Signs of Codeine Withdrawal

Written by Chloe Nicosia

Know how to identify signs of codeine withdrawal to help a loved one safely detox

Codeine is a prescription opioid pain reliever that’s also used to treat coughs and diarrhea. Manufacturers often incorporate codeine with Tylenol to increase its pain-relieving effects. A mild to moderate pain reliever, codeine has been increasingly abused as people mix it to make “purple drank” or “sizzurp,” which is prescription-strength codeine mixed with promethazine (Phenergan). When a person abuses codeine or any other type of opiate, the body becomes addicted to the substance. As a result, they will experience signs of codeine withdrawal when they stop taking it. According to the National Institutes of Health, a person need only abuse codeine for a few weeks or more to experience signs of codeine withdrawal. 

Codeine Withdrawal Timeline

A person tends to go through codeine withdrawal stages when they decide to stop abusing the drug. Symptoms will typically start a few hours after a person has last taken codeine. The initial symptoms may be uncomfortable, then usually progress to slightly more severe symptoms. Although the signs of codeine withdrawal are not usually deadly, they can be very uncomfortable for a person withdrawing from the drug.

The first of the codeine withdrawal stages is when a person will experience symptoms that include:

  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Muscle aching
  • Personality changes, such as feeling irritable or anxious
  • Rapid heart rate
  • Runny nose
  • Sweating
  • Yawning

These symptoms can be uncomfortable, and they will commonly give way to the next phase of the codeine withdrawal timeline, which includes:

  • Appetite loss
  • Chills or goosebumps
  • Cramping of the stomach and muscles
  • Diarrhea
  • Stomach upset and vomiting

Often, the signs of codeine withdrawal are the opposite of the effects that codeine causes. For example, codeine can cause a person to become constipated. However, when they withdraw from codeine, they may experience diarrhea. Most people will experience the most severe symptoms in the first few days. Symptoms will usually dramatically reduce after the first week and are ideally gone within about two weeks. However, just because physical cravings are gone, this does not mean a person will not have mental cravings for the substance and long for the way that codeine used to make them feel.

Factors That Affect the Codeine Withdrawal Timeline

Although it can be difficult to predict what degree of symptoms a person will experience when they decide to stop abusing codeine, there are some considerations that may help a drug treatment center determine the potential severity. These include:

  • How long a person has abused codeine
  • How much codeine a person abuses regularly
  • The level of cravings a person experiences when they aren’t using the drug
  • A person’s overall health history

Most commonly, a person may start taking codeine and realize they must take more and more of the drug to achieve the same effects they once did. This is known as tolerance. The more codeine a person takes, the more severe a person’s symptoms are likely to be.

Help for Signs of Codeine Withdrawal

When a person struggles with codeine addiction, completing the codeine withdrawal timeline can be difficult. However, it is a vital part of starting to be free from the hold addiction can have over a person and reduce its harmful impacts on a person’s quality of life. A doctor at a drug rehabilitation facility can prescribe medications to reduce some of the withdrawal symptoms. Examples include mild non-narcotic pain relievers, medications to stop diarrhea and nausea, and medications to reduce anxiety. These and other treatments can help a person move forward with their withdrawals, progressing toward sobriety. If a person does have more severe symptoms of withdrawal, they can also take medications to reduce cravings and withdrawal symptoms, such as buprenorphine (Suboxone).