Codeine Detox – The Best way to Overcome Addiction?

Last Updated: April 21, 2020

Authored by Sharon Levy, MD, MPH

What is Codeine? Why do People Become Addicted?

Codeine is a highly addictive painkiller. Medically it is used to manage severe pain, however, as an opiate, it can lead to abuse and addiction.
Some users will initially feel a euphoric high when taking codeine, over time, a tolerance to codeine builds up, and users need increasing amounts for it to have any effect.
The increasing amounts of codeine increase the chances that changes will take place in the central nervous system and brain chemistry of its users. Over time, a user who becomes addicted to codeine can find that their brain becomes dependant on the drug, and cannot function properly without it.
If a dependant user stops taking codeine, then they will probably suffer from codeine withdrawal.
Codeine withdrawal is simply the human body’s way of learning how to function without Codeine again. It can manifest itself in a number of symptoms which vary in the number and severity depending on the person.

Common Symptoms of Codeine Withdrawal

Detoxing from Codeine has similar symptoms to detoxing from other opiates these are commonly referred to as being of moderate severity by the medical profession, however the detoxing user will probably have a different opinion.

  • Headaches
  • Insomnia
  • Muscle aches
  • Fever
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Sweating
  • Stomach pains
  • Diarrhea
  • Dehydration
  • Depression
  • Cravings

While none of these symptoms are life threatening on their own, there is a chance they could increase in severity, or lead to complications with other conditions a user has
It is, therefore, often best to be cautious and seek medical help to detox from Codeine.

Duration Of Withdrawal Symptoms

Codeine has a short half life, lasting about 3 hours.
A drug’s half life is the amount of time it takes for the concentration of a drug in someone’s system to half.
Because Codeine has such a short half life, users that don’t take any for some time, as well as,dependent users that want to detox, can see withdrawal symptoms begin to take place after a few hours. A rough timeline is given below.

  • Within 12 hours – Users can become irritable and experience the beginning stages of physical symptoms, they may appear to have the flu.
  • 1-3 Days – Physical symptoms will peak for the detoxing user. Vomiting, muscle aches, sweating, diarrhea and headaches. Cravings are at their most intense and relapse is most likely to occur.
  • 4-7 Days – Physical symptoms and cravings begin to fade, but the chances of psychological symptoms increase. During these days the detoxing user is most at risk of depression and anxiety. Second stage physical symptoms such as, excessive sweating, diarrhea and nausea are possible during the first few days. This may mean the detoxing user will suffer from dehydration.
  • After 7 days – Almost all symptoms of Codeine withdrawal should be gone, however detoxing users can still suffer from depression, anxiety and cravings. There is a small chance some symptoms may remain, but by this stage they should be very mild, and not get in the way of enjoying a normal, addiction free life.

Note that this rough timeline can change depending on how a user tries to detox from Codeine. Quitting cold turkey can produce the quickest results, but will have the most severe withdrawal effects and the highest chance of relapse.
Even when no longer addicted, there is a chance a former user will experience cravings during times of emotional distress in their life.

Codeine Detox

As quitting cold turkey is difficult, many users attempt to detox using a taper approach. Tapering off Codeine involves slowly decreasing the amount of drug used each day, so that withdrawal symptoms are far less severe. The downside is that the detox process can last far longer, anything from a few weeks to a few months. Usually the tapering off process is monitored by a Doctor.
If Codeine addiction is severe, a doctor may chose to proscribe a substitute opiate, such as methadone, to reduce the severity of withdrawal symptoms. However, there is always a chance that the user may substitute one addiction for another.

How to Detox From Codeine?

There are a few options that can help guide someone through the detox process;

  • Inpatient treatment – A user can check into an inpatient center for a set period of time (usually 1 month, but can be up to 3 months)
    The center will guide the user through the detox process under close medical supervision, and will also give the user individual and group therapy sessions along with addiction education lessons
  • Outpatient treatment – Normally used after an inpatient program, but can take place on its own. The user will be guided through the detox process under medical supervision, taking the form of a regular check up which can be up to everyday in severe cases.
  • Individual Therapy – A therapist will form a strong understanding with the user and be able to talk them through the underlying causes of their addiction. Although this form of treatment can prevent long term relapse, it is unlikely to be able to carry out immediate detox
  • Group Therapy – A therapist leads a group of people with similar problems.
    Although it does not provide the targeted focus of individual therapy, it can provide the detoxing user with a social support network that can help prevent relapse. Group members who are more advanced in the detox process can serve as role models for the group
  • 12 step programs – Social support groups usually ran by former addicts (who may not be professional therapists), provide many of the benefits of group therapy.

Note that these methods are not mutually exclusive, therefore it is possible to move between them.
For people who start with inpatient treatment, aftercare is recommended, as is an important part of preventing relapse, and a 12 step program can be attended indefinitely

Quitting Codeine

Detox is the first step towards overcoming Codeine addiction. It is strongly recommended that users detox in a medical environment where withdrawal symptoms can be managed effectively.
At the end of the day, the best method to overcome Codeine addiction varies from person to person For some cold turkey can work, but for a better chance of success a medically assisted detox program is recommended.

Page Sources

  1. Van Hout MC, Norman I, Rich E, Bergin M. Experiences of Codeine Use, Misuse and Dependence: Application of Liese and Franz's Cognitive Developmental Model of Substance Abuse. Behav Cogn Psychother. 2017 May;45(3):238-252.
  2. Norman IJ, Bergin M, Parry CD, Van Hout MC. Best Practices and Innovations for Managing Codeine Misuse and Dependence. J Pharm Pharm Sci. 2016 Jul - Sep;19(3):367-381.

Published on: December 14th, 2017

Updated on: April 21st, 2020

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.


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