White pills on blue table
6th August 2021

Codeine-related deaths increase by 25%

Although some medicinal products sold in pharmacies contain small amounts of codeine (e.g. pain relief containing codeine with paracetamol or ibuprofen), as a standalone medication, codeine is a prescription only opiate drug that is highly addictive and can be fatal when misused. This week we’ve learned of the sad news that codeine-related deaths in the UK have increased sharply by 25% in just the last year (and they have doubled in the last 10 years). This data has been published by the Office for National Statistics.

One of the assumptions for the steep rise in codeine-related deaths is the ease with which it can be purchased on the dark web. Even though codeine is a Class B drug, selling codeine online is unregulated and it’s easily available to people who are using it illicitly.


But what makes codeine so addictive?

Codeine is an opiate painkiller that stops pain signals from travelling to the brain. Other opiate drugs include heroin, oxycodone, morphine, fentanyl and hydrocodone, all of which act in a way that tells your brain that you’re not in pain. Codeine is a prescription-only medication that is usually prescribed to help treat mild to moderate physical pain, gastrointestinal problems and severe cough, and the effects usually last a few hours. Most people prescribed the drug take it as prescribed, but some people begin to misuse the drug as they experience intense cravings for it. If taken for a longer period of time, tolerance can build up which means the person needs more codeine to get the same effect from it and this can manifest into addiction, where the user will eventually become single-minded in their pursuit for codeine in order to get their ‘fix’ from it.

An addiction to codeine may manifest as a result of:

  • Being prescribed codeine but the patient continued use it for longer than instructed. This can lead to withdrawal symptoms when trying to stop, which means that many people will take it again to resolve any unpleasant withdrawal symptoms and therefore continue to use codeine illicitly.
  • To benefit from the psychological effects of codeine. Users may find it helps them to alleviate the psychological symptoms of stress and certain mental health conditions, like depression. It can help someone to temporarily feel content, relaxed, calm and sleepy. Higher doses of codeine can cause a feeling of euphoria. As time goes on, the user will seek codeine repeatedly in continue to feel the more pleasurable effects. However, when used over a longer period codeine can actually negatively affect mental health, causing a vicious cycle.
  • Begin to use it recreationally (often as a gateway drug) which later develops into more regular use and eventually addiction.


Aside from being highly addictive, taking codeine can be dangerous when used long-term and even fatal when used alongside other substances, particularly other opiate drugs, benzodiazepines (e.g. diazepam), or alcohol.


Treatment for codeine addiction

Like any addiction, there is help available and anyone struggling with codeine addiction can have hope that it is achievable to overcome.

In the first instance, we would advise anyone who is misusing codeine to consult with a GP for professional medical advice. They may discuss how to wean off codeine safely and provide other options for detoxing.

To overcome physical dependence to codeine, a medically managed inpatient detox is the safest way to stop using it. At Broadway Lodge, our team of specialist nurses monitor clients throughout their detox to ensure they are as safe and comfortable as possible. There are some therapeutic interventions too, so not only is the physical side of detox taken care of but the individual will be supported by counsellors to look at the psychological impact of their using and start to address the underlying causes. Once someone is physically detoxed from codeine, spending some time on our comprehensive therapeutic treatment programme will nurture their emotional, mental and spiritual wellbeing where they will develop the tools to sustain their recovery for the long-term. Read more about therapeutic treatment at Broadway Lodge here.


Get help for codeine addiction

If you or someone you know is struggling with an addiction to codeine, reaching out to ask for help is the first important step to getting well. To discuss treatment at Broadway Lodge for codeine addiction in confidence, please call us on 01934 815515, email hello@broadwaylodge.org.uk or send us a message by clicking here and we’ll get back to you as soon as we can.