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Morphine Abuse, Addiction, And Treatment Options

Isaac Alexis, M.D., AAMA, AMP-BC

Medically reviewed by

Isaac Alexis, M.D., AAMA, AMP-BC

March 27, 2019

Morphine is an extremely potent opioid painkiller used to relieve intense, otherwise unmanageable pain. This opioid has a high risk for abuse and addiction and suggested for use when other pain medications have failed.

What Is Morphine?

Morphine is an opioid from the liquid of poppy plant. Like other opioids (like Vicodin or heroin), morphine has a high risk for dependence and addiction, and should only be taken as prescribed for as short of a period of time as possible.

Morphine is actually derived from heroin but modified so it is not absorbed as quickly as heroin. Morphine converts back into heroin once absorbed in the body. The reason for this modification is an attempt to decrease the euphoric rush of heroin in hopes to decrease the likelihood of abuse.

Morphine is described as a central nervous system (CNS) depressant. Other drugs included in this category are benzodiazepines, alcohol, and barbiturates. These drugs slow system function in the body, and can cause severe health problems if taken for too long or in excess at one time.

Morphine attaches to opioid receptors in the brain, changing the way the body feels pain. This attachment also overstimulates the pleasure centers in the brain, leading to intense euphoria and relaxation, which are precursors for abuse, dependence, and addiction.

Opioid use has been declining over the last decade, however, more than 191 million opioid prescriptions (including morphine) were written in 2017. This is a significant decrease from 2012 when more than 255 million opioid prescriptions were distributed.

Morphine relieves crippling pain associated with cancer, post-operative pain, and to control pain during childbirth. While the standard in treating severe pain, morphine also has been quite successful in managing chronic pain. However, the extreme risk of abuse, dependence, and addiction keep morphine as a last resort for chronic pain medication.

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Morphine Abuse

Abusing morphine refers to taking the drug in a manner other than what it has been prescribed. Doubling doses, taking it early, crushing and snorting, or injecting are all ways a person can abuse morphine. Once a person begins abusing morphine, it is a small step toward dependence and addiction.

Abusing morphine allows the person to experience their world in a completely altered state. They can remove themselves from the stress and worry of life, and replace it with this intense euphoric feeling that feels warm, comfortable, and completely stress-free.

When a person is abusing morphine, they may experience side effects that include:

  • extreme sedation
  • constipation
  • low sex drive
  • mood swings
  • headaches
  • decreased breathing
  • low heart rate
  • dry mouth
  • fatigue
  • anxiety

Side effects of morphine can happen even after the first use, especially if a person is taking an amount that is higher than what has been prescribed, or if they are using it illegally. There are severe side effects of morphine use that require immediate medical attention and should not be ignored.

If a person suspected of abusing morphine displays the following, contact emergency medical services:

  • chest pain
  • seizures
  • fainting
  • hallucinations
  • swelling
  • breathing issues
  • drop in heart rate

A person who is abusing morphine by injecting the drug is at an increased risk for diseases like HIV, hepatitis B and C, and infections at the injections sites. This is due to using dirty needles and sharing needles.

Morphine Addiction

Long-term morphine use often leads to dependence on the drug. This means that the body has become so used to having the morphine that it no longer feels normal without it. Additionally, the body will also experience withdrawal symptoms if the person runs out of morphine.

Addiction can also develop as a result of long-term morphine abuse. The person will experience compulsions and cravings to use morphine, and continued use even when there are negative consequences. Addiction causes changes in brain patterns and structures that are difficult to modify, especially without some form of treatment.

A person struggling with addiction is likely to experience relationship problems as well as issues with work, school, and other daily responsibilities. In addition, the following problems may occur with morphine addiction:

  • increase in illegal or immoral behaviors to obtain morphine
  • inability to regulate or control stress
  • malnutrition
  • increased risk of developing mental health issues
  • decreased level of enjoyment for activities previously enjoyed
  • abandoning prior relationships for relationships that accept substance abuse
  • increase in impulsive behaviors and risk taking
  • finding and using morphine become more important than other activities
  • higher risk for morphine overdose

Morphine Overdose

Taking too much morphine can overwhelm the system and result in an overdose. As a CNS depressant, morphine can severely depress both respiratory and circulatory systems. When a person overdoses on morphine or mixes morphine with other drugs, these systems can stop entirely and be fatal.

It may be a shock to learn that surprisingly low doses of morphine can result in overdose. If someone has not developed a tolerance for morphine, they can overdose on about 60mg of morphine. A person who is morphine-dependent may overdose on as little as 200mg, or less if the person is also taking other substances. An average dose of morphine is 30mg every 4 hours.

Symptoms of a morphine overdose include:

  • comatose behavior
  • slow response time
  • overall inability to function
  • constricted pupils (tiny) that do not respond to light
  • severely depressed breathing
  • bluish-tint pale skin
  • itching
  • nausea
  • vomiting
  • confusion
  • inability to speak
  • stroke
  • coma
  • unconsciousness

When a person begins experiencing these symptoms, it is important to contact emergency personnel without delay. Opioid overdose requires administration of a drug called naloxone, which reverses an opioid overdose. Always make sure to communicate to first responders that you believe the person is having an opioid overdose, it can help save a life.

Morphine Withdrawal

Once a person develops morphine dependence or addiction, they will experience symptoms of withdrawal if they attempt to stop taking morphine. The initial symptoms have been compared to extreme and intense flu-like symptoms, and range from uncomfortable to borderline unbearable.

The psychological symptoms referred to as post-acute withdrawal symptoms (PAWS) can last for up to several months, depending on the length of use and amount taken. In addition to the intense cravings, people may experience anxiety, anhedonia, insomnia, mood swings, depression, and problems concentrating.

People are encouraged to seek out a medically supervised detoxification program to help manage withdrawal symptoms. Once the physical withdrawal symptoms are treated, addressing the psychological signs of addiction can help start the journey towards a morphine free life.

Morphine Abuse Treatment Options

When seeking treatment for a morphine dependence or addiction, it is important to find a substance abuse treatment facility that is approved to help treat opioid use disorder. These types of programs are approved and certified to provide a specific standard of care, determined to be most effective in treating opioid use disorders.

During this initial phase, treatment plans are developed and continually modified throughout treatment to ensure that the person is receiving the most appropriate and effective intervention methods available.

Substance abuse treatment for morphine addiction can help a person achieve sobriety in a comfortable, enriching environment while addressing the underlying issues of addiction. Contact us today so we can help find a substance abuse program that meets the needs of you or your loved one.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention - U.S. Opioid Prescribing Rate Maps

International Narcotics Control Board - 2017 Annual Report

Food and Drug Administration - Morphine

Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration - Certification of Opioid Treatment Programs (OTPs)

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