Long term codeine use takes a toll on the body leaving it dependent on the drug’s effects to function normally. For someone who stops using, the body requires a certain amount of time to repair and restore normal functions. Codeine withdrawal symptoms result from this repair process.
With ongoing use, a person’s tolerance level and overall dependence on codeine indicate the level of damage that’s been done to the body. Depending on how long a person has used, codeine withdrawal phases tend to follow a timeline in which different groups of symptoms occur.
Codeine is one of many opiate class medications. Opiates, in general, work to relief pain symptoms, though other more pleasant effects, such as euphoria and calm have made this class of drugs popular among recreational drug users. Opiates are also known for their ability to overpower the body’s natural pain-killing mechanisms. When this happens, physical dependency and eventual addiction can quickly develop.
Codeine withdrawal symptoms can happen whether a person has used the drug for a short period time or has used over the course of months or years. In effect, the more a person takes the drug the more the body actually needs the drug to function.
Larger dosage amounts are also needed to bring about the same desired pain-relief effects. Even when a person is taking the drug as prescribed, there’s still a risk for physical dependency. Codeine withdrawal happens when the body doesn’t get what it wants.
People who stop using codeine after periods of long-term use can expect to go through three phases of codeine withdrawal.
Also known as the acute withdrawal phase, withdrawal symptoms typically begin anywhere from six to 12 hours after the last dosage. The most severe symptoms develop around day three with the overall phase lasting up to five days. Codeine withdrawal symptoms experienced in Phase 1 include:
- Abdominal cramps
Phase 2 can run as long as two weeks. During this time the body is releasing the last of the codeine toxins and restoring its ability to function normally. Phase 2 symptoms include:
- Leg cramps
- Dilated pupils
Phase 3 is the longest of the three phases with the least severe symptoms. This phase can last anywhere from one week to 2 months. Symptoms to look out for include:
- Feelings of anxiety
Tolerance & Physical Dependence
With each successive use of codeine, the body’s tolerance levels increases accordingly. As the body’s natural pain-killing mechanisms shut down, larger doses are needed to support normal functions and produce the same desired drug effects. Over time, the body comes to depend on the presence of codeine to ward off codeine withdrawal symptoms.
According to the University of Utah Pain Research Center, tolerance levels and degree of physical dependence have a significant bearing on where a person will fall along the codeine withdrawal timeline. People with high tolerance levels and strong physical dependencies will take the longest to go through the withdrawal phases. This same group will also be at the greatest risk of relapse once the drug is out of their system.
University of Utah – Pain Research Center