Morphine Abuse & Addiction
What is morphine? It is one of the first pain-relieving drugs isolated from opium and has been used in clinical settings since its development in the 19th century. Morphine is an opioid; opioids are naturally occurring, plant-based compounds that are frequently used as pain killers in medical practice, but they have a high risk of abuse due to their pleasurable effects.1
People who abuse morphine or use it long-term are at risk of developing dependence, tolerance, and addiction.
Although morphine addiction can be challenging, proper treatment can help you or your loved one become clean and sober and start the road to a healthier and happier life
What Does Morphine Do?
Morphine is used to treat severe acute and chronic pain. People who want to know what does morphine do often wonder is morphine an opiate? As a member of the opiate family of drugs, which are drugs derived from opium, morphine can cause euphoria due to its effects on the opioid receptors in the central and peripheral nervous systems and therefore has a high potential for abuse. People who use morphine recreationally may inject it, use it as an oral solution, or as tablets, capsules, and suppositories. Street names for morphine include Dreamer, Emsel, First Line, God’s Drug, and Mister Blue.2
Who is at Risk for Morphine Addiction?
Morphine is a very effective medication that is mainly prescribed for managing pain, such as the pain experienced with cancer, in palliative care, and vaso-occlusive pain during a sickle cell anemia crisis. It is also used off-label for a wide range of other conditions that cause chronic pain, such as arthritis, abdominal pain, and headaches, when people do not respond to other types of pain killers.3
Like other opioids, morphine can be addictive, especially when used on a long-term basis. People who use the drug may have a risk of developing tolerance, which means that they need more of the drug to experience previous effects, or dependence, which means that their bodies have adapted to the presence of the drug and they need it to feel normal. For people with chronic pain conditions, this is a particular concern, as their pain may fail to be alleviated without escalating doses and they may be unable to experience pain relief with other types of drugs.4
Can You Become Addicted to Morphine After One Use?
Tolerance and dependence can lead to addiction, which is a chronic, relapsing brain disease where people continue to use a substance despite the negative consequences. Can you get addicted to morphine after one use? The answer in most cases is no, as you need repeated administration of a drug for your body to develop tolerance and dependence. You may feel like you want to repeat the euphoric or pain-relieving effects, however, and this is a risk for addiction. But generally speaking, if you take an opioid medication for a couple of days, you probably will not develop an addiction.5
What Are the Side Effects of Morphine Use?
Like other substances, morphine can have short- and long-term effects that can range in severity from mild to severe. It is important to follow your doctor’s prescribed schedule for taking the medication; don’t increase your dosage without medical advice to minimize negative side effects and reduce the risk of addiction or other serious problems. You should also not stop taking the medication without medical supervision as you may suffer from withdrawal symptoms.6
Short-Term Effects of Morphine
What does morphine feel like? With the current opioid epidemic, many people want to know how morphine will make them feel, and they may worry about morphine’s potential for abuse and addiction. While reactions can vary from person to person and can also depend on your dose, the most common short-term effects of morphine include:7
- Pain relief.
- A sense of well-being and contentment, or euphoria.
These pleasurable side effects can also increase morphine’s potential for abuse. People can easily become hooked on the feelings of euphoria and pain relief that subside once they stop using the drug. This can reinforce the cycle of abuse: if you stop using, you no longer experience euphoria, and if you stop using after a longer period of use, you can also experience unpleasant withdrawal symptoms that can lead to relapse.
In addition to these effects, you may also experience unpleasant or even life-threatening short-term effects of morphine, especially if you use more than intended. These effects can include:6
- Slowed breathing, a symptom of central nervous system depression.
Slowed breathing can lead to hypoxia, a condition where your brain does not get enough oxygen. This can result in permanent brain damage or death, so it is important to seek immediate medical attention if you experience this symptom.8
How Long Does Morphine Last?
This depends on the type of morphine you take. The effects of immediate-release morphine may last only 4-6 hours but begin almost right away, while delayed-release morphine can last 8-12 hours but can take longer to set in.9
Depending on the type of pain you have, your doctor may prescribe a combination of immediate- and delayed-release morphine for maximal pain relief.10
Morphine and Alcohol
Mixing substances is never a wise idea. Mixing alcohol and morphine should be avoided because they can increase the risk of serious breathing difficulties or other potentially lethal effects.
If you take a form of delayed-release morphine known by the brand name Avinza, you should be aware that drinking alcohol while using the drug can cause morphine to be released too fast into your bloodstream, which can cause life-threatening side effects or even death.6
Side Effects of Long-Term Morphine Use
If used chronically and in high doses, you may experience a number of physical and mental side effects of long-term morphine use, including:11
- Constipation. This can be such a severe effect of long-term opioid use that some people stop using these drugs altogether. Cases of bowel obstruction resulting in hospitalization or death have been reported.
- Sleep disturbances. This can include sleep-disordered breathing problems such as sleep apnea, ataxic (irregular) breathing, hypoxemia (low oxygen levels in your blood), and carbon dioxide retention.
- Respiratory depression. This is a life-threatening condition that is a particular risk with high-dose morphine use and overdose. This means that your breathing stops or becomes dangerously slow.
- Cardiovascular problems. One study that compared the use of opioids with NSAIDs (such as ibuprofen) and selective cyclooxygenase-2 inhibitors in people with arthritis found that those who used opioids had a 77% higher risk of cardiovascular events such as heart attack or heart failure.
- Depression. People who use opioids have a higher risk of clinical depression.
- Dizziness and sedation. This is a particular risk in the elderly, who may suffer more severe consequences from falls and fractures.
- Addiction and misuse. People who use morphine on a long-term basis have a much higher risk of addiction and abuse; opioid misuse is reported in 25% of patients who are prescribed opioids in the U.S. and Canada.
Overdosing on Morphine
Increasing numbers of people are dying due to overdose associated with long-term opioid use. Signs of morphine overdose can include:6
- Shallow, slow, or irregular breathing.
- Cold or clammy skin.
- Loss of consciousness.
- Limp muscles.
- Pinpoint pupils.
- Slowed heartbeat.
- Blurry vision.
If you or someone you love is experiencing an overdose you should call 911 immediately to access your local first responders.
Signs of Morphine Addiction
People who develop an addiction have what is known as a substance use disorder and are no longer able to control their substance use. Some of the physical and behavioral signs of addiction include the following:
Physical Signs of Morphine Addiction
Some of the physical signs of morphine addiction include:13 signs
- Poor coordination.
- Slow or shallow breathing.
- Slurred speech.
- Sleeping more than normal.
- Physical agitation.
- Withdrawal, a set of unpleasant and dangerous symptoms that can occur when you try to stop using.
Behavioral Signs of Morphine Addiction12
- Taking morphine in higher doses or for longer times than you originally intended.
- Being unable to cut down morphine use.
- Spending a lot of time using and recovering from the effects of morphine.
- Cravings, meaning strong urges to use.
- Failing to meet obligations at home, work, or school.
- Continuing to use morphine despite social problems that are caused or exacerbated by morphine use.
- Giving up previously enjoyed activities so you can use morphine.
- Using morphine in physically hazardous situations (such as operating machinery or driving).
- Continuing to use even though you know you have a physical or psychological problem that is probably caused by morphine use.
Morphine Withdrawal: Can I quit on my own?
Quitting morphine on your own can be difficult due to the risk of unpleasant and uncomfortable symptoms that can lead to relapse. Although morphine withdrawal is not medically dangerous, symptoms can produce a high level of discomfort. For this reason, medical detox or some form of 24-hour care is recommended to alleviate suffering. Medical detox can provide monitoring and care and doctors can offer you supportive medications to help manage withdrawal symptoms and help you stay comfortable and safe.15
Symptoms of morphine withdrawal can include:15
- Increased pulse rate.
- High blood pressure.
- High body temperature.
- Enlarged pupils.
- Heightened reflexes.
- Sweating or gooseflesh.
- Increased breath rate.
- Tearing or yawning.
- Runny nose.
- Muscle spasms.
- Abdominal cramps.
- Bone or muscle pain.
Morphine Withdrawal & Detox
While understanding the physical and behavioral symptoms of addiction can help you determine if you or someone you love truly has a problem, it is important to understand that the physical symptoms of morphine addiction and withdrawal can be the most challenging pieces of achieving sobriety.
That is why the first phase of addiction treatment for most programs often includes detox. Detox is generally a 5-7 day period in which you are supervised by clinicians or medical staff to ensure your health and safety are preserved. In short, If you or your loved one is struggling with heroin addiction, treatment is the best option to manage the symptoms of withdrawal.
Morphine and Heroin
People who are unable to quit using morphine sometimes transition to heroin, in part because it may be more accessible. Heroin is derived from morphine and produces similar effects. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, around 4-6% of people who start off abusing prescription opioids switch to heroin and around 80% of people who abuse heroin started by abusing prescription opioids.16
Are You Struggling with Morphine Addiction?
As you read these symptoms of morphine addiction, do you recognize one or more of these symptoms in yourself or a loved one? Do you want to look for help, but are unsure of where to start? If you answered yes to either one of these questions, you should consider getting heroin addiction treatment for yourself or your loved one.
American Addiction Centers Can Help
As the leading addiction treatment provider in the United States, American Addiction Centers focuses on not only treating the addiction itself, but the causes that led to its development. At American Addiction Centers, treatment is specialized to meet the needs of each person.
There are 8 treatment centers across the country, making it easier to access care. You can find more information on our facilities here.
We also have a team of compassionate admissions navigators who can help you understand your treatment options.
Still Unsure About Seeking Treatment?
Understanding treatment and how to get help can be daunting. If you are still unsure about how treatment works, how to ask for help, or how to get treatment, consider the following guides: