Codeine has a unique chemical profile that makes it a good solution for a very specific type of illness. It’s also metabolized in the human body in a slightly unusual way, and that makes its addiction potential slightly difficult to determine.
Codeine is technically considered a narcotic and an antitussive. That means this one medication has the power to:
Respiratory infections, including bronchitis, can respond to treatment with codeine. Stronger illnesses, including lung cancer, may also be addressed with this drug.
But the medication is also used as a standalone treatment for pain, even in people who don’t have a coughing or hacking component to their illness.
Codeine’s classification as a narcotic makes it similar to well-known dangerous drugs, including Vicodin and OxyContin. But it works within the body in a slightly unique way that could increase its associated risks.
Codeine is considered a pro-drug, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics. Drugs like this aren’t active when they enter the body. Instead, these medications must be altered by the body in some way before they can spark changes. Codeine is metabolized by the liver, and there, it turns into morphine.
The body’s ability to make this transformation varies. Some people are very good at making the shift, and those people could have much higher blood-level concentrations when compared to people who don’t have such finely tuned systems.
Let’s put this in perspective.
When you’re given an OxyContin pill, you know just how much active ingredient is included. If you stick to your doctor’s dosing protocols, you’ll have a predictable experience. Codeine, on the other hand, is not so easy to predict. Even if you follow instructions, you could end up with a very high blood dose. And that can alter your brain in a way that leads to abuse.