What is codeine?

Codeine is a pain relief medicine that falls into the opioid or narcotic category. It is related to morphine but isn’t as strong. It’s an effective pain reliever for anyone experiencing mild to moderate levels of pain, but it can be addictive and so should be taken with caution. The body can also build up a tolerance to the pain relief given by this drug.


How does it work?

Codeine works by binding itself to the receptors in the brain that are responsible for transmitting pain around the body. A small amount of it is converted into morphine by the body. The drug increases a patient’s tolerance to pain and reduces the discomfort experienced because of the sensation.


What is it used for?

Predominantly, Codeine is used to ease symptoms of pain which are classed as mild-moderate. It can also be used to treat acute diarrhea and as a cough suppressant.


Who should take it?

Codeine can only be taken by individuals over 12 years old, and shouldn’t be given to anyone under 18 if they have recently had surgery on their tonsils or adenoids.

Pregnant or breastfeeding women should not take this medicine. There is a risk that foetuses can develop dependency on the drug, leading to life threatening symptoms of withdrawal when they are born. Plus, nursing children can experience breathing problems or even death if codeine is passed into their bodies by consuming it in breast milk.

You should not take codeine if you are allergic to it or any other narcotics, if you are severely asthmatic and/or have frequent asthma attacks, if you have problems with your breathing or experience hyperventilation, or if you have a stomach blockage.

As the medicine is addictive, codeine should only be used if other, simpler weaker pain relief medications, such as ibuprofen or paracetamol, have been deemed inappropriate. To prevent the body from building up a tolerance against the drug, it is most effective when used over a short period of time.

Codeine is only available as a prescription medicine, and so you will need to visit your doctor to discuss the possibility of taking it. If you have a pre-existing condition, make sure to let your doctor know if you are planning to take codeine. You can find a full list of conditions that may be affected by the drug here.


How to take codeine

You should exactly follow the dosage and instructions prescribed by your doctor. Never take a larger dose or take more often than instructed. The average dose for pain relief in an adult is 30-60mg every four hours, up to a maximum of 240mg per day. For coughs or diarrhea, the dose is generally lower at around 15-30mg, 3-4 times a day.

If you miss a dose, do not take any extra medication to make up for it. Just take your next dose as planned. If you take too much, contact a doctor immediately.

To maximise the effectiveness of codeine, try to take it at regular intervals and at the same time each day. If it irritates your stomach, you can take it with food or a glass of milk. It’s recommended that you drink 6-8 large glasses of water per day to avoid constipation while taking codeine. Don’t stop taking the drug suddenly as you could experience withdrawal symptoms.

Codeine can make some people drowsy, so it’s best to check how you react to the medication before driving or operating any machinery.

Alcohol should be totally avoided while taking codeine.


Side effects and other interactions

One of the main side effects of codeine, as mentioned, is the chance of addiction. To avoid this, stick to the exact directions of your doctor and tell them as soon as you feel any change in how the medicine is working.

Other common side effects include slowed breathing, nausea, constipation or drowsiness. If your breathing slows down dramatically, you should get in touch with a doctor.

Rarely, there are more severe side effects. If you experience any of the following, contact a doctor immediately:

  • Seizures
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Muscle stiffness
  • Feeling so light-headed you may pass out
  • Hallucinations, confusion or uncharacteristic behaviour
  • Problems with urination
  • Loss of consciousness
  • Chest pain

You will find a full list of severe side effects that constitute an emergency within your prescribed medicine leaflet. You can also read more here.

As mentioned, you should avoid alcohol when taking codeine as it can amplify the other side effects. It’s safe to take other painkillers, such as aspirin, paracetamol or ibuprofen alongside the drug, but make sure you do not take any over the counter pain medication that also contains codeine, such as co-codamol.

Some unrelated medicines may have unfavourable interactions with codeine. To avoid this, tell your doctor if you’re taking medications for any of the following:

  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Mental illness
  • Trouble sleeping
  • High blood pressure
  • Allergies
  • Nausea prevention


Can I buy Codeine safely online?

You can only buy Codeine if you have a genuine prescription. Online you will need to send your details through to be assessed by a registered doctor before you request is accepted.