Morphine and Addiction
Morphine is the quintessential opioid painkiller and has long been used to treat relatively severe pain, both in hospitals and non-clinical settings. Though several more potent prescription opioids exist today, morphine can still be addictive and potentially dangerous—especially when misused.1 As with many other opioid agonist drugs, morphine overdose can result in respiratory depression, leading to coma and death.1,2
Morphine has reinforcing effects within our brain reward pathways which contributes to its abuse liability.1 Repeated use is also associated with physiological dependence and an accompanying withdrawal syndrome. Should an individual who had developed significant morphine dependence suddenly slow or stop use, uncomfortable withdrawal symptoms are likely to arise1,2 Acute opioid withdrawal can be an intensely unpleasant and challenging hurdle to recovery efforts.
Signs of Morphine Addiction
Though distinguishing therapeutic use from problematic use may not be easy to do when just looking at side effects of use, certain signs/symptoms of morphine use may become more frequent and/or pronounced when use exceeds prescribed guidelines. These might include:2
- Intermittent loss of consciousness.
- Gastrointestinal distress (e.g., nausea/vomiting).
- Severe constipation.
- Frequent sweating.
- Itchy skin with frequent scratching.
A morphine addiction may be diagnosed as an opioid use disorder (OUD) by a physician or other healthcare professional. Some of the signs, symptoms, and behavioral changes associated with opioid use disorder include:4
- The drug is used in higher doses or over longer periods of time than intended.
- A persistent desire but inability to slow or stop morphine use.
- Strong morphine cravings.
- Failure to complete school or work obligations because of morphine use.
- Sudden disinterest in previously enjoyed activities.
- Morphine use continues despite the social or interpersonal problems related to its use.
- Tolerance develops to the effects of the drug.
- Withdrawal symptoms when morphine use slows or stops.
Though a substance use disorder diagnosis is best left to healthcare professionals, it’s important to take these signs seriously. Opioid addictions can be progressive and often carry an ever-present risk of overdose. Overdose risks may rise as people commonly seek to achieve the high they experienced when first using the drug by taking more and more of it.
A morphine overdose is a medical emergency. Signs and symptoms of overdose may include:2,3,4
- Tiny, non-reactive pupils.
- Slowed pulse.
- Slow, labored, or otherwise irregular breathing.
- Bluish tinge to lips and fingernails.
- Profound sleepiness.
- Loss of consciousness.
Opioid withdrawal can be intensely unpleasant, and recovery efforts often start with a period of medical detox and withdrawal management. Aside from the difficult and sometimes-painful symptoms, it’s common for the addicted individual to experience intense cravings for the drug. These factors can make quitting on one’s own particularly challenging. A supervised, medically managed withdrawal can be a huge benefit at the start of treatment, as it helps to keep people as safe and comfortable as possible during this difficult early period.5
Withdrawal symptoms and cravings can be managed via a variety of medications. When it comes to morphine addiction, a person may be first stabilized on an opioid agonist treatment drug like buprenorphine or methadone over the course of days to weeks.6 In some instances, the alpha adrenergic medication clonidine may be used to additionally help reduce certain symptoms of morphine withdrawal, such as anxiety, irritability, and sweating.6
An additional benefit of any professional detox program is that it can lay the groundwork and smooth the transition into additional rehabilitation, whether it be an inpatient or outpatient substance abuse treatment program.5 As rehabilitation efforts continue in either setting, patients will follow a treatment course that includes counseling, support meetings, and relapse prevention education. As maintenance therapy, medications such as the buprenorphine initiated during detox, or the combination drug Suboxone (buprenorphine and naloxone) may be continued long after the withdrawal management period.5,6
Once the initial treatment period has ended, various outlets of aftercare such as outpatient counseling, alumni groups, and continued 12-step meeting attendance or other support group participation can help people sustain their recovery momentum and decrease relapse risks.
Reaching for Recovery
If you’re struggling with morphine addiction or compulsive use of any opioid painkiller, please reach out for professional help. Recovery is within reach, and a brighter, healthier future awaits. Call to hear about treatment options at Greenhouse Treatment Center.
- U.S. National Library of Medicine—MedlinePlus. (2019). Morphine.
- U.S. Department of Health and Human Services—Food & Drug Administration. (2019). Labeling-Medication Guide—Morphine Sulfate.
- U.S. National Library of Medicine—MedlinePlus. (2018). Morphine Overdose.
- Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders: DSM-5 (5th ed.). (2013). Washington, D.C.: American Psychiatric Association.
- Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. (2015). Treatment Improvement Protocol—TIP 45: Detoxification and Substance Abuse Treatment.
- Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. (2020). Treatment Improvement Protocol—TIP 63: Medications for Opioid Use Disorder.