This article has been medically reviewed by Dr Robert Lefever, a world-leading addictions specialist.
Alcohol is categorised as a depressant. Its effect on the brain system qualifies it as a central nervous system depressant. However, it can cause both sedative and stimulant effects depending on the amount of consumption. When used in low quantities, alcohol can provide feelings of relaxation and lower anxiety. On the other hand, alcohol impairs and slows down both physical and physiological processes when used excessively. For example, it impairs judgment and coordination.
If you or your loved one is struggling with addiction or dependence, please feel free to contact us to get a medical assessment. Our trained professionals use evidence-based treatment methods for all types of addiction.
Alcohol interaction with medicine
The danger of mixing alcohol with certain medications is real. There are more than a hundred drugs that interact with alcohol. The interaction can cause harmful effects such as head pains, dizziness, vomiting, and poor coordination. In worst cases, it can lead to breathing problems, heart complications, and internal breathing.
To prevent dangerous alcohol and medication interaction, manufacturers explicitly warn on the label against mixing alcohol and the medicine. In some cases, alcohol renders the treatment utterly ineffective in the body.
Codeine is one such medicine that, which when mixed with alcohol, can lead to life-threatening problems. Therefore, before doctors prescribe it to a patient, they are incredibly cautious and tend to inquire about a patient’s history with alcohol.
What is codeine?
Codeine is classified as an opioid. It is used to relieve pain. Opioids are some of the most addictive substances in the world. Also known as Opiates, Opioids are derived from Opium and are known to be among the most commonly abused drugs in medication. Opioids interfere with the normal function of the brain by binding the neuro-receptors. As a result, they relieve extreme pain to people suffering from pain. For the reason that they effectively eliminate pain, they are commonly used as painkillers.
Why is codeine medication prescribed?
Codeine is a medicine commonly taken as a tablet, but it is also taken in prescription cough syrups and other drugs. Just like other Opioids, it functions by inhibiting neuro- receptors hence effectively relieving the pain. Simply put, it acts by changing the way the nervous system and the brain react to pain.
Codeine is a painkiller. It is used to treat pain, especially after an operation or an injury. Also, when pain killers such as paracetamol, aspirin, and ibuprofen have failed to reduce pain effectively, codeine is used for long-standing pain. Codeine is available as a tablet, a liquid, or an injection.
For a long time, codeine has been used to suppress cough. In cough syrup, it functions by tinkering with the brain, leading to decreased coughing.
In medication, codeine should be taken strictly and only when prescribed by a doctor. Taken without a doctor’s prescription, it may cause harmful complications to specific groups of people, including children under 12 years, pregnant women, breastfeeding women, and people with pre-existing health conditions such as low blood pressure, allergies, and drugs addiction.
People using codeine in medication have exhibited the following symptoms:
- Memory loss
- Loss of coordination
- Euphoric feeling
- Nausea and vomiting
What are the adverse side effects of codeine medication?
Some people may negatively react to codeine medication. Those who experience the below side effects are advised to stop taking codeine medicine immediately and seek medical attention.
- Difficulty in swallowing
- Noisy or difficulty breathing
- Itching and rashes
- Irregular menstruation
- Weakness and dizziness
- Changes in vision
- Agitation and hallucinations
- Stomach pain
- Difficulty urinating
Why is codeine dangerous?
Unlike many other Opioids, codeine is considerably weaker. However, being weaker than most other Opioids makes it no less dangerous. Many individuals find the relaxation, euphoric feeling, and pain-killing effects of Opioids to be highly gratifying. Due to the pleasurable effect, many people are drawn to use them. In addition, opioids significantly alter brain chemistry in a short time, making them highly addictive.
Starting as a prescription drug, users tend to crave more drugs to experience pleasurable feelings. Unfortunately, the user’s tolerance of the drugs grows. To beat drug tolerance, users tend to overdose to share the same feelings. Even though many governments increased restrictions on the selling of codeine, it is still available in many over-the-counter. Though not considered to be as addictive and dangerous as most Opioids, it is still abused. The most significant danger is that it is a common link to more problematic Opioids.
How is codeine abused?
Over the years, codeine in cough syrup was mainly abused by teenagers who had no access to alcohol. Due to its availability over-the-counter, teenagers would purchase it to get high or drunk. However, currently, there are many restrictions on its sale and who is allowed to buy it. Still, some of those using codeine medication have been abusing it by overdosing to experience the euphoria and relaxation effects in it.
In an unprecedented manner, the patterns of codeine abuse are changing. Emerging is a disturbing pattern of mixing cough syrup containing codeine with soda. The mixture is dangerous and intoxicating. As a result, the mixture has been given street names such as syrup, lean, and purple drinks.
Another common abuse is mixing codeine and alcohol. Used together with other substances that affect the central nervous system, such as alcohol, can cause serious effects, including respiratory depression, low blood pressure, coma, and death.
Mixing of codeine with alcohol
Both alcohol and codeine are addictive substances. However, when codeine is prescribed and controlled, it’s considered not to be too dangerous. Despite that, mixing alcohol and codeine can lead to life-threatening effects.
As a precaution in the prescription of codeine, users are strictly warned against taking alcohol. The doctor has first to inquire whether the user is an alcoholic before prescribing codeine medication. Regardless, it is not uncommon for a person taking codeine to take alcohol—mixing alcohol when under codeine prescription poses significant risks and dangers to the users.
Particularly popular among young people is the intentional mixing of alcohol with codeine for pleasure. Young people are attracted by the fact that alcohol substantially increases the highness of opioids such as codeine. The euphoric and relaxed feeling produced by codeine painkillers is amplified by alcohol.
What are the potential risks of mixing alcohol and codeine?
When codeine and alcohol are used together, their respective effects are enhanced. Alcohol inhibits neurotransmitters and lowers nerves signal along the pathway. Typically, alcohol on its own can cause effects such as slurred speech, slowed reaction times, blurred vision, and lowered critical thinking. On the other hand, codeine inhibits the neurotransmitters involved in the transmission of pain. Adverse side effects of codeine use include weakened pulse, hallucinations, seizures, difficulty in urination, slow heart rate, and dizziness.
What are the effects of mixing alcohol and codeine?
As central nervous depressants, both codeine and alcohol can produce severe and harmful side effects when used together. The following are some of the impact:
- Memory loss
- Loss of coordination
- Withdrawal symptoms
- Cravings and addiction.
- Extreme fatigue and drowsiness
- Low blood pressure
- Respiratory depression
- Coma, and in worst case death
Why do people mix alcohol and codeine?
Due to negligence, some people who have codeine prescriptions by a doctor may opt not to follow the instructions given. Instead, they choose to take alcohol while under codeine medication.
Amongst young people, the culture of mixing cough syrup is slowly gaining popularity due to the enhanced high feelings. Partly, the availability of codeine over-the-counter also contributes to young people accessing it.
Can a mixture of alcohol and codeine be addictive?
Alcohol lowers the rate of metabolism of codeine, therefore, increasing codeine’s effects. When both alcohol and codeine are present in the brain, they produce euphoric and pleasurable feelings since they are neurotransmitters. However, as the drug wears off, the reduction of neurotransmitters causes an individual to feel depressed. In reaction, the body system, specifical dopamine, triggers the craving of the drugs that made the body feel food in the first place, leads to a person wanting more drugs and ultimately addiction.****
Can a person overdose on alcohol and codeine?
Separately, alcohol and codeine are addictive. Therefore, users will have the urge to want more and more. Further, the mixture’s high feeling and relaxation effect push users to keep pursuing it to the extent of overdosing.
Over time, the body will grow a tolerance to the substance. It means a person will not feel the same effects on the same amount used before. To counter this, a person has to increase the dose of the mixture to fill the same impact. As the user continues expanding the amount of substance, it will get to the point of overdose.
Do alcohol and codeine have withdrawal symptoms?
When used for an extended period, users of both alcohol and codeine become physically and physiologically dependent on the substance. The effect is that the body will compulsively keep on asking for more and more substances. Then, quitting abruptly, the user will experience withdrawal symptoms. Often, the immediate effect of withdrawal on the individual is the urge to take more substances.
Withdrawal symptoms alcohol and codeine.
Alcohol and codeine withdrawal symptoms vary from one individual to the other and the duration and severity of the symptoms. The factors that affect the variance between individuals include the length of time an individual used alcohol and codeine, how frequently they used alcohol and codeine, their gender, body weight, mental health, and the average dose of a mixture of alcohol and codeine they regularly took.
Though not life-threatening, the withdrawal symptoms can get worse. Importantly, if withdrawal symptoms are not adequately treated, they may cause dangerous health complications.
The following are common symptoms of withdrawal:
Extreme cravings to use alcohol and codeine
- Changes in blood pressure
- Changes in respiration rate
- Irregular heartbeat
- Anxiety, including panic attacks
- Hallucinations, though in rare cases
- Irritability and mood swings
- Vomiting and diarrhoea
- Sweating profusely
- Some people may develop rashes.
How to prevent yourself from the dangers of alcohol and codeine use?
- When under the medication of codeine, it is imperative to observe the precaution of not taking alcohol strictly.
- Young people should avoid peer pressure of trying the syrup. It may seem fun at the beginning, but the effects will be harmful. This drug may appeal for recreation, but it may lead to catastrophic complications to the extent of causing death.
- Generally, the risk of adverse effects of alcohol and codeine is high on women. Therefore, women should be cautious not to indulge in the use of alcohol and codeine.
- Purchasing of codeine should be restricted to only people with the prescription of a qualified medic.
- Those with a history of drug abuse and alcohol should avoid codeine altogether.
- Those who have just started using alcohol and codeine should consider quitting before it is too late.
How to treat codeine and alcohol addiction?
Willingness and determination to quit alcohol and codeine is the first and most crucial step in treating alcohol addiction. A medically supervised detox should follow to manage alcohol codeine withdrawal symptoms.
After detox, the recovering addicts are engaged in an inpatient or outpatient rehabilitation program. For monitoring, recovering addicts are encouraged to participate in individual counselling, group therapy, family counselling, and community support group meetings.
For the healing to be complete, society plays a role in accepting and helping those recovering. To ensure the chances of relapse are diminished, those recovering should engage in activities and work to keep them busy. Being idle makes them susceptible to relapse.
Frequently Asked Questions
Is codeine harmful?
Can alcohol and codeine be addictive?
Can alcohol and codeine cause death?
Can alcohol and codeine addiction be treated?
Do alcohol and codeine addiction have withdrawal symptoms?
Is codeine considered an illegal drug?
- Mixing Codeine and Alcohol Effects
- Understanding Opioid (Narcotic) Pain Medications
- Harmful Interactions: Mixing Alcohol with Medicines
- Drug and Alcohol Interactions – What to Avoid
- drug monograph Codeine Sulfate Oral: Uses, Side Effects, Interactions, Pictures, Warnings & Dosing
- Codeine Sulfate (Codeine): Uses, Dosage, Side Effects, Interactions, Warning
Mixing alcohol with codeine can be dangerous. Alcohol is one of the most reactive substances and shouldn’t be consumed with other medications and substances. To know more about the side effects and dangers of mixing alcohol with codeine read today’s article.