Last published: February 27, 2020
What is codeine?
Codeine is part of a group of drugs known as opioids. Opioids interact with opioid receptors in the brain and elicit a range of responses within the body, from feelings of pain relief, to relaxation, pleasure and contentment.1
Codeine is used to provide relief from a number of conditions, including:
- mild to moderate pain
- severe pain (when combined with aspirin or paracetamol)
- dry irritating cough
- cold and flu (when combined with antihistamines and decongestants).1
Some people use codeine to get high, by intentionally taking more than the recommended dose; or as an act of self-harm.
Codeine is usually swallowed and comes in different forms, including:
- soluble powders and tablets
Other types of opioids
Codeine may also be known by a brand or trade name. Some common examples are:
|Generic name||Brand names|
|Aspirin and codeine||Aspalgin®, Codral Cold & Flu Original®|
|Ibuprofen and codeine||Nurofen Plus®|
|Paracetamol and codeine||Panadeine Forte®, Panamax Co®|
|Paracetamol, codeine and doxylamine||Mersyndol® and Mersyndol Forte®, Panalgesic®|
Effects of codeine
There is no safe level of drug use. Use of any drug always carries some risk – even medications can produce unwanted side effects. It’s important to be careful when taking any type of drug.
Codeine affects everyone differently, based on:
- the person’s size, weight and health
- whether the person is used to taking it
- whether other drugs are taken around the same time
- the amount taken.
The most common side effects of codeine are:
- confusion, difficulty concentrating
- euphoria, restlessness
- blurred vision
- dry mouth
- limbs feeling heavy or muscles feeling stiff
- mild allergic rash, itching and hives
- decreased heart rate, palpitations
- stomach-ache, nausea, vomiting, constipation
- difficulty urinating.1
These side effects may disappear with continued treatment, but if they persist, speak to a medical practitioner.
If the dose is too high, you might overdose. Call an ambulance straight away by dialling triple zero (000) if you experience any of these symptoms:
- inability to pass urine
- severe constipation and obstructed bowel
- cold clammy skin with a bluish tinge
- mental numbness
- very slow, shallow breathing
- hallucinations and sometimes seizures
- coma and death.1
Long-term effects of codeine
Regular use of codeine may eventually cause:
- reduced sex drive
- irregular periods
- tension and muscle twitches
- needing to use more to get the same effect
- dependence on codeine
- financial, work and social problems.1,2
Discuss the side effects of long-term use with a medical practitioner.
Using codeine with other drugs
The effects of taking codeine with other drugs, including alcohol, prescription medications and other over-the-counter medicines, are often unpredictable.1
Codeine taken with alcohol can cause mental clouding, reduced coordination and slow breathing.1
Giving up codeine after using it for a long time is challenging because the body has to get used to functioning without it. Please seek advice from a medical professional.
Withdrawal symptoms usually start within a few hours after the last dose and become strongest between 48 and 72 hours.3 These symptoms can include:
- cravings for codeine
- dilated pupils
- abdominal cramps, diarrhoea, nausea, vomiting
- lack of appetite
- runny nose and sneezing
- yawning and difficulty sleeping
- trembling, aching muscles and joints
- goosebumps, fever, chills, sweating
- restlessness, irritability, nervousness, depression.1,2
If your use of Codeine is affecting your health, family, relationships, work, school, financial or other life situations, you can find help and support.
Call 1300 85 85 84 to speak to a real person and get answers to your questions as well as advice on practical ‘next steps’.
You can also search our list of Support Services for services in your local area:
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- Upfal, J. (2006) The Australian Drug Guide (7th Ed.) Melbourne: Black Inc.
- Brands, B., Sproule, B., & Marshman, J. (Eds.) (1998) Drugs & drug abuse (3rd Ed.) Ontario: Addiction Research Foundation.
- Mental Health and Drug & Alcohol Office, NSW Department of Health. (2007). NSW Drug and Alcohol Withdrawal Clinical Practice Guidelines [PDF:1MB].