Last published: June 24, 2019
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 misuse codeine by intentionally taking more than the recommended dose to get high, or as an act of self-harm.
Codeine is usually swallowed and comes in different forms, including:
- soluble powders and tablets
Other types of commonly used 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.
Help and support
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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].