What Are the Pros and Cons of Codeine Cough Syrup?

Cough syrup can soothe a throat sore from coughing.
Codeine is derived from certain types of poppy plants.
Codeine cough syrup is very effective at treating a cough.
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  • Written By: Rhonda Rivera
  • Edited By: John Allen
  • Last Modified Date: 20 April 2014
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Codeine is an opiate ingredient in prescription-strength cough medicines that can be derived from certain poppy flowers. As a cough syrup, it has several advantages and disadvantages, all of which should be explored before consumption to avoid potentially negative side effects. Some pros for this cough syrup is its effectiveness at treating cough and its wide availability. Like any drug, the syrup has drawbacks; for example, it has a plethora of side effects and potential for abuse as a recreational drug.

This medication is commonly regarded as an extra-strength cough suppressor and recommended for use in cases where over-the-counter medications are not enough. The medication works by suppressing the part of the brain that controls coughing. Some experts dispute the drug’s effectiveness, but the fact remains that many people believe it works and stand by the product as their go-to cough medicine. If it is as ineffective as some experts believe, people who think they are coughing less because of a codeine cough syrup are experiencing the placebo effect.

Another pro regarding codeine cough syrup is that it is available in countries all over the world. Often, a prescription is needed to purchase a bottle, or a pharmacist must approve of the customer’s stated use of the product. In some countries, codeine cough syrup is technically illegal but the law is not enforced. Either way, the medicine is usually easy to acquire, especially if one has a legitimate cough.


Codeine cough syrup was once widely abused as a recreational drug and, to some extent, is still actively abused by some. It is the main ingredient in a drink called purple drank that originates from the southern part of the United States. Other medications and ingredients are added to the drink according to preference. Purple drank is also commonly know as Texas tea, sizzurp, and purple jelly. In some countries, measures have been taken to prevent abuse, such as adding medications to the cough syrup that produce undesirable or dangerous effects if taken in the amount needed to make purple drank.

The side effects of codeine cough syrup are normally mild, but can be severe and life-threatening. Some severe signs to watch for are allergic reactions, hallucinations, and yellowing of the skin and eyes. Commonly observed mild side effects include headache, nausea and vomiting, and drowsiness. It is possible to overdose with this medication, which can be fatal if treatment is not sought right away. Children under six cannot safely be given codeine cough syrup, so it is important to keep it out of their reach.


Discuss this Article

Post 8

If used properly, codeine syrup can be a miracle drug for someone with a serious and persistent cough. Syrup addiction, however. is something altogether different.

The issue of codeine syrup addiction and the crime associated with it will soon become a national issue. It is already being talked about in the mainstream media. (By the way, it is also called Drank, Purple Stuff, Syrup or Lean).

Syrup gained notoriety in Houston in the 1990's among rappers like Pimp C and Big Moe and inspired DJ Screw's "chopped and screwed" music, which Houston is now famous for in the hip-hop culture. All three died in syrup-related overdoses.

Other notable incidents related to purple drank addiction include the arrests of San Diego Chargers NFL player Terrence Kiel, Green Bay Packers player Johnny Jolly and former Oakland Raiders quarterback JaMarcus Russell. All have faced criminal charges as the result of illegally possessing Codeine-Promethazine syrup.

John Stogner, Ph.D., Assistant Professor within the Department of Criminal Justice and Criminology at the University of North Carolina, composed an article in the Addictive Behaviors Journal which reports that Syrup addiction is spreading like wildfire.

Beware: like many pharmaceutical drugs prescribed by a doctor, this stuff can be lethal and it is highly addictive.

Post 7

I got addicted to codeine cough syrup, and got stuck with it for a very, very long time. The problem is the physical dependency; it is really hard to liberate yourself from it.

Codeine-based cough syrup used to be sold as an over-the-counter medicine in Belgium and I have the impression that a lot of people used it for recreational purposes. It costs loads of money and the human body gets very quickly used to it, and then you are in for a tough physical and psychological opiate addiction where you have to increase the doses constantly to receive the same effect and you're fighting withdrawal.

I got off it last summer, but it took me some eight weeks to get my body totally clean of it and to recover and get used to not feeding it with that substance. Codeine is extremely effective against pain, cough, cold, but beware of its addictive powers.

Post 5

@honeybees-- I have also had great benefits using this cough syrup. I haven't found any cough syrup that works better than those I can only get with a prescription.

Another advantage to the codeine in the cough syrup is that it helps soothe the pain of a sore throat or any other mild pain symptoms you might be having.

When I have a bad cough and cold, I like to stay home and nurse my cold. I make sure I am comfortable, drink plenty of liquids, and get lots of sleep. I can take the cough syrup throughout the day because I don't need to worry about getting sleepy or driving anywhere.

Post 4

When I have a really bad cough that won't go away, I will ask for this cough syrup when I go to the doctor. Usually by this time, I have tried several other remedies, and I am tired of still fighting the cough.

Since I can't buy codeine cough syrup without a prescription, the chances of misusing this are pretty slim. One of the things I like best about it is the codeine really knocks me out.

I can finally get a good night of sleep without tossing and turning all night long, and that is well worth it.

Post 3

@feruze-- It's true that codeine is addictive. They've added larger doses of antihistamines in codeine cough syrups to prevent people from abusing it. Unfortunately, there are still people who abuse them to get high.

But codeine cough syrup doesn't work for everyone. Either it doesn't suppress coughing as it should or the side effects prevent people from taking it. For my daughter, it doesn't work at all. Actually no cough medicine helps with her coughs.

It helps me when I have a cough but I don't use it because it gives me constipation. My mother also can't take it because the codeine increases her blood pressure. So if you do develop codeine side effects like us or are allergic to it, you won't be able to use it anyway.

Post 2

@feruze-- Don't be silly! You won't get addicted to it with one prescription. Just follow the directions listed on the bottle, don't take more than necessary and you'll be fine.

People who abuse cough syrup with codeine take exaggerated doses on a regular basis. This is not something that's going to happen overnight. You have a legitimate medical condition and that is precisely what this cough syrup was made for.

Over the counter cough suppressants don't work. The most important ingredient found in over the counter cough syrup is dextromethorphan which has been proven to do nothing. Codeine is one of the few medicines that actually suppresses coughing. If it works for you, then you are lucky to have that option. Please get that prescription filled and get a good night's sleep tonight.

Post 1

I've heard about people abusing cough syrups with codeine for recreational purposes and I've been avoiding it for that reason.

I've had a really bad cough for the past week. I haven't even gotten any proper sleep for the past two days because of the coughing. First I tried over the counter cough medicines. None of them worked. Then I went to my doctor who prescribed a codeine cough syrup but I haven't had the prescription filled.

That was two days ago and my cough hasn't gotten better but worse. I wonder if I should try the codeine cough syrup. But I'm afraid of its addictive qualities.

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