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Morphine Addiction and Abuse

Morphine is a powerful prescription opioid used to treat pain; however, it also has a high potential for abuse.1 Chronic use can lead to tolerance, psychological and physical dependence, or even morphine addiction.1

This article will explain what morphine is, how it affects the body and brain, the signs of morphine addiction, and how to get treatment.

What Is Morphine?

Morphine is a powerful, non-synthetic (natural) narcotic drug that is derived from the opium poppy plant. Morphine is prescribed to treat acute and chronic pain in specific settings such as surgical pain, cancer-related pain, end-of-life treatment, and acute pain in trauma and emergency settings.2 Unfortunately, morphine has a high potential for misuse and addiction, and as a result, this medication is highly regulated among prescribing clinicians.1, 2

There are numerous versions of morphine available, however, most morphine is found in liquid form and is injected.1 It is sometimes used in IV solutions.2 Some types of morphine are made into tablets and oral solutions, including tablets that can be dissolved under the tongue, or as a suppository.2 Brand names for morphine include:1

  • MS Contin.
  • Roxanol.
  • Kadian.
  • MSIR.

Street Names for Morphine

Morphine is sold on the street illegally, in addition to being prescribed legally. Street names for morphine include:1

  • Mister Blue.
  • Dreamer.
  • Morph.
  • MS.
  • First Line.
  • God’s Drug.

Is Morphine Addictive?

Yes, morphine has a strong potential for misuse, which may lead to addiction. Misuse is defined as using morphine other than exactly how it is prescribed. This includes using it more than prescribed, using it without a prescription, or using it for other purposes than prescribed. Continued misuse can potentially lead to the development of a substance use disorder (the clinical term for addiction).1, 3

Morphine binds to the opioid receptors in the brain, leading to both pain relief and intense euphoria that people may enjoy and want to experience again.3 Opioid use, including morphine, results in the release of a large amount of dopamine in the brain, which causes feelings of happiness. Dopamine acts on the brain’s reward system and over time, pleasure-seeking behaviors reinforce the need to misuse morphine, which may result in repeated use.3

As a person takes more morphine, they are likely to develop physical dependence. This means that a person’s body becomes so used to having morphine that quitting morphine use results in symptoms of withdrawal. Dependence does not always mean an individual has developed an addiction to morphine but can be a warning sign associated with addiction.3

Signs of Morphine Addiction

Addiction is a chronic, relapsing condition in which people continue their drug-seeking behaviors even when they experience negative consequences.13 The recurrent use of alcohol or drugs can cause psychological and physical health problems, which can lead people to neglect obligations at school, work, or home.13

Opioid use disorder (OUD) is the clinical term for opioid addiction. It can only be diagnosed by a medical professional; however, recognizing the signs of OUD may help you decide when to get help. If you or a loved one have experienced 2 or more of the following criteria from the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) in the last 12 months, it may be time to seek help:4

  • Taking more morphine and/or more often than intended
  • Unsuccessfully trying to stop the use of or cut back on using morphine
  • Spending excessive time and resources to find morphine, use it, and recover from using it
  • Experiencing strong cravings for morphine
  • The use of morphine interferes with being able to fulfill responsibilities at work, school, or home.
  • A person will keep using morphine, despite the social and personal consequences of its use
  • The use of morphine leads to the person giving up things that used to be important to them, such as hobbies or leisure activities.
  • Morphine is being used in risky settings, such as driving
  • The person will keep using morphine, even if it worsens a medical or mental health condition
  • Using morphine leads to increased interpersonal conflict.
  • Tolerance to morphine (the need to use more morphine to obtain the same desirable effects)
  • Showing signs of withdrawal when a person stops using morphine (dependence)

Morphine Withdrawal Symptoms

Withdrawal from morphine occurs when a person stops using or cuts down on the drug after becoming physically dependent upon it.3 It is important to remember that a person who is not addicted to morphine can still experience withdrawal if they have built up a physical dependence.3

Morphine is classified as a short-acting opioid, which means its effects only last a few hours.5 With a short-acting opioid like morphine, a person can start to feel physical withdrawal symptoms within 8 to 24 hours.5

Withdrawal from morphine can be intense and highly uncomfortable. Trying to withdraw without support can be extremely difficult and is not advisable without the use of medication.6 Common withdrawal symptoms include:6

  • Nausea and/or vomiting.
  • Stomach cramps.
  • Diarrhea.
  • Sweating.
  • Fast heartbeat.
  • Sleep disturbances.
  • Anxiety.
  • Goosebumps.

Side Effects of Morphine

When a person takes morphine, they can experience several short- and long-term effects, which can include:3, 4, 13

  • Pain relief.
  • Relaxation.
  • Drowsiness.
  • Constipation.
  • Euphoria.
  • Nausea.
  • Slowed breathing.
  • Increased risk of overdose.
  • Severe dryness of the nose and mouth.
  • For men, sexual dysfunction can occur.

One of the significant health effects related to the use of morphine is hypoxia. Hypoxia is the lack of oxygen delivered from the lungs to the brain and is a direct result of taking too much morphine. This can lead to damage, as well as coma and fatal overdoses.3

Many people misuse morphine by injecting it, which is associated with serious risks related to needle use including:4

  • Heart infections.
  • Abscesses on the skin, which can lead to infection.
  • Acquisition of blood-borne diseases such as HIV and hepatitis from sharing needles.
  • Tuberculosis and other lung issues.
  • Hardening of the veins where morphine is injected.

Risks of Using Morphine and Other Drugs

Many people engage in polysubstance misuse, which means that they are using more than one drug at a time.13 The use of more than one substance may be intentional to make a drug have more powerful effects, to lessen side effects, or to experience the combination of drugs together in novel ways.13

People may also unintentionally combine drugs, not realizing that it has been mixed with another substance such as fentanyl. Whether it is intentional or not, polysubstance use can be deadly.13

People misusing morphine often combine it with other substances like alcohol or drugs, including other types of opioids, or benzodiazepines. This can be potentially dangerous as these substances increase the sedative effects of morphine.14 As morphine depresses the central nervous system (CNS), using another CNS depressant can result in shallow breathing, coma, or death.7 Other CNS depressants include alcohol, antihistamines, psychotropic medications, or sedatives.7

Signs of a Morphine Overdose

Morphine misuse carries a high risk of morphine overdose.3 The most recent data indicates that more than 75,000 people died of drug overdoses in the U.S. in the 12 months ending in April 2021, with death from all types of opioids rising from the prior 12 months at a rate of more than 28%.8

When a person takes too much morphine, they can develop depressed breathing and potentially cardiac failure resulting in death.1, 3, 7 The signs of an opioid overdose, including those caused by morphine, include:9

  • Loss of consciousness.
  • Pale, cold, clammy skin.
  • Bluish nails and/or lips.
  • Limpness.
  • Slow heartbeat.
  • Constricted pupils.
  • Odd breathing noises, including choking or snorting.

Treating a Morphine Overdose

Naloxone is an approved medication used to treat and reverse the effects of an opioid overdose. It is available as an injection or nasal spray.10 Naloxone attaches to the opioid receptors in the body and subsequently blocks the effects of opioids.10

If you notice these signs of a morphine overdose in yourself or someone else, the following tips may help save a person’s life if they are experiencing an opioid overdose:9

  1. Administer naloxone, if available.
  2. Try to keep the person awake and breathing.
  3. Lay the person on their side to prevent choking.
  4. Stay with him or her until emergency workers arrive.

Morphine Addiction Treatment

Addiction is a chronic condition that is treatable like other medical conditions.15 No single approach to treatment is right for everyone; however, there are several treatment options to help people recover.11

Treatment for morphine addiction and other substance use disorders should address a person’s unique needs including medical, psychological, social, vocational, or legal issues a person might be struggling with.11

Medication is an important part of treating opioid addiction. There are medications to help manage withdrawal symptoms, cravings, and potential opioid overdoses:11, 14

  • Methadone is a long-acting opioid that is given during detox and long-term addiction treatment to help ease opioid cravings and withdrawal symptoms.
  • Buprenorphine is a partial opioid agonist that eases withdrawal symptoms and cravings.
  • Naltrexone is an opioid receptor antagonist that blocks the euphoric effects of opioids and helps to reduce cravings.

Behavioral therapy is also an important component of opioid addiction treatment, including individual, group, and family therapy.3 One common therapy approach is cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT). This modality can help people identify negative patterns of thinking that are often associated with unhealthy behavior patterns and learn healthier coping strategies, problem-solving skills, and communication tools.3

Addiction treatment can take place at various levels of care and settings depending on the person’s needs and substance use. Treatment options can include one or more of the following:11

  • Outpatient treatment programs give people the freedom to live at home while visiting the treatment facility to receive care.
  • Residential/inpatient treatment requires a person to live at a treatment facility for a set period while receiving treatment. This is typically for people with more severe substance use disorders or those with co-occurring mental health conditions who need more supervision.
  • Detoxification can take place at both inpatient and outpatient facilities and at varying intensity levels. Detox is an important first stage of recovery from morphine addiction and should be followed by additional treatment to help encourage long-term abstinence from morphine misuse.

If you or your loved one are struggling with morphine use, the caring admissions team at American Addiction Centers (AAC) is ready to help you find the support you need. Reach out today at to learn about treatment options and check your insurance right over the phone so you can begin the road to recovery.