After Australian rapper 360 admitted to a codeine addiction through a song in which he apologized to fans for canceling 13 dates on a tour, a number of organizations in that country called for pulling codeine products from drugstore shelves and making them available by prescription only.
Codeine is an opiate pain reliever that’s prescribed to relieve mild pain, coughs and diarrhea. In the U.S., codeine is listed under Schedule II of the Controlled Substances Act, which means that it has medical value, but it also has a high potential for abuse and addiction. While a handful of states allow consumers to buy very small amounts of certain low-dose codeine medications over the counter, it’s generally only available by prescription.
Why Codeine Is So Addictive
Like all opiates, codeine produces feelings of euphoria, which makes it a widely abused drug. Abusing codeine can lead to addiction, which is characterized by using the drug despite negative consequences, and dependence, which is characterized by physical withdrawal symptoms that occur when the drug use is discontinued.
Addiction to opiates is typically a result of its pleasurable effects and changes in brain function related to pleasure and reward. As the brain forms strong associations between using codeine and the pleasure it produces, it becomes harder to resist using it.
Dependence is not the same thing as addiction. Over time, people who abuse codeine develop a tolerance for it, which is the result of the brain changing its function to compensate for the presence of the drug. This can eventually lead to a shift in brain function wherein the brain begins to operate more normally when codeine is present than when it’s not. When it’s subsequently withheld, withdrawal symptoms set in as the brain’s way of telling you it needs the substance to function properly.
Health Effects of Codeine Addiction
Opiate addiction causes liver, kidney and brain damage, and researchers have found that it may also cause deterioration of the brain’s white matter, leading to problems with memory, decision-making, regulating emotions and responding appropriately to stress.
One of the most significant dangers of codeine abuse and addiction is the high risk of overdose, which rapper 360 now knows all too well. After his manager found him convulsing on the floor before a concert, 360 woke up in the hospital, lucky to be alive.
Opiates cause respiratory function to slow down, and taking a dose that’s too high can quickly turn fatal. According to an article published in the Yale Journal of Biology and Medicine, opiate overdose is a serious concern for people who abuse these drugs, with overdose deaths quadrupling between 1999 and 2010. Still, opiate abuse and overdose rates in the U.S. continue to rise.
Treatment for Codeine Abuse and Addiction
The National Institute on Drug Abuse stresses that willpower and good intentions alone are rarely enough to overcome an addiction. Because addiction is a chronic and progressive disease, a codeine addiction will likely get worse without professional help, and it will almost certainly lead to a number of physical and mental health problems.
If you have developed a physical dependence on codeine, medical detox through a high-quality treatment center can alleviate the intensity of withdrawal symptoms, which include nausea and vomiting, abdominal cramps and diarrhea, hot and cold sweats and muscle aches. These can be excruciating, and most people who try to detox without medical intervention will turn back to drugs just to make the pain stop.
During medical detox, medications are administered to shorten the duration of withdrawal and ease the symptoms. Long-term maintenance can help reduce cravings while addicted individuals focus on putting their lives back together.
While medical detox takes care of the physical dependence on codeine, treating the addiction requires various therapies to address the complex issues behind the abuse that led to the addiction. These include cognitive-behavioral therapy, which helps you identify and change destructive ways of thinking and behaving, and contingency management, which provides rewards like cash or vouchers for maintaining abstinence.
Recovering from opiate addiction isn’t easy, but it can be done. In doing so, you—like rapper 360 — can restore your physical and mental health and sense of well-being and enjoy a vastly higher quality of life.