How Long Does Codeine Stay in Your System?

Detection and Therapeutic Timetables

Man Looking Through Medicine Cabinet
Codeine Is Habit-Forming. Getty Images

Codeine is a prescription opiate medication used for mild to moderate pain relief and to reduce coughing. Knowing how long it remains in your system can help you understand why it is important to use the dosage and timing recommended by your doctor. This will help ensure you get the needed effects and reduce the risk of an overdose.

As an opiate, codeine is detected in screening tests for drugs of abuse.

 It can be detected for a shorter time with some tests but can be visible for up to three months in other tests. If you have been taking a prescription medication that includes codeine, it is important to declare it if you are subject to an employment drug screen or a forensic drug screen.

Codeine is also known as Tylenol 3, Tylenol with Codeine, Empirin with Codeine, Robitussin A-C, Fiorinal with Codeine, Tylenol 3, Codate, Codephos Syrup, and other formulations. Street names include Captain Cody, Sizzurp, and Purple Drank.

Codeine Detection Windows

How long codeine is detectable in the body after a dose depends on many variables, including which kind drug test is being used. The following is an estimated range of times, or detection windows, during which codeine can be detected by various testing methods:

  • Urine test: 2 to 4 days.
  • Blood test: Up to 12 hours
  • Saliva test: 1 to 4 days
  • Hair follicle test: Shows drug use in the last 2 to 3 months, but will not show use in the most recent 2 to 3 weeks.

    The timetable for detecting codeine in the system is also dependent upon each individual's metabolism, body mass, age, hydration level, physical activity, health conditions, and other factors, making it almost impossible to determine an exact time codeine will show up on a drug test.

    Codeine Absorption and Elimination

    Codeine is easily absorbed from the gastrointestinal tract and is distributed to different tissues throughout the body.

    About 90 percent of the drug is eliminated by the kidneys in urine. With a half-life of only three hours, 50 percent of the dosage taken would be eliminated from the body within three hours. Codeine medications are usually taken every four to six hours to maintain a therapeutic level. Taking a larger or more frequent dose can result in an overdose.

    Codeine is often provided in combination products with acetaminophen, aspirin, and cough and cold medications. This may affect the dosing timing and recommendations.

    Codeine Effects

    Codeine changes the way your nervous system and brain detect pain and cause the cough reaction, which is why it is used for pain relief and coughing. Side effects of codeine include lightheadedness, drowsiness, headache, mood changes, stomach pain, constipation, and difficulty in passing urine.

    Codeine Overdose and Age Restrictions

    Codeine is an opioid pain reliever, which means it can be habit-forming. Taking more codeine than prescribed or taking it longer than directed can increase the risk of developing a dependence on the drug.

    It is important to know how long codeine remains in the system because taking more before a previous dose has metabolized can increase the risk of an overdose.

    Codeine should not be taken with alcohol or other drugs that can affect the respiration rate, such as benzodiazepines.

    Due to serious risks of slowed breathing and death in children under the age of 12, codeine and tramadol medications are now restricted by the FDA for children under 12. They are not recommended for teens between the ages of 12 and 18 who are obese or have breathing problems such as sleep apnea or severe lung disease. Breastfeeding mothers should not take these medications as they can pass to the infant in breast milk and cause serious breathing difficulties.

    Symptoms of a Codeine Overdose

    Symptoms of a codeine overdose can include:

    Some of the above symptoms can occur even when codeine is taken exactly as prescribed. If you suspect someone has overdosed on codeine call 9-1-1 immediately or the national toll-free Poison Help hotline (1-800-222-1222).


    Codeine. MedlinePlus U.S. National Library of Medicine.

    Drugs of Abuse Testing. American Association for Clinical Chemistry Lab Tests Online.