What Is Dihydrocodeine?

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  • Written By: R. Britton
  • Edited By: R. Halprin
  • Last Modified Date: 20 July 2019
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Dihydrocodeine is a moderate strength narcotic used as an analgesic. Available in several different forms, this drug treats pain associated with a number of conditions and surgical procedures. It acts on the opoid receptors to block pain signals. As an opiate this, medication carries the risk of addiction, and after a long course of treatment withdrawal symptoms are highly likely. It also can result in a significant number of side effects and contra indications.

Commonly used to treat postsurgical pain as well as discomfort from conditions such as arthritis, sciatica, and severe bone breakages, the drug also addresses pain associated with nerve problems and tumors. This medication is not effective in the treatment of dental pain and some studies have shown that it can actually worsen dental pain. Dihydrocodeine is often prescribed in the form of an immediate release tablet, but is also available as a slow release capsule and as an intravenous infusion. It is also available in a tablet combined with paracetamol. In slow release form, it is important not to crush or break the pill as this will cause the entire dose to be released into the system at once, thereby resulting in a potentially life-threatening overdose.


Dihydrocodeine is a member of the narcotic or opiate class of drugs. This means that the medication travels through the bloodstream until it reaches the brain and spinal cord. At this point, dihydrocodeine attaches to the opoid receptors. This action blocks the signals to the receptors from the nerves which indicate pain. The drug acts extremely quickly, particularly if it is administered intravenously, and severe to moderate pain is significantly reduced.

Since it belongs to the opiate family, this drug carries a significant risk of addiction, particularly with long-term use. Regular use can also result in the patient building up a tolerance to the prescribed dose, meaning that the drug becomes less effective unless a much larger dose is administered. This increases the risk of addiction and the occurrence of unwanted side effects. It is therefore not advised to take dihydrocodeine for any longer than is absolutely necessary. Upon finishing a course of this drug, it is highly likely that opiate withdrawal symptoms will occur, particularly if the medication is stopped all at once.

Dihydrocodeine can cause auditory and visual hallucinations, irrational thoughts, mood swings, and sexual dysfunction. It can also cause tachycardia or bradycardia, sudden drop in blood pressure, water retention, or decreased lung function. It should not be administered to patients with a history of substance abuse because the likelihood of addiction to this medication increases.

The drug is not recommended for those suffering from, or with a history of, respiratory problems as one of the more serious side effects of this medication is decreased lung function, which can prove fatal. Patients with a history of intracranial pressure, kidney and liver dysfunction, or seizure disorders should not be treated with dihydrocodeine either because the drug can worsen current symptoms and cause further complications.


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