point, but depression may remain. Depression and codeine cravings can last for months after a user quits.|
While quitting cold turkey can speed up the detox process, it can also make it more difficult. Abruptly quitting codeine typically produces very intense withdrawal symptoms, including extreme cravings, diarrhea, nausea, vomiting, body aches, pain, and insomnia.
Because quitting cold turkey is very physically and psychologically stressful, users are advised to detox under the supervision of a doctor.
Another option is to taper off drug use. Tapering off codeine involves slowly limiting the amount of the drug taken each day. The user will gradually adapt to having less of the drug in their system, so the withdrawal is much less severe. Tapering off codeine can take anywhere from a few weeks to a few months. This method is usually recommended over quitting cold turkey and should be monitored by a physician.
Opiate substitutes, such as methadone or suboxone, may be used in place of codeine to taper off use. These drugs help calm codeine cravings and other withdrawal symptoms, but they can also be addictive if not used properly. These substitutes should not be used without medical supervision.
I slept for two days! Then the struggle kicked in, but it was so worth it. [I detoxed for] seven days.
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Treatment for Codeine Addiction
Detox is the first step when it comes to overcoming a codeine addiction. Codeine users should detox in a medical environment to safely manage withdrawal symptoms. Many inpatient rehabs and outpatient treatment programs offer medical detox services for codeine users.
For more information on treatment options, please contact a treatment provider today.
Ashish Bhatt, MD, MRO
Doctor of Addiction Medicine
Learn about Dr. Ashish Bhatt
Dr. Bhatt has been Addiction Center's Medical Content Director for more than three years, providing his expertise to ensure quality and accuracy.
Doctor of Addiction Medicine
Expert in adult and child psychiatry
Over 20 years of professional experience