Josh Chandler | November 20, 2023

Codeine vs. Hydrocodone: Differences and Similarities

Opioid pain relievers have been around for years and while they offer unprecedented pain management for severe pain disorders, the recent opioid epidemic has created a need for understanding the unique impacts of each opioid and learning how to use them safely. While prescription opioids strive to alleviate symptoms of pain, there are differences and similarities to prescribed opioids such as Codeine and Hydrocodone. Understanding the differences and the implications of each medication provides you with the necessary information to make an informed decision about what type of prescription opioid is best for you should you require pain management. 


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Introduction to Opioid Pain Relievers

Opioid pain relievers have done wonders in the medical world for providing patients with severe pain disorders comfort and relief from their debilitating symptoms. Each pain condition will impact a person differently and the types of treatments with opioid pain relievers can offer different levels of pain control and management. Before starting an opioid pain reliever, it’s important to explore and understand the similarities and differences between specific opioids to make an informed decision on the appropriate medical treatment route. In this article, you’ll learn more about the unique differences and similarities between Codeine and Hydrocodone which will give you the knowledge and understanding to differentiate between the two to make an informed decision about the best opioid pain reliever for you. 

The Basics: What is Codeine?

Codeine is a prescription opioid that is derived from the opium poppy and is a naturally occurring alkaloid. The use of codeine dates back to ancient civilizations and there has been great work completed in the medical field to develop this pain agent into the effective opioid analgesic it is now. This opioid medication is known to be effective but is less potent than morphine as Codeine is often prescribed to patients who are experiencing mild to moderate pain. Codeine has been demonstrated to be an effective measure in relieving cough and cold symptoms which is why it is a valued component within some cold and flu medications.  

When you take codeine, it works by binding to the brain’s opioid receptors and then works to mimic the body’s natural pain-relieving chemicals. Codeine works by altering a person’s perception of pain without eliminating the sensation which avoids the “numbing effect” of some opioids. Codeine can be taken in various formulations including tablets, syrups, and injections providing patients with flexible administration methods that all offer fast-acting pain relief. 

What is Hydrocodone?

what is codeine

Hydrocodone is another effective form of pain reliever that is a semi-synthetic opioid which is derived from codeine. Hydrocodone was created to address the limitations that codeine exhibited by increasing the potency to similar strengths as morphine to address severe levels of pain. In most cases, hydrocodone is prescribed in conjunction with other pain medications such as ibuprofen and acetaminophen that help to enhance the effectiveness and provide fast-acting results for moderate to severe pain. 

Hydrocodone has similar functions as codeine in how it works within your body. When you consume hydrocodone, it works by binding to the brain’s opioid receptors to alter a person’s perception of pain. The semi-synthetic compound offers precise control over formulation and dosage that helps to increase its efficacy. Due to the precision of dosage and control, hydrocodone is a go-to option for medical professionals who are seeking individualized pain regimes for patients who have specific pain treatment needs. 

Key Differences and Similarities: Codeine vs. Hydrocodone

When you’re evaluating the use of codeine and hydrocodone for pain management, there are key findings for similarities and differences to consider when exploring the right route for pain management for you. 

The similarities between codeine and hydrocodone are: 

  • Both are opioid pain relievers 
  • Both codeine and hydrocodone are considered to be controlled substances 
  • Codeine and hydrocodone are both prescribed for pain 
  • Each medication works by acting on the brain’s opioid receptors to give an individual an altered perception of pain 
  • When consumed, both opioid pain relievers are broken down by the kidneys 
  • Each medication has an FDA warning advising of the risks of overdoses and informing users to avoid the use of benzodiazepines while taking codeine or hydrocodone 
  • Codeine and hydrocodone produce similar side effects such as constipation, nausea, and sedation 

The differences between codeine and hydrocodone are: 

  • Codeine is a naturally occurring opioid, whereas, hydrocodone is a semi-synthetic opioid 
  • Codeine is a mild form of opioid that is used to treat mild to moderate pain. Codeine has a weaker potency than morphine and is commonly found in other medications including acetaminophen and ibuprofen. 
  • Hydrocodone has a potency level the same as morphine for pain management.
  • Codeine is often prescribed as a cough suppressant or mild pain relief whereas hydrocodone is used to treat severe pain conditions. 
  • Codeine has a variable controlled substance status depending on what it is mixed with, whereas hydrocodone is a schedule II controlled substance that has a high risk for dependence, abuse, and addiction. 


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Beyond Medicinal Use: Illicit Consumption and Risks

When used as directed by medical professionals, codeine and hydrocodone are effective methods of pain relief. However, there is a risk of misuse and addiction to these substances. When someone engages in illicit consumption of these opioid medications there are significant risks to a person’s mental and physical health. In most cases of substance use disorders, it is important to remember that there are underlying causes for someone’s addictive behaviors that need to be considered when planning or developing prevention strategies. 

When using these medications outside of the prescribed parameters, individuals are at a higher risk for experiencing severe respiratory depression, overdose, and, in some severe cases, death. The increasing concern of opioid-related overdoses has become prevalent across the United States and it is important to focus on providing education, awareness, and harm reduction practices to those experiencing opioid dependency to mitigate the risks associated with opioid abuse. 

Opioid Addiction and Its Realities

Opioid addiction has become a staggering concern among Americans across the nation. The fact is that opioid addiction has the potential to impact anyone’s life and the risk of developing a dependency and substance use disorder are high for anyone using opioids whether prescribed or used illicitly. Several factors can contribute to opioid addiction including genetic predisposition, mental health concerns, and environmental factors. To provide effective preventative and intervention strategies, it’s important to consider the root causes of someone’s addictive behaviors and provide coping and healing strategies to overcome those underlying contributing factors. There is hope to overcome opioid addiction and with the right treatment methods, individuals can safely overcome physical dependency and gain the necessary skills to maintain long-lasting addiction recovery. 

Seeking Treatment: Resurgence’s Approach to Opioid Addiction

At Resurgence Behavioral Health, we strive to provide our patients with individualized care through personalized treatment plans that factor in your unique needs and goals for addiction recovery. Healing from the impacts of substance use disorders requires a comprehensive treatment plan that includes a variety of medical treatments, evidence-based treatment methods, relapse prevention planning, and life skills development that ensure you complete your treatment program equipped with the necessary skills to overcome potential triggers and maintain long-term sobriety. Patients are offered a full continuum of care including medical detox, inpatient residential addiction treatment Los Angeles, outpatient treatment approaches, and aftercare programs that provide patients with long term support throughout their recovery journey. Call our admission team today to have any of your questions answered and take the first steps towards your recovery journey now. 

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Josh Chandler
Josh Chandler
After growing up in Chicago and North Carolina, Josh chose to get help with substance use disorder and mental health in California because of the state's reputation for top-tier treatment. There, he found the treatment he needed to achieve more than five years of recovery. He's been in the drug and alcohol addiction rehab industry for four years and now serves as the Director of Admissions for Resurgence Behavioral Health. Josh remains passionate about the field because he understands that one phone call can alter the course of a person's life.
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