And it’s likely to cause them some very serious health problems.
It’s mums under 45 who are getting hooked, more and more often. And it all starts so innocently.
Suffering chronic pain from something like migraines or endometriosis, these women go to the chemist and get over-the-counter painkillers. But if they start increasing the dose, they find that the codeine does more than ease their physical pain.
“Once you start to take the dosage outside of the recommended number of tablets per day, you get a sort of sense of wellbeing,” Brisbane addiction specialist Dr Christian Rowan tells iVillage Australia. “So it’s not only giving them pain relief, but it’s giving emotional relief as well.”
Dr Rowan says mums under 45 are a vulnerable demographic, because they often have relationship stresses, financial worries or post-natal depression, as well as the chronic pain they’ve been living with.
The problem is, if they want to keep getting that sense of wellbeing, or euphoria, they have to take more and more painkillers to get the same effect. Dr Rowan says he’s seen women who are swallowing anything up to 80 or 90 tablets a day.
“People do think that if anything is not on prescription and it’s over-the-counter, there’s a greater level of safety there,” he points out.
But they’re wrong, and the warnings on packets of painkillers make that clear.
Depending on whether the tablets also contain paracetemol or an anti-inflammatory, overdosing can cause liver damage, stomach ulceration or kidney problems. The damage can be done in a matter of weeks.
Because most of these women don't see themselves as addicts, they don't tend to seek treatment. Often, it's only when they go to the doctor because of the health problems caused by overdosing that their codeine addiction comes out. That's when women who might never have had tried any illegal drugs in their life could find themselves on methadone.