Overview of Morphine Use and Abuse
- Morphine is a painkiller used during medical procedures and for acute and chronic pain management.
- Its effects include decreased pain, euphoria and relaxation.
- The drug is habit-forming, and people can develop a dependence on it even if they take it as prescribed by a doctor.
- Withdrawal symptoms include stomach cramps, diarrhea, irritability, high blood pressure and muscle aches.
- Morphine abuse can lead to tolerance to the drug, which can cause users to take higher doses to achieve the same effects. This increases their chance of overdose.
- Overdose symptoms include constricted pupils, cold and clammy skin, loss of muscle strength, confusion, low blood pressure and cardiac arrest.
What Is Morphine?
Morphine is a pain medication that belongs to the opiate drug class and is considered a narcotic. First extracted in the 19th century, morphine originates from the opium plant. It was first used as a painkiller for soldiers during the American Civil War.1
Morphine can be used for both acute and chronic symptoms of pain, though long-term use must be closely monitored because of the high risk for abuse and dependency. It is most commonly used to manage symptoms of pain following a myocardial infarction (i.e., heart attack) or during medical procedures.
How It Affects the Brain
Morphine has widespread effects on the opioid mu-receptors in the central nervous system, as well as on smooth muscle tissue typically found in the gastrointestinal tract.2Moreover, evidence suggests that morphine increases the brain’s tolerance to pain, while still maintaining awareness of pain sensations.1, 2
- White Stuff.
- Auntie M.
How Is It Used?
Morphine is available in tablet or liquid solution forms. People who abuse morphine generally take the tablets orally or inject the solution directly into their bloodstream. Some people will crush the tablets and snort them for a more potent high.With continued use, people develop a tolerance to the effects of the drug and begin to need increasing amounts to both achieve the desired high and prevent the onset of unpleasant withdrawal symptoms.
Treatment Options and How to Pay for Recovery
Recovery options for people with morphine addiction include 12-step programs, inpatient or outpatient.
- 12-step programs. These are free programs that are open to anyone who wants to stop abusing morphine. You work through a program of steps of recovery with a sponsor and support other people struggling with drug or alcohol abuse. Narcotics Anonymous focuses on drugs such as morphine.
- Inpatient recovery centers. These types of programs get you out of your using habits and environment and into an atmosphere of recovery. You work with a trained staff on uncovering the causes of your addiction and receive support and regular medical supervision.
- Outpatient recovery centers. Outpatient treatment involves visiting a treatment facility a certain number of times a week for group or individual therapy.
Finding a Rehab Program
Some people find it helpful to research a few recovery morphine options before beginning a program.
You can think through whether you want to travel away from home, how much you’re willing to pay and which kind of program suits your life situation.
Paying for Treatment
A morphine addiction treatment program will vary depending on:
- The program’s length or how long you stay.
- Whether it has luxury amenities such as spa treatments, horseback riding or fine dining.
- Whether the program is inpatient or outpatient.
- What your insurance covers or how you choose to pay for treatment.
- The program’s location.
Whether you have insurance or not, you can still find a rehabilitation center that will help you overcome your addiction to morphine.
- Verify your insurance coverage. Call to find out what your insurance will cover and learn more about your treatment options.
- Find rehab programs if you don’t have insurance. Call the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration’s toll-free helpline for more information and referrals to programs that help people without insurance.
The short-term effects of morphine include:
- Decreased pain.
- Cough suppression.
The side effects of morphine include:
- Irritability or agitation.
- Abdominal pain.
- Nausea and vomiting.
- Difficulty sleeping.
- Loss of memory.
- Heart failure.
- Circulatory collapse.
- Muscle tremors or seizures.
- Pupil constriction.
- Vision problems.
- Hives, rash or itching.
- Decreased heart and breathing rate.
- High or low blood pressure.
- Loss of consciousness.
Some of the most common long-term effects of continued misuse of morphine include:
- Tolerance and dependence/addiction.
- Disregarding work and school responsibilities.
- Problems with interpersonal relationships.
- Mental health problems.
- Serious physical health problems, particularly if the drug is injected: HIV/AIDS, hepatitis, collapsed veins and blood and skin infections.
Long-term use of morphine can also lead to respiratory distress because the drug slows down the respiratory and central nervous systems.
Signs and Symptoms of Addiction
An ongoing addiction to morphine can deeply impact a number of factors that contribute to overall quality of life. Some of the most common signs of morphine addiction include:
- Difficulty at work or school.
- Increase in physical problems (such as headaches, nausea, chest pain, irregular heartbeat).
- Mood changes.
- Erratic behavior.
- Losing interest in almost all usual activities.
- Difficulties with relationships.
- Excessive interest in the substance.
- Withdrawal symptoms when use of the substance stops.4
- Using morphine in a way that was not prescribed (e.g., crushing pills for nasal or IV use).
- Visiting multiple health care professionals for prescriptions.
How Addictive Is Morphine?
People can become addicted to morphine even if they take their dose exactly as prescribed.
People can develop a physical dependency on morphine, even if they take their dose exactly as prescribed by their doctor.
Taking more than the prescribed dose of morphine greatly increases one’s risk of developing dependence. As tolerance mounts, and morphine abuse continues untreated, the user is at serious risk of developing a dangerous and potentially life-threatening addiction.
Compared to other types of substance abuse, morphine addiction appears to be quite difficult to manage. Morphine users experience greater relapse rates than individuals in treatment for other types of drug abuse.3
Withdrawal symptoms can emerge within 36 hours of not taking morphine, and peak at around 36 to 72 hours.
- Stomach cramps.
- High blood pressure.
- Muscle aches.
- Runny nose.
- Dilated pupils.
- Tearing eyes.
Overdose can occur with morphine, resulting in a profound depression of the central nervous system and a slowing down of the respiratory system. If you or someone you know may be suffering from morphine overdose, call 911 immediately or visit the local emergency room.
- Constricted pupils.
- Cold and clammy skin.
- Atonia, or marked loss of muscle strength.
- Low blood pressure.
- Cardiac arrest.
- Circulatory collapse.
- Shallow / slowed breathing.
- Vertigo (dizziness).
- Syncope (fainting).
Increased Risk With Tolerance
Over time, morphine abuse can lead to very high levels of tolerance. This means that the person requires higher doses of the drug to feel the effects. At the same time, the dangerous effects of the drug on the body, such as slowed breathing, may occur at lower doses. This phenomenon can drastically increase the person’s risk for overdose.
How Many People Abuse It?
According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, in 2014 more than 20% of adults over the age of 26 were reported to have abused a prescription medication such as morphine at some point in their lifetime.5
Findings from this same study suggest that prescription drug use is highest between 18 and 25 years of age.
Find Treatment for Morphine Addiction
No one should have to battle addiction alone. Morphine is a very addictive and dangerous drug that, if left untreated, could be fatal.
. Kilpatrick GJ, Smith TW. Morphine-6-glucuronide: Actions and mechanisms. 2005;25:521-544.
. Trescot AM, Datta S, Lee M, Hansen H. Opioid pharmacology. 2008;11:S133-53.
. Novak B, Hudlicky T, Reed J, Mulzer J, Trauner D. Morphine synthesis and biosynthesis: An update. 2000; 4:343-362.
. American Psychiatric Association. Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 5th ed. Arlington, VA American Psychiatric Publishing, 2013.