Codeine, classified as an opioid, is a narcotic medication often utilized to manage mild to moderate pain, chronic pain, and cough symptoms when combined with other medications. However, its availability varies significantly across different regions. In Australia, for instance, the status of codeine-containing medicines has undergone rescheduling due to concerns regarding prevalence misuse and public health implications.


Codeine was previously available over the counter (OTC codeine) in Australia, low-dose codeine products were commonly accessible without a prescription. However, in response to rising concerns surrounding codeine misuse and its potential for addiction, regulatory authorities mandated that over-the-counter codeine-containing products be prescription-only. This shift aimed to curb the misuse of codeine, particularly in light of its addictive properties and the associated risks of respiratory depression, especially in individuals with predisposing conditions such as asthma or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).

While codeine can provide effective pain relief for conditions such as acute pain, its status as a prescription-only medication underscores the importance of responsible prescribing and patient education within the healthcare system. Healthcare professionals play a critical role in assessing patients for suitability for codeine therapy, considering factors such as medical history, concurrent medications, and the presence of risk factors for adverse effects.

It is imperative for individuals to understand that codeine should only be used under the guidance and supervision of a qualified healthcare provider. Furthermore, patients must be vigilant regarding the potential for dependence and addiction when using codeine for pain management, particularly over prolonged durations or at high doses.

This article serves as a general overview of codeine and its prescribing status, but it is crucial for readers to consult with healthcare professionals for personalized advice and recommendations tailored to their specific healthcare needs. Additionally, individuals should adhere to regulatory guidelines and laws governing the purchase and use of codeine-containing medications in their respective jurisdictions.

While codeine can offer effective relief for certain types of pain and cough symptoms, its status as a prescription-only medication reflects the importance of balancing access to pain relief with measures to mitigate the risks of misuse and adverse effects. Responsible prescribing practices, patient education, and regulatory oversight are essential components of safeguarding public health in the context of opioid medications like codeine.

Is Codeine Over the Counter (OTC)?

In the United States, drugs with codeine in them are available only by prescription because codeine is a controlled substance and very addictive. The regulations in the United States have gotten strict on medication that contains Codeine due to the increase in addiction. However, in the United Kingdom and some other parts of Europe, Codeine can be purchased in low doses over the counter from a pharmacy. The codeine comes mixed with Paracetamol (Co-Codamol), with aspirin (Co-Codaprin), or with ibuprofen (Nurofen Plus). You can also buy Codeine from a pharmacy as a syrup (linctus) to treat dry cough.

Warning labels will tell you that Codeine is habit-forming. From our experience, Codeine is highly addictive, and individuals dependent on the drug have a hard time putting it away for good on their own. If you or anyone in your family have ever had issues with alcohol or addiction, have used street drugs, have ever overused any prescription medications, or if you have ever suffered from depression or any other mental illness, especially untreated mental illness, there is a greater risk that you will misuse codeine.

Codeine Abuse WILL Cause Withdrawal Symptoms

If you are in the United Kingdom or anywhere that you can purchase Codeine over the counter, we highly advise that you speak with a pharmacist about the symptoms you are experiencing before purchasing Codeine or any related products.

If you have been prescribed or have purchased Codeine or any related products over the counter for pain or a cough, and you believe you may be dependent or addicted to it, you may experience some withdrawal symptoms. Withdrawal symptoms may come in two phases. The early phase occurs within a few hours of your last dose, and other symptoms may occur later as your body readjusts to working without codeine.

Early Symptoms of Codeine Withdrawal

  • Feeling irritable or anxious
  • Trouble sleeping
  • Teary eyes
  • Runny nose
  • Sweating
  • Yawning
  • Muscle aches
  • Faster heartbeat

Late Symptoms of Codeine Withdrawal

  • Loss of appetite
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Stomach cramps
  • Diarrhea
  • Enlarged pupils
  • Chills or goosebumps

Treatment for Codeine Addiction

Withdrawal symptoms can last for a week or may persist for up to months  (as Post-Acute Withdrawal Syndrome) after you stop taking Codeine recreationally. If you or someone you love is addicted to Codeine, please contact one of our Recreate Life Counseling addiction specialists. Health professionals are available to talk to you confidentially, 24 hours a day and 7 days a week. Let Recreate Life Counseling get you the help you deserve and primary care intervention today for a full recovery from Codeine dependency.


  • Can You Buy Codeine Over the Counter?

Published on: 2020-07-17
Updated on: 2024-04-23