“Lean” and the Effects of Codeine Abuse

Codeine is a common prescription pain reliever that sometimes comes in tablet form but is often the first ingredient in prescription liquid cough medication.  Although less potent, codeine is an opiate that is chemically similar to oxycodone, heroin, and morphine. Many people develop a codeine dependence after receiving a prescription for the drug and quickly developing a tolerance, while others begin abusing liquid codeine recreationally as a party drug called lean.  Codeine can cause drowsiness, euphoria, and apathy, but may also lead to several serious health conditions and addiction. Understanding the signs and symptoms of codeine addiction can help users and their loved ones identify when to seek professional treatment.

What is Lean?

Young people often encounter codeine for the first time in the form of a drink called lean.  This concoction, sometimes called Sizzurp, Purple Drank, or Dirty Sprite, is made by mixing codeine with soda and hard candy, and sipping on it slowly as you would an alcoholic mixed drink.  This invention has been used as a party drug since the 1980s and more recently has been popularized by some hip-hop artists and singers. Justin Bieber was arrested in 2013 for a DUI, allegedly under the influence of the codeine-laced drink.  Rapper Pimp C died of cough syrup overdose in 2008, and rapper Lil Wayne was hospitalized for seizures related to lean use in 2013. Several celebrities have since spoken out about the drug, including rapper Bow Wow who opened up about his lean addiction to his fans and advised them to avoid drugs entirely.  However, despite a great deal of tragedy in association with lean use, the drink continues to be referenced in music and remains popular with teens and young adults.

How Dangerous is Lean?

In addition to being highly addictive and easily accessible, lean also poses a serious threat to the user’s mental and physical health.  Opioids are naturally found in the body and play a crucial role in the brain’s reward system. Opioid receptors are stimulated when we engage in activities that provide us pleasure, and over time this process causes us to crave and seek out these repetitive behaviors.  This process is a result of evolutionary survival instincts and helps us learn to seek out healthy behaviors such as eating nourishing food and staying active. However, artificial opioid abuse, in the form of drugs derived from opium, results in the body producing increasingly fewer natural opioids.  Eventually, the user becomes entirely reliant on drugs to supply their brain with enough opioids to feel good, or even just normal. Physical effects of codeine abuse in the form of lean include slowed heart rate, slowed breathing, dizziness, dental decay, weight gain, and impaired vision. People that abuse lean may also suffer from memory loss and hallucinations.  Lean overdose has led people to stop breathing entirely, resulting in oxygen being cut off from the brain. This can cause seizures, coma, and death.   

Because codeine is often prescribed as a cough syrup, it is not always recognized for its full destructive potential.  Many young people begin abusing codeine in the form of lean at parties or in place of alcohol and believe that there will be no lasting effects once the high has worn off.  However, addiction to lean is insidious and quick to develop and has proven to be a gateway drug to morphine and heroin use. Because of the rapid onset of tolerance, many users begin seeking out more potent drugs to provide their bodies with the opioids they are now lacking due to abuse. 

What is Codeine Withdrawal?

For those that have become addicted to codeine, in the form of lean or otherwise, quitting is likely to lead to some form of withdrawal.  Withdrawal from any addictive substance is the body and brain attempting to find balance again without the use of the drug. The process can range from mild to severe, depending on several factors.  Severe withdrawal can be extremely painful, and without professional treatment during this time, many users will relapse to drug abuse. Symptoms may include headaches, body aches, insomnia, vomiting, diarrhea, and severe depression.  Some symptoms of withdrawal, such as dehydration, can be dangerous or even life-threatening if left untreated.  

For those struggling with addiction to codeine or lean, the best and safest method of recovery involves medical detox and a professional addiction recovery program.  Medically supervised detox can prevent any serious repercussions of withdrawal, and may also provide you with medications that can ease your discomfort. The psychological effects of codeine abuse and the subsequent withdrawal can last for months after quitting, so it is important to have a team of therapists and addiction experts in your corner when rebuilding your mental health. 

If you believe you or someone you love is struggling with an addiction to codeine or lean, now is the time to reach out for help.  At Burning Tree West, you will find a team of compassionate, knowledgeable professionals who specialize in helping young adults struggling with addiction and their families.  Here, our clients tackle their addictions head-on and harness the power to restructure their lives in a way that fosters lasting sobriety. We believe that practicing recovery doesn’t have to mean an end to educational or career goals, but instead can become a fundamental part of a successful and fulfilling life.  For more information on how we can help, call us now at 888-530-9424.