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What Is Codeine Cough Syrup?

Bottle of codeine cough syrup.  

With an opioid epidemic occurring in the United States, much attention is being given to opioid pain medications such as Oxycodone and fentanyl, but many people do not realize that opioid medications are not just prescribed for pain. Codeine is an opioid that can be used to treat pain, but is more often prescribed as a cough medicine. Promethazine and codeine cough syrup is a combination drug that uses promethazine, a non-addictive antihistamine, combined with the opioid codeine. Promethazine increases the body’s anti-inflammatory response and reduces inflammation in the airway, making coughing less likely. Codeine works by activating opioid receptors in the brain, slowing nerve signals. While slowing nerve signals can reduce pain, it also reduces the urge to cough, providing relief from cough symptoms.

How Are Teens Using Codeine to Get High?

Because codeine is an opioid, it can create a high and lead to an addiction. Teens will often misuse codeine because it is more available and easier to obtain than other opioids are. Teens will take codeine by itself to get high, but may also mix it with other substances to elevate the high or may mix it with food or drink to make it more palatable. One common way that teens misuse codeine is by mixing it with soft drinks such as Mountain Dew or Sprite and adding hard candies like Jolly Ranchers. This creates a sweet drink that will create an opioid high. This mixture is called purple drank or sizzurp.

Dangers of Mixing Codeine and Alcohol

Teens will sometimes mix codeine and alcohol because of the high that can occur, but this can be very dangerous. Alcohol depresses the nervous system and makes the brain work more slowly. When combined with an opioid, which also suppresses the nervous system, dangerous changes can happen within the brain that can lead to:

  • Decreased breathing
  • A decreased level of consciousness possibly causing a coma
  • Death

When codeine and alcohol are mixed, it can also take the body longer to process each substance, making the negative effects last longer than would normally be anticipated.

DXM vs Codeine Cough Syrup

Dextromethorphan (DXM) is another type of cough medication that is sometimes abused. DXM is different from codeine in that a DXM high is caused by the disconnection from reality and hallucinations that it can cause. A DXM high is sometimes referred to as robo-tripping and is very different from the high that is caused by an opioid such as codeine. Codeine will create a pleasurable, euphoric sensation similar to a high that might be experienced with heroin or morphine, while DXM will create a trip, comparable to what could be experienced with lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD).

Other Substances Where Codeine Is Found

There are several combination medications where codeine is mixed with other medications to make the pain relief or cough-reducing effects of codeine stronger while using minimal amounts of codeine. Some of the available brands of medications that contain codeine include:

  • Tylenol 3
  • Tuzistra
  • Airacof
  • Brontex
  • Guiatuss
  • Nalex
  • Phenergan with Codeine
  • Robitussin
  • Vanacof

Some companies may also sell combination medications that are not associated with a particular brand but go by the generic name of the medications they contain. These combination drugs will have the name codeine within the generic names.

If you know someone who is misusing codeine or have a teen who is using codeine to get high, they should be evaluated by a healthcare professional as soon as possible. Next Generation Village has a strong record of helping those with codeine addictions to achieve and maintain lasting sobriety. Reach out to one of our understanding team members to learn how your loved one can start on their path to recovery today.

Medical Disclaimer: Next Generation Village aims to improve the quality of life for people struggling with a substance use or mental health disorder with fact-based content about the nature of behavioral health conditions, treatment options and their related outcomes. We publish material that is researched, cited, edited and reviewed by licensed medical professionals. The information we provide is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It should not be used in place of the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare provider.

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