Codeine

What It's For & How To Take

Codeine is used to relieve mild to moderate pain. It is also used, usually in combination with other medications, to reduce coughing. This medication is an opiate, and it works in the brain to block how the body recognizes pain. When codeine is used to reduce coughing, it works by decreasing the activity in the part of the brain that causes coughing.

Codeine is usually prescribed to be taken at the lowest effective dose for the shortest effective treatment cycle. Your dose is based on your condition and response to treatment. This medication may be taken with or without food.

Codeine is also available as an ingredient in many cough and pain medications. This session only includes information about the use of codeine. If you are taking a codeine combination product, be sure to read information about all the ingredients in the product you are taking and ask your doctor or pharmacist for more information.

This medication works best when taken at the first sign of pain. If you wait until the pain has worsened, the medication may not work as well or may take much longer for you to notice the expected pain relief.

If you have an ongoing pain syndrome, such as cancer or chronic back pain, you may be taking codeine along with a long-acting pain medication. This medication will be used for sudden or sharp pain that flares up during certain times of the day.

Tell your doctor if your pain is not getting better. Your dose is based on your current condition and may need to be changed as your condition changes. If you have been taking this medication for an extended period of time, do not suddenly stop taking it because you may feel uncomfortable withdrawal symptoms such as muscle aches, sweating, nausea, and vomiting. Your doctor may decrease your dose over a time to decrease the withdrawal symptoms.

Most Important Warnings

  • Combining this medication with anxiety medications, such as diazepam or alprazolam, may cause extreme sleepiness, significant breathing difficulties, and death.
  • Some children who took codeine to relieve pain after surgery to remove their tonsils and/or adenoids have had slowed breathing and have died during their treatment. Codeine should not be used to relieve pain in children after surgery to remove the tonsils and/or adenoids.

Warnings & Cautions

  • Rarely, this medication may cause a drug seeking or addictive behavior. This risk is increased if you have a history of alcohol or drug abuse. If you follow the directions on the label and stay in communication with your doctor and pharmacist, then the chances for addiction are lower.
  • The elderly may be more sensitive to the side effects of this medication, especially the drowsiness, dizziness, constipation, and urinary problems.
  • Do not drive or do any activity that requires focus and attention until you are sure you can do them safely. Avoid alcoholic beverages while using codeine.
  • Infants born to mothers who are using this medication are at risk. This medication should only be used during pregnancy when the benefit to the mother is greater than the risk to the unborn baby.
  • Codeine passes into breast milk. Breastfeeding is not recommended while using this medication.

Interactions & Side Effects

  • Tell your pharmacist or doctor all your medication allergies so they may determine if codeine is safe for you to use.
  • Avoid dangerous drug interactions. Tell your pharmacist or doctor all the other medication you are taking, including over the counter supplements, even if you don't take them very often.
  • Ask your doctor if this medication is safe to take with your current health conditions. Tell your doctor if you have a slow bowel, chronic constipation, seizures, slow heartbeat, trouble urinating, low blood pressure, a family history of substance abuse or if you have a history of any other disease.
  • While using codeine, you may feel some nausea, vomiting, dizziness, drowsiness or constipation. If these or any other unwanted side effects persist, contact your doctor or pharmacist to talk about it with them.
  • Constipation may be a problem when this medication is used. Talk with your pharmacist about what would work best for you to keep your bowels moving.
  • Call your doctor right away if you have any heartbeat changes, hallucinations, seizure, loss of coordination or any other significant side effects.
  • Call emergency 911 if you have any difficulty breathing.
If you have any questions about what you have heard, contact your pharmacist or doctor. This session does not include all the potential interactions or side effects that this medication may cause. Ask your pharmacist how your medication should be stored and how you should dispose of it when you are done taking it. Do not share your medication with anyone, ever. Remember, this is not meant to replace your counseling session with your pharmacist. In case of overdose, call your local poison control center at 1-800-222-1222.