Codeine Alternatives for Chronic Pain
By The Recovery Village Ridgefield
Last Updated: May 26, 2023
Editorial Policy | Research Policy
Codeine may work over the short-term to alleviate pain, but long-term use could lead to addiction.
Illicit drug use can quickly turn into an addiction. However, prolonged use of prescription medication can be just as dangerous, as has become evident in the wake of the opioid epidemic across the nation. Codeine is one such prescription medication that can lead to a host of harmful side effects and addiction with prolonged use.
While the use of codeine may start innocently enough, using it too often and for too long can lead to a substance use disorder.
What Is Codeine?
Codeine is a type of medication that is prescribed to treat mild to moderate pain. It is an opiate that may be combined with other pain-relieving medication to provide potent effects for those suffering from acute or chronic pain.
Can Codeine Lead to Addiction?
Patients who start using codeine typically do so to alleviate pain. The effects of codeine are similar to those of morphine. Patients who take codeine usually experience drowsiness, relaxation and even euphoria, in addition to a reduced level of pain.
With prolonged use, codeine can be addictive. Over time, patients can develop a tolerance for codeine, which can lead to increased dosages and extended use to experience the same effects. Eventually, people who have become addicted to codeine may become obsessed with obtaining the drug to deal with any level of pain, no matter how small. Further, they may even come to depend on codeine to help them deal with emotional issues as well.
Opioids like codeine can cause changes to the brain that can have long-term effects on someone’s psychological and emotional health. When people who use codeine experience an emotional high from taking codeine and other opiates, the brain is encouraged to release dopamine, a neurotransmitter associated with pleasure. As such, people feel rewarded and satisfied, prompting them to want to seek out the drug to experience these sensations all over again. This chemical reaction in the brain can lead to addiction.
Obtaining codeine is relatively easy compared to other types of opiates because it is not as strictly regulated. People who can gain access to codeine easily may be at risk of misusing it and developing a substance use disorder.
There are other alternatives to codeine to relieve acute and chronic pain with fewer side effects and risk of addiction.
Health Effects of Prolonged Codeine Use and Addiction
While people who start using codeine may do so to treat their pain, they may experience a host of potentially dangerous side effects as well if they use it more frequently and for an extended period. In addition to the side effects already mentioned, other harmful side effects may include respiratory failure, blindness and even coma or death in high doses.
Alternatives to Codeine
Even though codeine is effective in treating pain, other non-opioid pain management remedies can be just as effective without the risk of addiction.
One study showed that one 400-mg dose of ibuprofen was more effective at alleviating pain than 600 mg of acetaminophen mixed with 60 mg of codeine in patients that had molar extractions. Not only that, but the ibuprofen came with fewer side effects compared to opioid pain relief medication.
Other pain relievers that may be used more safely as an alternative to codeine include naproxen, paracetamol, aspirin, serotonin and norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors, and corticosteroids. Further, patients may also experiment with massage, acupuncture, exercise and physical therapy to relieve their pain without medication.
Getting Help For Codeine Addiction
Do you find yourself continually needing codeine to not only manage your pain but to cope with everyday life? Do you know someone who does? If so, it is time to get help.
Contact The Recovery Village Ridgefield today to speak with a representative who can help you find the appropriate treatment to live a life free from codeine misuse.
Our Recovery Advocates are ready to answer your questions about addiction treatment and help you start your recovery.