Codeine is a prescription pain medication, normally taken in tablet form, used to treat mild to moderate pain. Codeine combined with acetaminophen makes up Tylenol 3, a popular pain reliever. Codeine is also a main ingredient in prescription cough medicines.
Many individuals use codeine for legitimate medical purposes. When used over long periods or used in a manner not consistent with the prescription, however, codeine users can--and frequently do--develop an addiction. When used appropriately codeine provides moderate pain relief. When used inappropriately, it can become an addiction.
Codeine Abuse and Addiction
One of the primary side effects of codeine is an overall sense of calm and feelings of pleasure. When an individual ingests codeine, it enters the brain and causes neurotransmitter release. These neurotransmitters stimulate the brain's reward center, which gives the user intense feelings of pleasure and relaxation. These euphoric feelings sometimes lead to physical and psychological dependence.
Because it's an opiate, codeine users run a high risk of developing a tolerance for the drug and eventually a dependence on it. In addition, many codeine users continue using the drug after the physical pain that caused the initial use subsides. They instead use it to cope with emotional pain or as an escape from everyday problems.
Codeine's potency rates low in relation to other narcotics like hydrocodone, oxycodone, methadone, morphine, etc. Codeine abuse and high tolerance may act as a gateway to these more powerful drugs and other forms of illicit substance abuse.
In addition to seeking out more potent narcotics--in many cases, even heroin--they strive for a better high by mixing it with alcohol and other drugs. Because codeine and alcohol both depress the central nervous system (CNS), combining them may lead to dangerous levels of depression in the brain and respiratory system.
Over 33 million individuals misuse codeine every year. Because of its status as a gateway opiate, it's difficult to get the complete story on the damage done by codeine addiction. What is known is the exponential increase in opiate use by those without a prescription.
According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, 52 million Americans over the age of 12 have used prescription drugs non-medically in their lifetime. Not coincidentally, heroin use over the past decade has skyrocketed as have deaths related to narcotic poisoning. Between 2004-2008, for example, emergency room visits related to prescription drug overdoses increased 152%. And that trend has continued to get worse.