Syrup Slumber: The Drowsiness and Sedation Effect of Codeine-based Cough Syrups

This sweet-tasting medication is known for effectively fighting against severe coughs, yet as much comfort as it can alleviate disturbing symptoms, it comes with some side effects; drowsiness and sedation. We are even advised not to operate heavy machinery when using this syrup.  But that’s just the side effects of routine cough syrup use. How about when codeine-based cough syrups are abused? Codeine syrups are often used in high quantities to induce feelings of highness, so it is not far-fetched that the side effects will also be increased. This is related to the condition called codeine addiction, which is due to the main ingredient’s high addictive potential.

So if you are wondering what the link between drowsiness and codeine-based cough syrups is, we have taken the time to explore it.

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Understanding Drowsiness and Sedation

Drowsiness is a state of reduced alertness and wakefulness, often accompanied by a feeling of fatigue and a desire to sleep. It is a normal physiological response and can be caused by various factors, including lack of sleep, certain medications, or medical conditions. When drowsy, the brain’s activity slows down, leading to decreased attention and reaction time. Sedation is the state of reduced consciousness induced by a drug, like codeine, to calm or relax a person. It can lead to drowsiness as a side effect. Drowsiness falls between wakefulness and sleep and is characterised by reduced alertness.

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Codeine-based Cough Syrup and Its Relationship with Drowsiness and Sedation


Sedation from codeine-based cough syrup can manifest in various degrees, depending on sensitivity, dosage, and duration of use. Codeine’s interaction with the brain’s opioid receptors leads to the release of dopamine, a neurotransmitter associated with pleasure and relaxation. This can result in drowsiness and a feeling of calmness. The combination of GABA’s inhibitory effects and dopamine’s relaxing influence contributes to the drowsiness experienced when using codeine-based cough syrups.

Mild sedation might lead to sluggishness and drowsiness, affecting a person’s focus and alertness. However, severe sedation can result in a deep sleep-like state, posing significant risks to your respiratory and day-to-day functioning. It’s crucial to remember that each of us may react differently. You might not feel particularly sedated at all. But no matter what, sticking to the prescribed dosages and being mindful of how you’re feeling is the key to being safe while using this medication. If you are experiencing any unwanted and uncontrollable drowsiness due to codeine abuse and have low blood pressure, heart problems and seizures or are prone to any of these, please immediately contact 999 or your GP.

The Providence Projects can help you with your codeine dependence through our holistic rehab programme – a combination of detoxification and rehabilitation which can help your body hal mentally and physiologically. We also offer interventions and family support, so that the entire family unit can heal and move on.

Recognising the Warning Signs: Prevention is the Best Cure

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Codeine, while a helpful medicine, can, unfortunately, pave the way for misuse and potential addiction if not used as intended. In the UK, codeine-based cough syrups are typically available by prescription only. They are prescribed for the management of severe coughs that do not respond to other treatments. Over-the-counter cough syrups usually contain different active ingredients, but they do not contain codeine.

Warning signs might present themselves in different ways, but some of the common ones to look out for include:

  • Regularly taking the cough syrup even when it’s unnecessary for pain or cough relief.
  • Gradually increasing the dosage without a doctor’s advice because the usual amount doesn’t seem to “work” anymore.
  • Neglecting responsibilities at home or work due to impaired functioning from drug use.

Whenever we get a call from a worried loved one, we emphasie that any of these signs should never be brushed off. Recognising these signs is the first necessary step toward tackling this issue, as they can act as your signal, guiding you when to reach out for support. And above all, be gentle with yourself. It’s ok to realise you need help, and it’s ok to ask for it. This is why our team is here to help and provide you with all the care you need during these difficult times.

Making a Change with Providence Projects

The Providence Projects team of experienced addiction treatment experts have got your back. We’re ready to lend our complete support to help you navigate this challenging journey. We are equipped with the knowledge and skills tailored to fit like a warm, comforting blanket around your specific needs. Our range of interventions includes:

  • Behavioural therapies: These are designed to help you understand and change potentially self-destructive or unhealthy behaviours. They will equip you with tools to modify your behaviour, making dealing with this much more achievable.
  • Life skills training: We’ll work with you to strengthen your practical and social skills, those little things that help us navigate daily life, which may have been impaired due to misuse.
  • Coping mechanism reinforcement: Strengthening these coping strategies will help you better handle stressful or triggering situations, thereby avoiding relapse.

Our main priority is your well-being. Walking along this path may seem daunting, but remember, we’re right there with you — each step of the way. We’re prepared to embark on this journey with you.

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