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What Is Codeine?

A man wondering, "What is codeine?"

What is codeine? It’s part of a highly addictive class of drugs called opioids. During the early 2000s, codeine became increasingly popular in hip-hop music and among young people. While the medication is useful for some people in short-term prescription doses, chronic use can cause addiction and several dangerous side effects.

By evaluating each patient’s individual needs, Northpoint Washington’s staff of professionals works to develop a plan that will bring about a successful recovery. Through individualized, evidence-based treatments, Northpoint Washington helps patients to understand the risks of codeine addiction and develop the skills and resources needed to stay sober. Call us at 888.450.2153 to learn more about our opioid addiction treatment program and how Northpoint Washington can help.

What Is Codeine?

This widely used drug, known as an opioid medication, is a derivative of the opium poppy plant and has been a cornerstone in the medical field for treating mild to moderate pain as well as alleviating cough symptoms. Its versatility allows it to be found in several forms, sometimes combined with other medications like acetaminophen or ibuprofen, particularly in certain over-the-counter cough syrup brands, offering a multi-faceted approach to symptom relief. More commonly, codeine is available through prescription in extended-release forms, tailor-made for sustained pain management over longer periods.

However, the convenience and efficacy of codeine come with significant risks. It is a potentially addictive substance, underscored by its classification as a Schedule II controlled substance. This categorization reflects its high potential for abuse, which necessitates stringent regulatory measures to mitigate misuse.

The risk of physical and psychological dependence escalates with prolonged use or consumption in large doses, underscoring the importance of careful, monitored use. This dual nature of codeine—as both a critical tool in pain and cough management and a substance with a high abuse potential—highlights the complexities of opioid medications in the medical and broader societal context.

How Does Codeine Cough Syrup Work?

Codeine operates by engaging with opioid receptors located in the brain and central nervous system. This interaction plays a crucial role in altering the body’s perception of pain, thereby diminishing it. Additionally, codeine has the effect of enhancing feelings of relaxation and pleasure, making it an effective agent in managing discomfort.

When administered as a component of cough syrup, codeine’s mechanism extends to suppressing the cough reflex. It achieves this by inhibiting the activity of specific nerve cells within the brain, which are directly responsible for triggering the coughing response. This dual functionality of codeine, both as a pain reliever and a cough suppressant, underscores its significance in medical treatments, providing relief in a variety of conditions.

Risks Associated with Codeine Use

While codeine can be effective in relieving pain and cough, it can also carry a number of risks, especially when it is used improperly or taken in high doses. Some of the risks associated with codeine use include:

Drowsiness and Sedation

Codeine can cause drowsiness and impaired judgment, which can increase the risk of accidents and injuries.

Respiratory Depression

Codeine can slow down breathing, which can be especially dangerous for people with pre-existing respiratory problems or those who are taking other medications that can also cause respiratory depression.


Codeine can cause constipation by slowing down the movement of the intestines.

Addiction and Dependence

Codeine is an opioid medication, and like all opioids, it has the potential for abuse and addiction. People who use codeine frequently or in high doses may develop a physical dependence on the drug, which can lead to withdrawal symptoms when the drug is stopped.


Codeine can also cause an overdose, which can be fatal. Symptoms of a codeine overdose may include difficulty breathing, confusion, drowsiness, and constricted pupils.

Drug Dependence Treatment at Northpoint Washington

Understanding codeine and the risks associated with its use are key components in the fight against codeine addiction. At Northpoint Washington, we understand that addiction is a treatable condition. Therefore, we can help individuals and families find a path to lasting recovery.

If you or someone you know is struggling with drug dependence, treatment is available at Northpoint Washington, a leading provider of substance abuse and mental health treatment services in the Pacific Northwest. Our experienced team of therapists and counselors can work with you to develop a personalized treatment plan that addresses your specific needs and goals.

Our program includes a range of evidence-based treatments, such as group therapy and medication-assisted detox. If you are ready to take the first step on the path to recovery, take action. Call us today at 888.450.2153 or use our online contact form to learn more about our drug dependence treatment program at 888.450.2153.