What is dihydrocodeine?

Updated July 19, 2017

Dihydrocodeine is a semi-synthetic opioid painkiller developed in the 1900s that is used to treat pain, severe shortness of breath and cough. Also called DHC, Drocode, Paracodeine and Parzone, dihydrocodeine is similar in chemical structure to codeine. It is a Class B drug in the United Kingdom.

Medical Uses

Dihydrocodeine relieves pain by imitating the body's natural endorphins to bind with opioid receptors in the central nervous system, blocking the transmission of pain signals to the brain.

In pain medications, dihydrocodeine is often used in combination with other pain relievers such as aspirin, paracetamol, and ibuprofen. Cough suppressants and respiratory medications may contain dihydrocodeine along with active ingredients such as antihistamines and decongestants.

Take dihydrocodeine exactly as prescribed by your doctor, and do not exceed recommended dosages.

Other uses

Dihydrocodeine is sometimes used as a treatment to combat diarrhoea and Irritable Bowel Syndrome, though other treatments that stay contained in the bowels and produce fewer side effects are preferred.

Side Effects

Repeated and prolonged use of dihydrocodeine may cause the body to develop a tolerance to the drug, rendering it less effective in the treatment of pain. This may result in physical and psychological dependency, causing withdrawal symptoms such as restlessness and irritability. It can also cause drowsiness, and if affected, do not drive or operate heavy machinery.

Other possible side effects include itching, flushing, constipation, nausea and vomiting, loss of appetite, reduced respiratory rate, dry mouth, allergic reaction, reduced libido, sweating, confusion, blurred vision, and hallucinations. Side effects range in severity from mild to extreme and will vary depending on the individual and the dosage.

Recreational Use

Like other opioids, dihydrocodeine in high doses may induce a relaxing and euphoric high, making it a common recreational drug. Users taking increased and prolonged doses of opioids are more likely to experience dangerous side effects.


Dihydrocodeine is a controlled substance in the United Kingdom. Possession without a prescription is illegal, although small amounts and medicines which contain dihydrocodeine are exempt.

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About the Author

Caroline Huber has been writing since 2009. She was an intern as an Editors Weblog journalist at the World Association of Newspapers in Paris, where she reported on the shifting media landscape and the future of journalism. She also worked as a writing teaching assistant at Wellesley College. Huber holds a Bachelor of Arts in art history from Wellesley College.