Co-codamol is a pain relief medicine consisting of paracetamol and codeine – an opiate. The lowest dose version is available without a prescription from pharmacies and it is commonly used to treat ailments including muscular pain and headaches. Despite its widespread use and availability, co-codamol can cause an addiction.
In this article, we’ll take a look at what happens when a co-codamol addiction forms. First, we’ll explore exactly what the drug is and look at the different doses available. Next, we explore some of the side effects, before moving on to the signs that could indicate a co-codamol addiction.
The article will look at some of the main dangers of a co-codamol addiction, including liver damage and fatal overdose, and underline the importance of getting the right support for co-codamol addiction.
We will also explore how to heal from a co-codamol addiction, which includes looking at detox and withdrawal, along with the main treatment on offer to beat an addiction to co-codamol . The article will wrap up with a note on aftercare support and outline where to go next if you, or someone you know, needs help with a co-codamol addiction.
What is Co-Codamol
Co-codamol is a combination of paracetamol and codeine, used to help pain such as migraines, toothache and headaches. Paracetamol is a common painkiller and codeine is an opiate, which works in the central nervous system and brain to block pain signals. It is usually advised to only take co-codamol where everyday painkillers like paracetamol or ibuprofen have not helped.
Co-codamol comes in three strengths. Each has 500mg of paracetamol and either 8mg, 15mg or 30mg of codeine. The lowest strength (8/500) is available from a pharmacy without a prescription. The two higher strengths are only available on prescription.
While codeine-based medicine can be effective for treating certain symptoms, there are risks associated with taking it. One risk is addiction, as it is possible to become both physically and psychologically addicted to the codeine in co-codamol.
Types of Co-codamol that Can Lead to Addiction
As discussed above, there are three strengths of co-codamol. Some people might assume that by taking the lowest dose (8/500) they would be protecting themselves from addiction, especially considering it is available to buy over the counter. However, this is not necessarily the case and even the lowest dose versions of co-codamol come with the warning: can cause addiction.
The leaflet will usually state that co-codamol should not be used for more than three consecutive days and doing so can cause addiction and withdrawal symptoms.
Side Effects of Co-Codamol
Like all medicines, co-codamol can cause side effects, though not all people will experience them.
A person should stop taking co-codamol and seek medical help if they experience any of the following side effects:
- Swelling of the hands, feet, ankles, face, lips or throat which could result in issues swallowing or breathing.
- Hives which may present as an itchy or lumpy rash
- Nettle rash
- Serious skin reactions
- Fits or seizures
- Difficulty breathing and dizziness
They should also speak with a doctor if they notice:
- Severe stomach pain which may go through to the back, as this could be a sign of pancreas inflammation
Lastly, a person should contact a doctor or pharmacist if any of the following side effects become serious or persist for more than a few days:
- Feeling or being sick
- Dry mouth
- Feeling euphoric
- Feeling uneasy
- Excessive shrinking of the pupil
- Difficulty passing water
Symptoms of Co-codamol Addiction
A person who has developed an addiction to co-codamol may exhibit some of the following signs
- Using more co-codamol or taking it more frequently
- Hiding their use or evidence of co-codamol from other people
- Going to different pharmacies to get more supplies of co-codamol
- Continuing to take co-codamol even though the issue they were taking it for has resolved
- Experiencing withdrawal symptoms if they stop, cut down or even miss one dose
A person addicted to co-codamol also might appear sedated, confused and may experience side effects including hallucinations, changes to their vision and fits.
Someone in the grips of a co-codamol addiction might also seem more withdrawn and choose to isolate themselves from normal activities, such as work or family life. In some cases, people dealing with addiction might start spending less time looking after themselves and neglect basic self-care including hygiene, though this is not always the case and some people remain high-functioning addicts.
The Dangers of a Co-codamol Addiction
An addiction to co-codamol can not only lead to short term side effects, but it can have quite a serious long term impact on a person’s health and well-being.
In the long term, co-codamol abuse can result in liver and kidney damage, along with seizures. Taking large quantities can also cause the breath to slow, heart rate to drop and blood pressure to fall. This is known as respiratory depression and can cause a person to experience respiratory failure. Sadly sometimes this can result in a fatal overdose.
The Importance of Seeking Help for Co-codamol Addiction
Because an addiction to co-codamol can cause such serious side effects, it’s important that the addiction is not ignored. Unfortunately, many people battling with addiction are in a state of denial about the extent or scope of the problem. And while people on the outside can make suggestions and provide support, they cannot force change.
Once a person is willing to accept they are dealing with an addiction and, crucially, they are ready to seek help and get better, then the real work of treating the addiction can begin.
What Does Co-codamol Withdrawal Look Like?
Withdrawal symptoms can vary from mild to severe and will differ from person to person. Generally speaking, symptoms will depend on how long the co-codamol has been abused and at what levels.
When a person who has regularly used co-codamol decides to stop, their body has to adjust and learn how to cope with it. During this period, withdrawal symptoms are common and can include:
- Runny nose
- Watery eyes
- Muscle twitching
- Loss of appetite
- Rapid breathing
- High blood pressure
- Stomach pain
In serious cases, people can also experience suicidal thoughts, psychosis and delusions.
These symptoms will typically become noticeable about 12 hours after the last dose of codeine was taken. Generally speaking the withdrawal symptoms will peak somewhere between three and five days in, but can last up to a month.
Treatment for Co-codamol Addiction
The good news is, it is possible to recover from an addiction to co-codamol. It can be a challenging process to go through, but with the right mindset and support in place, it is possible to beat the addiction.
When researching how to help someone through a co-codamol addiction, it’s crucial that you find support which offers bespoke, evidence-based treatment to make the process as smooth, safe and comfortable as possible in order to maximise the chances of a full recovery.
Treatment options for co-codamol addiction include:
When it comes to beating an addiction to co-codamol, the first step is a detox. This involves removing the drug from the system and teaching the body how to function without it.
Some people are tempted to quit ‘cold turkey’ on their own in a bid to speed up the process. However, it can make for a very challenging, uncomfortable time and abruptly stopping can result in intense symptoms that prove too much to bear.
Because this ‘cold turkey’ approach is incredibly stressful on both the body and mind, a gentler withdrawal process is usually recommended for co-codamol detox. This involves slowly tapering off the drug, by limiting the amount used each day and allowing the body to slowly adapt to having less of the drug over time. This usually results in more manageable withdrawal symptoms, though it can take a little longer.
For people facing a severe or long-standing addiction, the best option is a medically managed detox where they can be supported throughout the entire process. This can include psychological support, as well as medical help to manage the worst of the withdrawal symptoms and make it as comfortable a process as possible.
While getting the drugs physically out of the system is an important, crucial first step on the road to recovery it is not the end point. Once a person’s body is no longer reliant on co-codamol to function, then they will have the opportunity to explore the underlying causes behind the addiction. Along with looking at root causes, they will also be able to equip themselves with the skills and tools needed to make long lasting change.
Therapy offers an evidenced-based framework for exploring this topic. From cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) to family therapy, different modalities will be useful to different people. But the ultimate goal of therapy is to provide a safe, supportive space for a person battling addiction to heal and grow. The end goal is that they can return to their life without needing co-codamol.
If opting for a medically managed detoxification process, this is often carried out at an inpatient rehabilitation. After detox, or in some cases when a person is feeling stable enough during the detox, the remainder of their treatment can take place.
Inpatient rehabilitation allows people the time, space and support to get to the root cause of their addiction and learn how to best recover from it. Depending on the specific person and their addiction, this might include one-on-one therapy, peer support groups, practical workshops, holistic therapies and simply having the time to tend to this area of their life, without the usual distractions and responsibilities of a busy and full life.
During this time, a person will not only get to the bottom of their addiction, they’ll become acquainted with their own unique triggers and come away with a toolkit of practical strategies to help them on their recovery journey.
For those unable to commit to an inpatient stay, outpatient rehabilitation could be the perfect solution. Inpatient care is not the right choice for everyone, including people with non negotiable outside responsibilities. Outpatient care allows such a person to remain at home, and engaged with other responsibilities, while commiting to treatment at a specialised facility.
Here, people can access the same types of treatment on offer at an inpatient stay. While this is a less intense option, it generally takes place over an extended period of time.
It’s important that wherever a person battling addiction seeks help from, they are not just left in the lurch after they leave. A personalised continuing care plan should be in place in order to help them transition back into their life and maximise their chances of recovery.
Co-Codamol addiction help and treatment
If you are looking for help with a co-codamol addiction and aren’t sure where to go from here, why not give us a call today on 01721 360 016 for the confidential and impartial advice you need to kickstart your journey to recovery.