How Long Does Codeine Stay in Your System?

Detection and Therapeutic Timetables

Man Looking Through Medicine Cabinet

Tetra Images/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 ensure that you get the needed effects and reduce the risk of an overdose by using the dosage and timing recommended by your doctor. As an opiate, codeine is detected in screening tests for drugs of abuse. If you have been taking a prescription medication that contains codeine, it's important to let your employer or a relevant person know if you're subject to an employment drug screen or a forensic drug screen.

Codeine is also known as Tylenol #3, Tylenol with codeine, Robitussin A-C, Fiorinal with codeine, Triacin-C, Tuaistra XR, Codate, Codophos syrup, Promethazine with codeine cough syrup and other formulations. Street names include Captain Cody, Sizzurp, and Purple Drank.

Detection Variables

How long codeine is detectable in your body after a dose depends on a variety of factors, including which kind of drug test is being used. Other variables include:

  • How often you use the medication
  • The dosage you take
  • Your weight
  • Your age
  • Your metabolism
  • Your hydration level
  • Your level of activity
  • Other health conditions you may have

Detection Windows

Because each individual will have different variables, it's almost impossible to determine an exact time codeine will show up on a drug test. Here is an estimated range of times, or detection windows, during which codeine can be detected by various testing methods:

  • Urine test: 2 to 3 days
  • Blood test: Up to 24 hours
  • Saliva test: 1 to 4 days
  • Hair follicle test: The last 2 to 3 months, but will not show drug use in the past 2 to 3 weeks

Method of Action

Codeine changes the way your nervous system and your brain detect pain and slows down the activity in your brain that creates the cough reaction, which is why it's used for pain relief and to relieve coughing. Codeine is easily absorbed from the gastrointestinal tract and is distributed to different tissues throughout your body. About 90 percent of the drug is eliminated by your kidneys in urine.

It's often provided in combination products with Tylenol (acetaminophen), aspirin, Soma (carisoprodol), and promethazine, as well as many cough and cold medications. These combinations may affect the dosing timing and recommendations, so be sure to follow your doctor or pharmacist's directions exactly.

Side Effects

Side effects of codeine include:

  • Lightheadedness
  • Drowsiness
  • Headache
  • Mood changes
  • Stomach pain
  • Constipation
  • Difficulty urinating

Cautions

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.

Codeine should not be taken with alcohol or other drugs that can affect your respiration rate, such as benzodiazepines. Examples of benzodiazepines include Klonopin (clonazepam), Ativan (lorazepam), Valium (diazepam), and Xanax (alprazolam). Be sure to tell your doctor about all the medications you're taking, whether they're over-the-counter, prescription, vitamins, supplements, or herbal remedies.

Due to serious risks of slowed breathing and death in children, codeine medications are now restricted by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for children under the age of 12 years. They are also not recommended for teens between the ages of 12 and 18 years who are obese or who have breathing problems such as sleep apnea or severe lung disease.

You shouldn't take codeine regularly while you're pregnant because your baby can have withdrawal symptoms at birth that may be life-threatening. If you're breastfeeding, you shouldn't take medications with codeine in them as they can pass to your baby in your breast milk and cause serious breathing difficulties. Codeine can also decrease fertility in both men and women.

Symptoms of Overdose

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. It's important to take codeine exactly as prescribed because taking more before your previous dose has metabolized or taking a larger dose than you're supposed to can increase the risk of an overdose.

Symptoms of a codeine overdose can include:

  • Bluish-colored fingernails and lips
  • Breathing problems
  • Cold, clammy skin
  • Coma
  • Confusion
  • Dizziness
  • Drowsiness
  • Fatigue
  • Lightheadedness
  • Loss of consciousness
  • Low blood pressure
  • Muscle twitches
  • Tiny pupils
  • Spasms of the stomach and intestines
  • Weakness
  • Weak pulse

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

Getting Help

If you or a loved one has an addiction to codeine, it's important to get help to treat it. You can start by calling the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration's (SAMHSA) National Helpline to get free, confidential information on substance use recovery and referrals to treatment clinics at 1-800-662-HELP (4357).

View Article Sources
  • MedlinePlus. Codeine. U.S. National Library of Medicine. Updated March 15, 2018. https://medlineplus.gov/druginfo/meds/a682065.html
  • Lab Tests Online. Drugs of Abuse Testing. American Association for Clinical Chemistry. Updated July 5, 2018. https://labtestsonline.org/tests/drug-abuse-testing
  • MedlinePlus. Codeine Overdose. U.S. National Library of Medicine. Updated September 23, 2017. https://medlineplus.gov/ency/article/002613.htm
  • Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA). SAMHSA’s National Helpline – 1-800-662-HELP (4357). Department of Health and Human Services. Updated April 19, 2018. https://www.samhsa.gov/find-help/national-helpline