Non-Prescription Cough Syrup with Codeine: What is Codeine?

Cough Syrups With Codeine

Important InformationThis information is for educational purposes only. We never invite or suggest the use, production or purchase of any these substances. Addiction Resource and it’s employees, officers, managers, agents, authors, editors, producers, and contributors shall have no direct or indirect liability, obligation, or responsibility to any person or entity for any loss, damage, or adverse consequences alleged to have happened as a consequence of material on this website. See full text of disclaimer.

Help Line Woman

Hope Without Commitment

Find the best treatment options.
Call our free and confidential helpline

Most private insurances accepted

Marketing fee may apply

Learn more about Codeine

What is a Non-Prescription Cough Syrup?

A non-prescription or over-the-counter (OTC) cough syrup is the kind of medicine that a person can easily obtain without a doctor’s prescription. The most common brand names of OTC cough syrups include Triaminic Cold and Cough, Robitussin Cough, Vicks 44 Cough and Cold. These belong to the antitussive and expectorant type of cough medicine.

What is Codeine?

Codeine is an opiate-based substance which has numerous beneficial effects. It can be used to treat mild to severe pain, and can also treat diarrhea and cough. When used to alleviate cough symptoms, it exudes its suppressant effects that can subdue or even end chronic coughing, which medical professionals refer to as an antitussive property.

Is Codeine an Ingredient in Cough Syrups?

Codeine is one of the main ingredients in many cough syrups, which has proved to be effective. However, most cough syrups containing Codeine are only available with a prescription in the U.S. Very rarely can Codeine be found in non-prescription cough medicine; one of the underlying reasons for that is its dangerous effects when administered to small children. Since Codeine is an active ingredient in cough syrups, it changes its molecular structure as the liver metabolizes it, i.e. Codeine turns into morphine. Morphine can pose a variety of risks that can negatively affect a child’s bio-physical development.

Help Line Woman

Hope Without Commitment

Find the best treatment options.
Call our free and confidential helpline

Most private insurances accepted

Marketing fee may apply

What are the Side Effects of Non-Prescription Cough Syrup With Codeine?

Side effects may include:

  • drowsiness
  • dizziness
  • sleepiness
  • headache
  • lightheadedness
  • restlessness
  • nervousness
  • anxiety

Can Codeine Be Abused?

Codeine may be less dangerous and addictive than alternative opioids, but that doesn’t mean it is safe to use in doses higher than recommended. It has just as much potential to be abused as other opioids, especially when Codeine is combined with Tylenol.
Approximately one in ten teens in the United States, uses codeine cough syrup to get high. This highlights how easily accessed and abused Codeine is.
It is estimated that over 3 million people between the ages of 12-25 will abuse Codeine to get high.

Where Can Codeine Be Found?

Where Can Codeine Be Found?
Codeine, also referred to as methylmorphine, is derived from the poppy plant, or more precisely, the dried milky substance of the unripe seed capsule of Papaver somniferum. It is considered to be the weakest of the opiate derivatives, which is why people often think it is practically a risk-free substance that they can take for colds and flues. However, even though Codeine is the weakest opiate known to man, thus far, it should not be taken carelessly, since it can cause the same side effects as any other opioid. Side effects may include:

  • Difficulty breathing
  • Slow heart rate
  • Dry mouth
  • Sweating

What to Consider Before Taking Codeine Cough Syrup?

Since Codeine is an opiate, there is a potential for an overdose. If one does not follow the instructions indicated on the syrup bottle or fails to obey the doctor’s guidelines, an overdose may occur. Symptoms of Codeine overdose include confusion, constipation, dizziness, cold skin, and breathing problems. If any of these signs start to show after one has ingested a considerable amount of Codeine-based cough syrup, immediately call 9-1-1.
Furthermore, Codeine cough syrup should not be taken if the patient is:

  • a child
  • suffering from pulmonary diseases
  • allergic to codeine
  • ingested sodium oxybate (ghb)
  • pregnant/ planning on becoming pregnant
  • breastfeeding

Natural Alternatives To Codeine

There are several more natural alternatives to using Codeine for a cough, including:


Honey helps to soothe a sore throat and ease a cough. If it is used with warm water and lemon or lemonade it can also help to ease congestion. Alternatively eating honey works just as well!


Peppermint has quite a few healing properties. This menthol in peppermint helps to soothe the throat and ease congestion by clearing up mucus. Peppermint can help in a bath or when consumed in tea.


Thyme is commonly used for respiratory illnesses. Its leaves contain a compound called flavonoids which relax throat muscles and lessen inflammation.

Gargling Salt and Water

A quarter of a teaspoon of salt with warm water can be a very simple but effective cure to a sore throat or cough. It works by soothing the throat, taking away the desire to cough.

Codeine Withdrawal

Codeine may be less addictive than other opioids but it is still possible to get hooked. When a user has stopped taking the drug for a while or is going through a detox they may experience withdrawal symptoms such as:

  • Cravings
  • Dehydration
  • Nausea
  • Headaches
  • Sweating
  • Diarrhea
  • Stomach Pains
  • Mood Swings
  • Anxiety and Depression
  • Insomnia

Codeine withdrawal symptoms aren’t life threatening, however one should seek help on how to treat them, as they can lead to further health issues. For example, diarrhea can lead to further dehydration which can cause fainting.
Codeine withdrawal is usually quick to present itself, with symptoms becoming noticeable just a few hours after the last dose. Some of the mental symptoms, such as depression or anxiety, can last months and have been known to last up to a year after a user quits.
The severity and length of withdrawal symptoms will depend on how long the user was taking the drug, in what dosage and their choice of withdrawal method.
The physical symptoms of withdrawal will be most evident in the first 4 days. They will usually start to subside within a week. This is when psychological symptoms tend to set and take affect. After 30 days, all symptoms with the exception of depression and anxiety should have gone. The depression and anxiety may stay for a while longer but will eventually subside as well.

Detoxification From Codeine

It may be the case that the users have actively started to seek out Codeine when it is not needed. It may put one in financial problems or ruin the relationship. These are also a signs of Codeine addiction. To beat the addiction one will need to go through a drug detox. In this case, it is best to seek advice from a medical professional, to make sure to get suitable treatment.

Quitting ‘cold turkey’ is the quickest way to detox from Codeine, however it is also most difficult due to the withdrawal symptoms one will go through.

Tapering off Codeine use is usually recommended. This is when one gradually reduces the intake of a drug over a period of time until they’ll feel not relying on it at all. This method’s withdrawal symptoms are far less severe. Although it takes longer to complete, many people prefer tapering off, due to being able to continue with their everyday lives. Tapering off is usually monitored by a health professional, to ensure the patient stays on track.
Medical professionals may also use other substances in small doses to help prevent withdrawal symptoms such as cravings. This will help to taper off the use of Codeine. However, this method should always be monitored due to the danger of becoming addicted to the substitute drugs such as methadone or suboxone.
One can go through Codeine detoxification at both inpatient and outpatient facilities, so one can choose the treatment that suits the lifestyle.
Remember, even though Codeine is the weakest opioid, it can cause a variety of complications, which can severely affect one’s overall well-being.

Help Line Woman

Hope Without Commitment

Find the best treatment options.
Call our free and confidential helpline

Most private insurances accepted

Marketing fee may apply

View Sources
  1. Gardiner SJ, Chang AB, Marchant JM, Petsky HL. Codeine versus placebo for chronic cough in children. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2016.
  2. Eddy NB, Friebel H, Hahn KJ, Halbach H. Codeine and its alternates for pain and cough relief. I. Codeine, exclusive of its antitussive action. Bull World Health Organ. 1968;38(5):673-741
Sharon Levy

About Author

Sharon Levy, MD, MPH

After successful graduation from Boston University, MA, Sharon gained a Master’s degree in Public Health. Since then, Sharon devoted herself entirely to the medical niche. Sharon Levy is also a certified addiction recovery coach.


Leave a comment

  • Roz
    Addiction is an actual medical condition, people don’t wake up and say they want to use, they have a disease, just like any other mental condition. Too bad Americans refuse to acknowledge this. We could be of much better help in recognizing and treating addiction if people were more aware and knowledgeable. Nice job on that folks.
  • Ken thompson
    Listen u cant blame abusers of drugs and by the way im not one but its the craziness surrounding drugs that causes it if people wanna abuse drugs its there right to honestly free choice and what not so maybe we should stop going crazy over drugs u know when the country didnt have a drug epidemic when all drugs were legal it seems everytime somethings banned it becomes more popular and abused think about that and also look at countries that have legalised all drugs abuse goes down