Updated on February 6, 2024
5 min read

Can Codeine Overdose Kill You?

Can Codeine Kill You?

Codeine is capable of causing an overdose death. About 75% of drug overdose deaths in 2020 involved an opioid like codeine.3

From 1999 to 2020, more than 564,000 people died from prescription and illicit opioid overdoses, including codeine.7 A codeine overdose is a medical emergency and requires immediate medical attention.

Contact emergency help if you or someone you know has overdosed on codeine. You can call the poison control helpline at 1-800-222-1222 or 911.

Codeine Overdose Symptoms 

The symptoms of a codeine overdose include:

  • Nausea
  • Fatigue
  • Bluish fingernails and lips
  • Extreme trouble breathing
  • Cold, clammy skin
  • Flushing of the skin
  • Loss of consciousness
  • Coma
  • Weak pulse
  • Respiratory depression
  • Tiny pupils
  • Spasms of the stomach and intestines

How Does an Overdose Occur?

If you take a higher dosage of codeine than prescribed or more often than prescribed, you can overdose. You can also overdose on codeine when you mix it with other substances like drugs and alcohol.

Because of this, it's important to follow your doctor's prescription. Contact your doctor or ask your pharmacist to explain if you have any questions about your prescription.

Talk to your doctor if you need to adjust your dosage of codeine. They may lower your dose if you're experiencing side effects. On the other hand, they may increase your dosage if you're still experiencing pain.


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How to Help Someone Experiencing an Overdose?

If you suspect someone is experiencing a codeine overdose, call 911 immediately. Even if you're not sure it's an overdose, it's best to call 911 anyway.

Other hotlines you can contact include:

  • Poison Control Helpline: 1-800-222-1222
  • SAMHSA National Helpline: 1-800-662-HELP (4357)
  • Crisis Text Line: 741741

The SAMHSA National Helpline offers free, confidential information on mental health and substance use disorders. Their services are available 24/7.

The Crisis Text Line is a free and confidential 24/7 service. A live, trained crisis counselor will respond through the secure texting platform.

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Can an Opioid Overdose Cause Permanent Damage?

An opioid overdose can cause permanent damage from a lack of oxygen supply. This damage is due to respiratory depression.

While codeine is less potent than other opiates, overdosing on it can kill you, especially when combined with other opiates and alcohol.

Overdosing on codeine can cause irreversible brain damage. If you or someone you know may have overdosed on codeine, seek medical attention immediately. The sooner you receive medical help, the better.

Side Effects of Codeine Abuse

Codeine does have some side effects; some are worse than others. Here are codeine side effects you should be aware of:

  • Drowsiness
  • Constipation
  • Headaches
  • Lightheadedness
  • Shallow breathing
  • Stomach pain
  • Difficulty urinating
  • Low blood pressure
  • Agitation
  • Hallucinations
  • Sweating
  • Confusion
  • Miscoordination
  • Nausea with or without vomiting
  • Weakness
  • Dizziness
  • Low libido
  • Difficulty breathing or swallowing
  • Changes to heartbeat
  • Fever
  • Shivering
  • Muscle stiffness
  • Muscle twitching
  • Diarrhea
  • Rash or hives
  • Itchiness
  • Vision changes
  • Seizures
  • Addiction
  • Death

Abusing codeine can also lead to drug dependency. When this happens, you may experience withdrawal symptoms if you suddenly stop using the drug.

Is Codeine Addictive?

According to the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), codeine is classified as a Schedule II controlled substance. This means it has a high potential for drug abuse and dependence.

Because of its analgesic effects, codeine can be habit-forming. Over 10.1 million Americans abused opioids in 2022, and 1.6 million had an opioid use disorder.3

Like, other opioids, misusing codeine can lead to other dangerous drug addictions. If you or someone you know uses codeine to treat pain, be mindful of possible signs of misuse.

When Should You Call a Doctor for Codeine Addiction?

You should consult an addiction specialist or a healthcare professional if:

  • You are worried about developing an addiction to codeine
  • Your family has a history of addiction
  • You are taking other medications that may interact with codeine
  • Your codeine use has led to physical or mental health issues
  • You're experiencing social, financial, or legal problems because of codeine use

You may also want to talk to a mental health counselor if your drug abuse is tied to a mental health problem (co-occurring disorder). Call the U.S. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) national helpline at 1-800-662-HELP for more information.

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What is Codeine?

Codeine is an opiate (narcotic) analgesic and an antitussive (cough suppressant). It is an FDA-approved medication that doctors use to relieve pain and reduce coughing.

However, codeine only eases your symptoms. It doesn't treat the cause of symptoms or speed up recovery.

Codeine is often prescribed on its own or combined with medications like:

  • Acetaminophen
  • Aspirin
  • Carisoprodol
  • Promethazine

How Does Codeine Work?

Codeine changes how your brain and central nervous system (CNS) respond to pain. It also works by decreasing the activity in the part of your brain that causes you to cough.

It can be an ingredient in the following medications:

  • Acetaminophen and codeine phosphate
  • Fioricet with codeine
  • Promethazine codeine cough syrup
  • Robitussin A-C
  • Triacin-C
  • Tuzistra XR
  • Tylenol #3

What Other Drugs Interact With Codeine?

Codeine can interact with specific prescription and over-the-counter drugs. It can also interact with other prescription opioids.

Substances that interact with codeine include:

  • Alvimopan
  • Bremelanotide
  • Dacomitinib
  • Eluxadoline
  • Fentanyl
  • Givosiran
  • Hydrocodone
  • Isocarboxazid
  • Linezolid
  • Methylene blue
  • Nalbuphine
  • Ozanimod
  • Phenelzine
  • Rasagiline
  • Selinexor
  • Ticagrelor
  • Valerian
  • Benzodiazepines

Talking to your doctor about any other medications you are taking is essential. Consult your doctor if you’re unsure whether or not your current medications will interact with codeine and before starting new medicines.


Codeine is a prescription opioid used to relieve mild to moderate pain and reduce coughing. It decreases brain activity to prevent coughing and changes how your brain responds to pain.

Codeine is a highly addictive opioid classified as a Schedule II substance. It has a high potential for abuse and dependence.

Taking too much codeine can also lead to an overdose, which is potentially life-threatening. Contact emergency medical help immediately if you or someone you know is experiencing a codeine overdose.

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Updated on February 6, 2024

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