Codeine is an opioid (opiate or narcotic) similar to morphine although not as strong. It is used for treating moderate pain and may also be prescribed for persistent dry coughs or to help control episodes of diarrhea.

Opiates work by binding to opioid receptors in the brain which reduce the patients perception of pain, reaction to pain and to increase tolerance of pain.

Codeine is available from your Doctor via a prescription. In the UK, it may be bought over the counter in pharmacies for short term pain relief. In this case it is known as Co-codamol. Codeine is also available in combination with other painkillers such as paracetamol.

Opioids taken for extended periods can result in dependence as they can result in feelings of euphoria and withdrawal symptoms upon stopping the medication. This has resulted in the use of opioids for recreational purposes.

Precautions / Contraindications

Before taking codeine, make sure that your Doctor is aware if any of the following apply to you:

  • Breathing conditions such as asthma or COPD
  • Heart, liver or kidney problems
  • Underactive thyroid
  • Head injuries
  • Seizures such as epilepsy
  • Low blood pressure
  • Gastrointestinal problems
  • Adrenal gland problems
  • Prostate/urination problems
  • Addiction problems
  • Pregnant or breastfeeding
  • You are taking any other medications including herbal and complementary remedies.

When taking codeine:

  • Check with your doctor to see if you can drink alcohol whilst taking codeine.
  • If you need to take any other medications once already on codeine, check they will not interfere.
  • Do not take codeine for longer than recommended by your Doctor.
  • Advise any other health practitioners you see that you are taking codeine.

Side Effects of Codeine

As with all medications there is a possibility of side-effects. These are usually mild and decrease as your body adjusts to the new medication. If symptoms persist or become troublesome talk to your Doctor.

  • Vomiting
  • Nausea
  • Abdominal pain
  • Constipation
  • Dizziness
  • Drowsiness
  • Headaches
  • Confusion
  • Rashes
  • Sweating