Codeine Withdrawal and Detox

Codeine is an opiate drug used in treating coughs and mild to moderately severe pain. It is mostly found in trademark drugs, as part of a formulation with various other analgesics and cough syrups. However, despite its availability over the counter, codeine can be highly addictive. When taken in higher doses over an extended period, you may experience psychological and physical dependence on the drug. There are very dangerous effects associated with codeine addiction and quitting the drug can be difficult. Abstinence can trigger a series of uncomfortable symptoms that may lead you to use the drug again.

You may have initially used the drug under your doctor’s orders to manage pain, but gradually slipped into dependence without actually knowing. This is one of the most common ways of falling into addiction to codeine. However, some users take the drug recreationally alongside other drugs to experience feelings such as euphoria, numbness and relaxation.

Despite the troubling tendencies of codeine and its related withdrawal difficulties, treatment for addiction is possible if you are affected. Addiction to codeine presents a rough patch in your life, but it’s one that you can leave behind with the right amount of help. If you’re worried that you or a loved one have become dependent on the drug – or are on the brink of addiction – specialists can help you overcome the negative effects of codeine on your body and mind.

Treatment involves getting rid of the drug from your system through medical means and a holistic rehab programme that will ensure you don’t return to using it.

How Codeine Affects the Brain and Body

Codeine has an identical chemical make-up to morphine and other opiates such as oxycodone, opium, oxycontin and heroin, but with relatively lower potency. It is considered tolerable, but also has a high potential for dependence.

As a typical opioid, codeine travels to the brain when ingested to activate certain opioid receptors. This action prevents the transportation of mild to moderate pain sensations to the central nervous system by disrupting the electrical impulses that carries them. This results in relief for those suffering from discomfort caused by pain.

The effects of codeine wear off after a few hours, which leads to the user taking the drug again to feel relief. Continued use of codeine results in tolerance to the drug. That is, to recreate the original relief and/or euphoric feelings induced by codeine, subsequent doses must be increased.

Over time, the body will acclimatise to the presence of codeine, and the brain’s pleasure and reward circuitry will be rewired to depend on the drug for normal function. This can be potentially dangerous, as continued codeine usage will ultimately lead to physical and psychological complications.

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What is Codeine Detox?

When you choose to stay away from codeine, your body will naturally flush out what’s left of the drug (from your last dose) in your system. This process is called detoxification. It is mostly carried out through the liver after some hours of abstinence.

Detoxification is normally accompanied by a series of withdrawal symptoms that can make the process tough and turbulent. Detox can become more dangerous as a result of dehydration induced by withdrawal. This is why going through treatment under professional care is advised.

Detox is always the first stage of treatment. You’ll be monitored round-the-clock and assisted with medications that will ease your discomfort. If you want to break free from codeine addiction, seek professional help for your detoxification process.

What is Codeine Withdrawal?

As with other opiates, continued use of codeine induces changes in the central nervous system and brain chemistry. This leads to abnormal functioning of certain neurochemicals and receptors without the drug. This means that over time, the body becomes used to the presence of codeine and needs it to function normally. When the body becomes deprived of the drug, it begins to react. These reactions take the form of a number of symptoms, called withdrawal.

Withdrawal begins to manifest a few hours post-ingestion. It will happen whether you’re consciously refusing to take the drug or not. You may begin to feel symptoms occur before or after detox is initiated.

Contributing Factors to Withdrawal

Physical and psychological dependence on codeine varies with each individual. You will experience withdrawal differently from other codeine users. The length, severity and timeline of withdrawal symptoms will vary according to the unique situation of the user. Some of these factors are your biological profile (such as age, gender, and weight), your medical profile (physical and mental health), the amount of opiates you have used, as well as the frequency at which you used them.

Other contributing factors that may influence withdrawal include whether you have used other drugs alongside codeine, the drug-taking environment from where you’re withdrawing, and how you are going about withdrawal. What’s more, if you abruptly stop using codeine without tapering off gradually, your withdrawal symptoms may be severe. Tapering off should only be carried out and managed by a professional, so that you don’t fall back into addiction.

How Codeine Withdrawal is diagnosed

To diagnose codeine withdrawal, your doctor will ask questions about the symptoms you’re experiencing and carry out a physical examination. Blood and urine tests may also be conducted to check for the level of codeine in your system. Naturally, having a compulsive need to take codeine is a clear indication of addiction. In this case, symptoms that follow abstinence would serve as evidence of withdrawal.

To be thorough, your doctor will carry out the required evaluation to get a better understanding of your situation. Once diagnosed, a treatment plan will be devised based on your symptoms and the result of your assessment. It is important that you respond to questions honestly and sincerely, so you can get the best support and treatment.

Why You Should Detox Properly from Codeine

Although codeine withdrawal is rarely life-threatening on its own, it can indirectly lead to dangerous complications. Psychological impairments may result in accidents, while dehydration may lead to fatal physical consequences. Also, if you have used codeine with other drugs, your risk level during withdrawal will increase.

Effective detox from codeine involves going through the process under professional care. This way, every factor concerning your addiction – from your medical history to your environmental needs – will be accounted for when devising your detox plan. Going through detox properly will ensure that you complete the process safely and without relapsing.

Your recovery success largely depends on how well your detoxification goes. Please seek help immediately when you decide to go through detox.

Common Codeine Detox and Withdrawal Symptoms

Withdrawal symptoms will occur according to your situation, chemical make-up, and physical profile. You may undergo mild or severe withdrawal symptoms, depending on how much you have abused codeine. Detox is also accompanied by a number of symptoms that will depend on how the process is carried out.

If you detox ‘cold turkey’ or on your own, you’re likely to experience painful and highly distressing withdrawal symptoms. However, a medically assisted detox will ensure your symptoms are managed.

Typical symptoms of withdrawal that will occur during detox include:

  • Aches and pains
  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Irritability
  • Increased heart rate
  • Insomnia
  • Cravings
  • Fever
  • Headaches
  • Vomiting
  • Excessive sweating
  • Dehydration
  • Diarrhoea

While these withdrawal symptoms on their own are rarely life-threatening, there’s always the likelihood that they may grow in severity. Bone, joint and muscle pain may become excruciatingly worse if you originally used codeine for pain management. Withdrawal triggers a rebound effect that will make your pain worse than before. However, your doctor will provide alternative pain management techniques to ease your suffering.

Other elements that may worsen your withdrawal symptoms and make them potentially life threatening are polydrug abuse and co-existing medical issues. Abusing other addictive drugs such as amphetamines and crack cocaine alongside codeine may induce fatal complications.

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Psychological symptoms of Codeine withdrawal

The psychological effects of codeine occur as a result of the disruptions caused by the drug in the brain’s chemistry. The brain re-adjusts itself to accommodate the presence of the high levels of codeine that you ingest. This will lead to your brain slowly relinquishing its ability to carry out certain psychological functions on its own.

As a consequence, withdrawal will result in a number of psychological impairments. Some of these symptoms are:

  • Mood swings
  • Depression
  • Irritability
  • Anxiety
  • Cravings

The length and severity of these symptoms may be complicated by pre-existing mental conditions and abuse of other psychoactive drugs alongside codeine.

Codeine Withdrawal: Timeline of Symptoms

Withdrawal occurs in stages. From the onset, symptoms will build up until they peak, before they begin to wear off. Typically, the frequency, duration and rate at which your withdrawal occurs will depend on your particular situation. Some symptoms will build on each other as you go through withdrawal. For instance, nausea may progress to vomiting and then diarrhoea.

Here’s a common timeline of codeine withdrawal:

Days 1-4

This is the period when your withdrawal symptoms will be at their worst. You may experience nausea, vomiting, diarrhoea, muscle pain, restless legs, headaches, insomnia and sweating.

Days 5-7

Most physical symptoms will begin to decline during this period, but this is where psychological symptoms will begin to set in. Symptoms such as depression, anxiety and irritability will be present. Dehydration due to lack of fluid intake and excessive sweating may also occur during this timeframe.

Days 8-30

This period should see the end of most codeine withdrawal symptoms, but depression and cravings are likely to be present. Cravings (for codeine) and depression normally remain for a while -sometimes lasting for months after detox.

Remember that this is merely a guide and overview of what you may experience. Withdrawal differs from person to person. You may or may not experience these symptoms (and not necessarily in this order), depending on your situation. The duration of detox from codeine will rely upon the severity of your addiction, your medical condition, and the kind of detox you go through. As your body cleanses itself of the drugs, you will experience a difficult readjustment phase fraught with unpleasant symptoms of withdrawal.

Withdrawal symptoms will peak during the first few days and dissipate in severity as your detox progresses. If you choose to go through detox on your own, your body may likely spend more time eliminating the drug’s remnants.

Going through a medically assisted detox will likely speed things up and make you more comfortable. The length of your detox will also rely on how fast you respond to treatment.

You should understand that detox is the first stage of your whole treatment from addiction. A successful detox programme creates a promising recovery path. No matter how long it takes to complete this turbulent phase, please ensure that you see it through.

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Coping with Codeine Withdrawal

Codeine withdrawal is a difficult and turbulent phase, but you can get through it. Understanding the ideal ways to cope with withdrawal is key to breaking free from codeine addiction.

Firstly, it’s important that you go through this phase with all the support you can get. Having more support will boost your chances of a safe withdrawal period and successful recovery from addiction.

Professional/Medical Support

Going through withdrawal without professional guidance (at the very least) can be dangerous. Instead of undertaking withdrawal at home, consider enrolling at a detox facility, where you’ll be monitored round-the-clock by a healthcare team. They will help relieve your withdrawal symptoms and keep you safe.

If you’d rather undergo withdrawal at home, ensure you’re in close contact with your doctor. This way, your symptoms will be monitored by a professional, and drugs that will help make things easier will be prescribed. Make sure you report any side effects to your doctor as they happen.

Emotional and Social Support

Having the support of family and friends can make a huge difference. Be sure to notify your loved ones when you make the decision to go through withdrawal. If you’ll be withdrawing at home, see to it that you’re checked on every day.

Social support networks are also valuable support pillars that can help you through withdrawal. Try to get affiliated with a support group such as Narcotics Anonymous when you go through withdrawal. Individual counselling will also be helpful.

Other Preparations and Activities

When you make the decision to end your codeine habit, be sure that you are emotionally and materially prepared. If you’re going at it on your own through outpatient care, ensure that you stock up on items like fluids (to help with dehydration) and over-the-counter medications that will help with certain symptoms as advised by your doctor.

You can stay occupied with activities such as reading, movies, and exercise to help keep your mind away from your symptoms.

Possible Complications

Complications naturally arise during withdrawal from codeine. They could grow worse if left untreated. Going through withdrawal without professional help may increase the risk of complications.

Vomiting, diarrhoea and excessive sweating may lead to disturbances in body minerals (electrolytes) and chemicals, as well as cause dehydration.

Also, breathing the contents of the stomach into the lungs can occur and result in lung infection. This condition is known as aspiration and can occur when codeine usage is stopped abruptly after dependence.

Another concerning complication is the risk of overdosing upon relapse, which could be fatal. Going through withdrawal reduces the tolerance built up by the body over time. As such, a small amount of the drug may lead to overdose. Depression may result in suicidal thoughts, but this is highly unlikely.

It is important that you go through withdrawal under professional care to mitigate the risk of dangerous complications. Though codeine is more tolerable than most opiates, abusing it still poses mortal risks during withdrawal.

Medications to Treat Codeine Withdrawal

There are a number of medications used for treating codeine withdrawal. Some of these drugs can cause psychological or physical dependence on their own, so it’s advisable that administration is carried out by professionals. In some cases, it will be advised to taper off codeine gradually, rather than suddenly cease usage for health purposes.

Mild withdrawal symptoms such as pain, diarrhoea, and nausea can be treated by the following drugs:

  • Imodium for diarrhoea
  • Ibuprofen and acetaminophen to manage aches and pain
  • Hydroxyzine to help soften anxiety and nausea

Stronger medications can be prescribed to help with moderately severe withdrawal symptoms. Clonidine may be prescribed by your doctor to help manage anxiety and other symptoms such as cramps, agitation, runny nose, muscle aches and sweating. Long-acting drugs such as diazepam may also be prescribed to help with sleep and muscle cramps.

If your withdrawal is accompanied by advanced symptoms due to your level of addiction, your doctor may explore other options to help you withdraw safely. Instead of tapering off with decreasing doses of codeine, you will be switched to a different opiate. Alternatively, one of the following medications used in treating opiate addiction may be prescribed:

  • Methadone: this drug will help alleviate cravings and withdrawal symptoms, allowing your body to regain normal function under safe circumstances by easing the withdrawal phase.
  • Naltrexone: this medication travels to the brain to disrupt the action of opioids like codeine. Although the drug may not solve issues relating to cravings entirely, it will go a long way in preventing further misuse and relapse.
  • Buprenorphine: this drug replaces the feelings induced by codeine, but in a less potent manner. It can help reduce your risk of dependence, misuse, relapse, and codeine side effects over time.

Some of these drugs also have addictive qualities and may cause psychological or physical dependence. That is why they are to be administered under close professional supervision.

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Melatonin Remedies for Natural Codeine Withdrawal Symptoms

One of the many uncomfortable symptoms of codeine withdrawal is lack of sleep. The body naturally needs sleep to heal certain nerve cells and rebalance its chemical equilibrium. However, due to the effects of codeine on certain hormones and brain chemicals, the body’s ability to shut down and sleep is tampered with. Insomnia slows the progress of withdrawal and detox, making it more uncomfortable.

During sleep, a hormone called melatonin is produced in the brain’s pineal gland to facilitate the body’s healing process. Codeine misuse depletes the level of this hormone. To combat insomnia and help maintain the body’s biorhythm, melatonin supplements can be administered. By doing this, oxidative damage to brain cells can be prevented. These damages are responsible for some withdrawal symptoms such as headaches and erratic sleeping patterns. Melatonin has other benefits, including help with the immune system through proper sleep.

Your medical professional will assist you with regards to how to take melatonin and the right amount of dosage for your particular situation.

Process from Codeine Detox to Rehab: What Happens?

Detox introduces you to the rest of your recovery journey. The goal is to ensure you begin your next phase of treatment in a sound and sober manner. Your sobriety starts from here.

During intake, a pre-assessment process is carried out to determine how you’ll go through detox and transition into rehab. Everyone experiences detox separately. Your doctors and healthcare professionals will ideally carry out an evaluation concerning your addiction situation and medical profile in order to devise an individualised treatment scheme.

A successful detox programme makes way for a favourable rehabilitation phase. Once your assessment is complete, you’ll go into the stabilisation stage of your detox. This is where you are monitored round-the-clock by healthcare providers to make sure you go through detox and withdrawal safely.

When the drugs are out of your system and you’re back on your feet with less troubling withdrawal symptoms, transition to rehab can begin. You’ll be introduced to rehab procedures and what’s been laid out in your personal treatment plan, as well as what is expected of you. Please adhere to your treatment scheme to ensure your recovery goes as planned.

Finding the Right Treatment

Getting the right treatment plan for combating codeine addiction lies on your individual situation and needs. From the treatment facility (where you’ll undergo treatment) to your recovery schedule, your unique needs ought to be completely accounted for.

Choosing a treatment course is an important decision that you shouldn’t make alone. You need to seek professional guidance as well as assistance from your loved ones.

After Detox: Staying off Codeine

Remember that detoxification does not eliminate the risks of relapse completely. In fact, detox is the first stage to a life-long recovery process. Your post-detox treatment will arm you with skills to fight off cravings and detect environmental triggers that may lead to temptation.

It’s important that you stick to your rehabilitation, no matter how long it takes. Lengthier rehabs will boost your chances of complete recovery. Support groups and community programmes will also help you stand strong and maintain sobriety.


FAQs

How do you Know if you’re Suffering from Codeine Withdrawal?

If you’ve used codeine for a while (either for recreational purposes or pain management) and decide to quit, some symptoms will indicate that you are going through withdrawal. These include nausea, vomiting, sweating, cravings for the drug, depression, irritability, aches and pains, as well as irregular heart rate, amongst others. If you notice these signs, please consult your GP immediately.

How long does Codeine Withdrawal Last?

Withdrawal from codeine lasts according to the severity of addiction (as well as other factors). Typical withdrawal ends around 30 days after your last dose, but may be longer or shorter depending on your situation.

How does Codeine Withdrawal Affect my Health?

Codeine addiction affects changes in your brain chemistry. Withdrawing from the drug will present other effects as a result. However, when your body realigns itself to life without the drug, these effects will wear off. Your health may be affected if your withdrawal goes awry, especially if you relapse midway through. Contact a professional to take you through the best withdrawal route.

Is Codeine Withdrawal Dangerous?

Codeine withdrawal on its own isn’t life threatening, but some factors may cause complications. For example, suddenly quitting the drug may lead to severe dehydration and lung infection. To ensure that you withdraw safely, go through a medically assisted withdrawal.

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