You have probably heard the term “gateway drug.”
The idea is that a person may start using one drug only to find themselves eager for a more powerful or longer-lasting high. To achieve that, they abandon the first drug in favor of another—something that is likely even more dangerous than the drug they started with.
Any number of substances might fall into the category of so-called gateway drugs, but one in particular might surprise you because it seems so commonplace: it seems so commonplace: codeine.
Most people know of codeine as the stuff in prescription cough suppressants or as an ingredient in the meds prescribed for pain management following a minor surgery. In both cases, it might seem as though codeine just adds a little kick to cough syrup or to Tylenol—helpful in certain circumstances and unlikely to cause too many problems.
Codeine Is an Opiate
But that is not a wholly accurate picture of the drug. Codeine is, after all, an opiate. That means it is in the same class of drugs as many that are known to be quite dangerous, indeed—like heroin, oxycodone, and morphine. You may not automatically think to put codeine in the same category as heroin, but once you realize the connection, it may be easier to see why codeine may, in fact, be a gateway drug.
Even if a person only misuses codeine and never trades it in for another drug, they are still in danger of developing a substance use disorder and experiencing a range of side effects.
Craving Codeine and Then Craving More
Codeine often helps the user relax, and it may also cause feelings of euphoria. Both sensations can be very pleasant, of course, so perhaps it is not so surprising that some people will find themselves inclined to keep taking the drug so that they can keep having those feelings.
But doing so leads to difficulties. Over time, the effectiveness of the codeine is likely to decline as a person builds up a tolerance to the drug. That means it will take more and more codeine to produce the desired effect. A person might then be led to forge prescriptions or visit multiple physicians in the hopes of acquiring extra scrips. In some cases, they may turn to illicit sources of the drug.
Impatience with those kinds of complications can be a significant goad toward trying other drugs—like heroin or oxycodone—that might more reliably deliver the desired sensations. This may be especially true if a person is already acquiring codeine from an illegal source. Odds are high that the source in question can provide alternatives to codeine when it no longer delivers the feelings it once did. A dealer offering something new is the very definition of the gateway drug experience.
Withdrawal Can Be Worrisome
If you find yourself struggling with codeine, you will likely experience withdrawal symptoms if you stop taking the drug. Those symptoms may include:
- Irritability, feelings of anxiety, an increased heart rate, and/or trouble sleeping
- Watery eyes, a runny nose, muscle aches, an increased tendency to yawn, and/or increased sweating
- Loss of appetite, nausea and vomiting, stomach cramping, and diarrhea
It perhaps goes without saying that the best way to avoid these withdrawal symptoms is to avoid misusing codeine in the first place.
How to Ensure Codeine Is a Friend Instead of a Foe
The advice we are about to give may seem like a cliché. But then again, clichés tend to develop out of an essential kernel of truth. So here goes:
The best way to ensure you are using codeine safely is to make sure you always follow your doctor’s instructions. This advice is often delivered thusly: use only as directed. It is excellent—even essential—advice.
Both your doctor and your pharmacist can answer any questions you might have about codeine. Make sure you understand how much you are supposed to take and how often. And then promise yourself you will not deviate from those instructions—no matter how good the drug makes you feel while you are taking it.
We should also note here that it is absolutely essential that you share any history of substance use disorders you may have. Your doctor can make more informed decisions about which pharmaceuticals might be problematic for you if they know your history of problematic drug or alcohol use.
We Can Be Your Gateway to Recovery
When it comes to gateways, a recovery center—like Wooded Glen Recovery Center—can serve as the gateway from your old life to your new life.
At Wooded Glen Recovery Center, we are committed to personalized, compassionate, evidence-based care. We will listen to you and will always remember that your situation is unique to you—and therefore your treatment needs to be as well.
In addition to addressing your substance use disorder, we are also equipped to help you with any co-occurring mental health disorders like depression, anxiety, or the effects of trauma in your life. Often, these co-occurring disorders contribute to—or even serve as the foundation for—the development of a substance use disorder.
When you are ready to start your journey to recovery, we hope that Wooded Glen Recovery Center can serve as the gateway that marks the beginning of a better path forward in your life.