Is Codeine Addictive?

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Is codeine addictive? The short answer is yes. Unfortunately, because codeine containing products are rated as less addictive than other narcotics, a myth has arisen that codeine is “safe” or “non-addictive.” Less has been mistaken as not.

The reason some people think codeine isn’t addictive is because in normal use, the drug takes longer for addiction to develop and in normal dosages, it doesn’t cause the immediate euphoria that stronger narcotics do. However, when asking 'is codeine addictive' understand that codeine is in the same class of compounds as opium, heroin and morphine. All of these (including codeine) are derived from the poppy plant. The differences come in how the molecule has been tweaked. By altering the base substance, different properties emerge. Some narcotics are more powerful and more addictive than others.

Is codeine addictive like other narcotics? Because codeine is less powerful than other narcotics, and because it cannot be smoked or injected, the drug isn’t manufactured illegally. There isn’t enough street demand to make it profitable to make. The codeine containing products sold illegally come from prescriptions or theft from pharmacies. Cough syrups containing codeine can be purchased without a prescription in some localities, so that is another source.

Is codeine addictive and abused like other drugs? The DEA rates codeine abuse potential on a scale, or schedule, from 2 to 5 (the 1 designation is reserved for substances with no medical use). Codeine in combination with other substances is rated from 3 to 5, the lowest on the scale. This only means it is considered to have a lower addiction potential in the common formulations than other drugs that are scheduled by the DEA. But all scheduled drugs have the potential for abuse. For the addict, how long addiction takes to emerge, or how much someone has to take doesn’t matter. Addiction is addiction is addiction. It makes no difference how the DEA classified something if you become addicted to it. And codeine can be addictive.

The real problem comes when some addictive drugs are thought of as safe and others not. This parallels the rise of addiction to other prescription drugs. Because these (and codeine) are not typically thought of as street drugs, the assumption is they aren’t dangerous. They are.

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