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Side Effects of Codeine that Need Medical Attention

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Codeine exists as one of many opiate-based pain relief drugs. Unlike many prescription pain medications, codeine comes directly from the opium poppy seed plant. As one of the less potent opiate drugs, codeine became the first opiate-based medication to be sold as an over-the-counter product.

In spite of its widespread availability, codeine carries the same potential for abuse and addiction as any other opiate drug. This potential stems from codeine’s long-term effects in the body. Likewise, side effects of codeine take shape over time as the drug wears down essential brain and body functions.

Side effects of codeine can take any number of forms. Once a person starts abusing the drug, the method of ingestion can influence what types of side effects of codeine will develop.

Regardless of the method used, codeine’s primary mechanism of action can bring on serious side effects that warrant medical attention. Ultimately, the drug’s primary effects on the body set the tone for side effects of codeine to occur.

Codeine’s Effects on the Body

codeine abuse

Codeine can cause dangerous side effects on both the short and long term.

As a natural opium derivative, codeine acts as a natural pain-relieving agent by altering essential brain neurotransmitter chemical processes. In effect, the brain interacts with codeine in much the same way it works with its own neurotransmitter chemicals.

Codeine alters the levels of two neurotransmitters in particular, dopamine and serotonin. These chemicals help regulate a range of bodily processes, some of which include:

  • Pain sensations
  • Emotional states
  • Cognitive functions
  • Digestive functions
  • Temperature regulation
  • Sleep cycles

This means, every time a person takes codeine, the drug’s effects alter the chemical processes that regulate these bodily processes. With continued drug use, chemical processes continue to skew further and further off balance. The chemical imbalances brought on by continued drug use set the stage for side effects of codeine to develop.

When ingested, codeine stimulates dopamine and serotonin cell sites to produce excess chemical amounts. These interactions account for the drug’s pain relieving effects. These interactions also bring on certain side effects that may remain unnoticed during the early stages of drug us. Over time, side effects of codeine can carry serious repercussions, especially when addiction takes hold.

Initial Side Effects

The initial side effects of codeine unfold as the brain comes to depend on the drug’s effects. The release of neurotransmitter chemicals caused by codeine happens at individual brain cell sites. In effect, codeine over stimulates these cell sites, which release large amounts of neurotransmitter chemicals into the brain.

This over stimulation causes increasing damage to cell sites with continued drug use. As a result, the brain is able to tolerate large dosage amounts of codeine as damage to cell sites makes them less responsive to codeine’s effects. According to Columbia Health, these initial side effects of codeine become the driving forces behind abuse and addiction.

With continued drug use, a physical dependency sets in leaving the brain unable to function normally without codeine’s effects. A physical dependency can develop regardless of whether a person takes codeine for medicinal or recreational purposes.

Liver Damage

The liver’s role as the body’s filtration unit works double time when large amounts of codeine are ingested on a regular basis. After a while, this task takes a considerable toll on liver cells to the point where portions of the organ start to deteriorate. Consequently, liver damage becomes an eventual side effect of codeine.

Many of the codeine-based prescription drugs on the market contain an added non-opiate based pain reliever. Non-opiates ingredients used include:

  • Aspirin
  • Ibuprofen
  • Acetaminophen

These ingredients place added strain on the liver, which also contributes to the degree of damage done to this vital organ. Over time, a person will likely require medical attention as ongoing damage can bring about one or more liver conditions, some of which include:

  • Cirrhosis of the liver
  • Tumors
  • Fibrosis
  • Hepatitis


As codeine abuse can happen in various ways, the different methods used can each bring about their own set of side effects of codeine. According to the Journal of Medical Microbiology, injecting codeine on a frequent basis leaves users open to developing a range of infections as skin tissue cells start to break down at injection sites. Viral, bacterial and fungal agents can travel from these sites to other areas of the body resulting in serious medical conditions.

Infection-type side effects of codeine can also develop in cases where a person snorts codeine on a regular basis. As most every type of prescription medication contains additive materials, these materials can easily irritate nasal passageways over time causing sinus infections to develop.

Heart Disease

Heart disease conditions are yet another possible side effect of codeine abuse. For frequent injection users, the additive materials contained in codeine-based drugs can form plaque formations throughout the body’s artery passageways.

In time, plaque build-up causes damage to heart and artery tissues, which opens a person up to developing heart disease. As chronic codeine use inevitably alters a person’s dietary habits, many addicts’ diets consist of high-fat and high-sugar content foods. This side effect of codeine also contributes to heart disease risk.


The brain’s natural affinity towards codeine’s effects sets the stage for the most dangerous side effect of codeine, namely overdosing. While the brain’s tolerance levels will continue to rise for as long as a person keeps using, other areas of the body have a lower rate of tolerance for codeine’s effects.

This difference in tolerance levels can be a potentially deadly side effect of codeine since the body’s respiratory or cardiovascular system will likely shut down long before the brain’s tolerance for codeine has been met.


As a side effect of codeine, the likelihood of becoming addicted to this drug is all but guaranteed in cases of chronic drug abuse. Addiction develops as the drug’s hold over brain functions starts to alter a person’s grasp on what’s important in his or her life. In effect, addiction represents a psychological dependency that gradually changes a person’s sense of identity and purpose over time.

Where do calls go?

For those seeking addiction treatment for themselves or a loved one, the Codeine.com is a private and convenient solution.

Calls to any general helpline (non-facility specific 1-8XX numbers) for your visit will be answered by American Addiction Centers (AAC).

We are standing by 24/7 to discuss your treatment options. Our representatives work solely for AAC and will discuss whether an AAC facility may be an option for you. Our helpline is offered at no cost to you and with no obligation to enter into treatment.

Neither Codeine.com nor AAC receives any commission or other fee that is dependent upon which treatment provider a visitor may ultimately choose.

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