Have you ever had a cough you just could not shake? Maybe you blame it on your allergies at first. But when your allergy medication does not seem to be having any effect, you might head to the drugstore to grab some over-the-counter cough syrup. And if that still does not do the trick, you may head to your doctor’s office. After a thorough examination to try to get to the bottom of the problem, your doc may decide to prescribe codeine to treat the cough and get you on the mend.
That is routine enough.
And so is prescribing codeine as a pain reliever in some situations. For example, it is possible that you have received a prescription for Tylenol with codeine after minor surgery to help you manage post-op pain. For most people, taking codeine for either of these purposes—cough suppression or pain management—is perfectly fine.
Still and all, codeine is an opiate, which means it is in the same drug class as morphine, oxycodone, and heroin. Admittedly, it is generally considered less dangerous than other opiates, but that does not mean it can’t be misused. Codeine can be problematic in its own right—and it can sometimes serve as a gateway drug to more dangerous substances. In either case, misuse of codeine can certainly lead to the development of a substance use disorder.
Here’s Your Standard Reminder: Use Only As Directed
The best way to make sure you do not end up struggling with codeine is to strictly follow your doctor’s instructions when it is prescribed for you. Whether you are taking the drug for cough suppression or pain relief, the instructions on the label should be your guide. Make sure you ask your doctor or your pharmacist any and all questions you may have about dosing, frequency, and the like. You do not want to cause problems for yourself simply because you misunderstood something about your prescription.
Clearly, following the instructions is the best way to ensure your safety when you are taking any drug—including codeine. But what if things go awry? And what sort of circumstances could cause things to go awry in the first place?
The Reasons for—and Dangers of—Misuse of Codeine
You might wonder why anyone would misuse codeine in the first place. It is a fair question—and the answer has a lot to do with the way codeine can make a person feel. The drug often engenders feelings of relaxation and/or euphoria, and those feelings can be pleasant enough that the user simply wants to keep experiencing them. And so they decide to take a higher dose than prescribed or to find ways to continue acquiring codeine—seeking multiple prescriptions, forging prescriptions, finding illegal sources—so they can extend the experience.
As a person takes more and more of the drug, they start to build up a tolerance, which means the pharmaceutical (as well as other opioids) may no longer be an effective way to manage pain—including chronic pain. In fact, in some cases misuse of codeine can increase a person’s sensitivity to pain, making things that were only moderately painful (or not painful at all) far more unpleasant.
Whether a user is hoping to maintain the feeling of euphoria or is on a quest for more effective pain relief, the abuse of codeine can lead to experimentation with other, more dangerous drugs.
Indeed, the journey from trying to treat a cough to finding oneself with a full-blown substance use disorder can be surprisingly brief. But there is a way to get yourself on a better road.
We Are Here to Help
At French Creek Recovery Center, we understand that there are innumerable paths that lead to substance use disorders. Happily, we can help you chart a course to get on the path leading to recovery. As a first step, we will listen to you so that we have a full sense of your story—including the details of your substance use disorder and any co-occurring mental health disorders that may be contributing to your situation.