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Codeine is a prescription pain medication in the category of drugs known as opiates. Other common opiates are the illicit street drug heroin and the prescription pain killer oxycodone for example. All of these types of drugs produce a morphine-like effect, and prescription opiates specifically have been used for centuries to treat pain. Most codeine on the market today is actually a synthetic form of the drug, produced using morphine. It is a short-acting analgesic, meaning when an individual takes codeine the effects only last for a few hours. Codeine is often prescribed in combination with other non-opiate analgesics such as acetaminophen or aspirin. The drug is typically prescribed to treat mild to moderate pain and to relieve cough.
Effects of Codeine
Opiates such as codeine can be abused because of the powerful effects that the drug can have if taken in high enough doses. If someone is using codeine to get high, they will often take far more than the prescribed dose which will produce something similar to a heroin high. When used in this way, the brain and central nervous system are flooded with the neurotransmitter dopamine which is part of the body's reward system. A codeine high will bring the user a sense of extreme pleasure and euphoria, typical to a high experienced on most illegal and prescription opiate drugs when abused. This excessive bounty of dopamine cannot be produced naturally by the human body, and this is why abuse of opiates such as codeine is so common and why many individuals can become addicted to the drug.
Addiction to opiates such as codeine can happen as a result of legitimate use, and by individuals who abuse other opiates such as heroin. For example, an individual can be legitimately prescribed codeine for an acute illness, only to find themselves craving and seeking out more of the drug when they run out. This is an all too common occurrence, not just with codeine but with many opiate drugs which are prescribed for pain. These types of prescription drugs are often grossly overprescribed, which is part of the problem. Individuals can often overcome mild acute pain without codeine or other opiate prescription drugs, but many physicians are far too willing to write prescription after prescription for these powerful narcotics which has led to a problem of epidemic proportions.
For individuals addicted to opiates such as codeine, they have in effect developed a physical and psychological dependence to the drug and will have significant difficulty ceasing use of the drug when the time is appropriate. This is primarily due to the fact that they have gotten so used to functioning with the drug, and when they stop their bodies have no time to readjust. This results in intense cravings and physical withdrawal symptoms when they stop using codeine, which can only be extinguished by using more codeine or another type of opiate drug. As a matter of fact, for an opiate addict, any opiate will suffice. Someone who gets hooked on codeine may seek out a longer-acting opioid such as hydrocodone or oxycodone to produce longer lasting and more intense effects. Some may even turn to heroin. This type of dependence can develop a lot faster than one would think, and individuals many experience codeine withdrawal even after a few days of continuous use.
All opiate drugs including codeine have very similar manifestations of withdrawal, which can be particularly punishing and uncomfortable. First of all, the cravings experienced during opiate and codeine withdrawal will be very intense, and if the individual is not in a treatment setting most opiate addicts will pretty much do whatever they have to in order to get more opiates. Most opiate addicts will engage in what is known as doctor-shopping, which is basically a method by which the addict will go from doctor to doctor with an imaginary ailment in an attempt to manipulate a prescription or two out of as many doctors as possible that they can get their fix. This drug seeking behavior typical of an opiate addict can get much worse and substantially more violent than doctor shopping. Opiate addicts have been known to engage in pharmacy robberies, home invasions, and other violent crime.
Physical symptoms of codeine withdrawal are typical of most physical opiate withdrawal symptoms, and typically set in within 12-24 hours after the last dose. The acute physical symptoms, which can last up to a week for most users, are typical to that of a flue but only much worse. An individual going through codeine withdrawal may experience abdominal cramping, muscle and bone pain, restlessness, profuse sweating, vomiting, diarrhea, loss of appetite, anxiety and a myriad of other symptoms. Because most users will typically just seek out more opiates to make these symptoms go away, individuals who are dependent and addicted to opiates should always seek out the help of professional drug treatment counselors at a drug rehab or drug detox facility who can help codeine addicted individuals through withdrawal and further drug rehab treatment.
Another primary reason individuals addicted to opiates such as codeine need to seek treatment is because of the danger and risks associated with abuse of these drugs. Opiates such as codeine can cause serious and life threatening side effects such as respiratory depression, seizures, and cardiac arrest when an overdose has occurred. A fatal overdose is particularly likely if the individual, in an attempt to achieve an even more intense high, mixes codeine with other drugs or alcohol. And because some formulations of the drug commonly contain acetaminophen, users are also at risk of an acetaminophen overdose which can occur as a result of liver toxicity. Even if the individual doesn't overdose, users are still at risk of long-term consequences as a result of repeated use of codeine. Long-term users may experience stomach bleeding, kidney & liver damage, lowered heart rate and blood pressure, depression, sexual problems, erectile dysfunction and diminished libido.
Because codeine and opiate addiction in general can be nearly impossible to overcome on one's own, it is recommended that individuals struggling with codeine dependence and addiction seek proper professional help. There are many drug rehab programs in all states that address opiate addiction, where drug treatment professionals understand the challenged that opiate addicts face and can help them resolve these issues so they can become fully rehabilitated.
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