Objectives Global concern around over the counter availability of codeine containing products and risk of misuse, dependence and related harms are evident. A phenomenological study of lived experiences of codeine misuse and dependence was undertaken in Ireland, following the Pharmaceutical Society of Ireland's 2010 guidelines for restricted supply of non-prescription codeine containing products.Methods In-depth interviews were conducted with a purposive sample of adult codeine misusers and dependents (n=21), both actively using, in treatment and in recovery. The narratives were analysed using the Empirical Phenomenological Psychological five-step method (Karlsson, 1995). A total of 10 themes with 82 categories were identified. Two concepts at a higher level of abstraction above the theme-level emerged during the final stage of analysis. The concepts identified were 'emotional pain and user self-legitimization of use' and 'entrapment into habit-forming and invisible dependent use'. These concepts were reported in different ways by a majority of participants.Results Findings are presented under the following themes: (1) profile and product preferences; (2) awareness of habit forming use and harm; (3) negotiating pharmacy sales; (4) alternative sourcing routes; (5) the codeine feeling; (6) the daily routine; (7) acute and chronic side effects; (8) social isolation; (9) withdrawal and dependence and (10) help-seeking and treatment experiences.Conclusions There is a public health and regulatory imperative to develop proactive responses tackling public availability of codeine containing medicines, risk minimisation in consumer self-treatment for pain, enhanced patient awareness of potential for habit forming use and its consequences and continued health professional pharmacovigilence.