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Morphine is a chemical synthesized from the opium poppy that directly affects the central nervous system (CNS) to decrease pain responses in the brain. Doctors used it to treat acute pain, such as for surgeries, or chronic pain, such as for injuries. Because morphine is highly addictive and prone to misuse, it is important to understand the potential risks and how to find treatment if you or someone you love need help.  

About Morphine

Morphine is the basis for many common synthetic drugs, such as OxyContin and Fentanyl. As a controlled substance, morphine comes in pill or liquid form and can be short- or long-acting. Hospitals frequently use the drug during and after surgery to relieve pain. Its effectiveness and relatively low cost has made it a popular choice in hospitals worldwide, under names like MS Contin, Kadian, Duramorph, epidural morphine, MOS, Avinza, and Roxanol. Clients usually take it as an injection, pill, oral solution, suppository or epidural. Those who abuse morphine typically inject, inhale or ingest it.

Morphine Side Effects

There are many possible side effects of morphine, the most common of which include constipation, decreased coughing (it was historically also used as a cough suppressant), dry mouth, loss of appetite, sleepiness, nausea, drowsiness, and itchiness. These side effects may occur even when the drug is used as prescribed.

Long-term effects from abuse or excessive use can be more severe. Users may experience impaired sexual functioning, disrupted menstruation cycles, decreased levels of testosterone, depression, immunodeficiency, dizziness, respiratory depression, and mood changes. Morphine is similar to heroin in its euphoric effect on users. In fact, when ingested, the drugs are chemically identical, having the same effect on a user’s brain. The intensity of that effect makes it much more likely to be abused, and one of the most difficult addictions to break.

Morphine Withdrawal

Opiate withdrawal does not usually pose serious physical harm to an addict. However, the reduced tolerance during recovery can be greatly problematic if a relapse occurs. Withdrawal symptoms can begin within six hours of the last dose. These symptoms are not dangerous, but they can feel intense, often prompting drug-seeking behavior almost immediately.

Immediate symptoms include cravings, anxiety, irritability, sweating, and uneasiness. After about twelve hours, a user will begin exhibiting more physical symptoms. They may develop watery eyes, a runny nose, muscle twitches, hot and cold flashes, aching muscles or bones, a loss of appetite, and intestinal cramps. Within 24 to 36 hours after the last dose, all of these symptoms will increase in severity. Cramping can become severe and other intestinal issues such as diarrhea, nausea, and stomach ache are common. Elevated blood pressure and body temperature are also common withdrawal symptoms. An individual may be jumpy, uncomfortable, and feel they are “crawling out of their skin.”

By the second or third day without a dose, symptoms reach their height. An individual may be constantly vomiting, having diarrhea, and experiencing extreme cramping. They will be quite uncomfortable, making this period a particularly vulnerable point for relapse. An addict going through morphine withdrawal also has an increased risk of blood clot, heart attack, and stroke. The individual may become severely depressed. For some, physical pain that had been previously suppressed returns, causing an onslaught of negative emotions and discomfort that the drug had helped suppress.

Although withdrawal symptoms are unpleasant, they are rarely fatal. Psychological withdrawal to morphine is much more difficult to break. Users often come to rely on morphine to alleviate unbearable pain, whether physical or emotional. Morphine and heroin abuse have one of the highest rates of relapse amongst users. Psychological symptoms are incredibly difficult to overcome without intervention from addiction experts and medical professionals.

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Morphine Addiction Treatment

Detox programs can be extremely helpful. Rehabilitation is often necessary to break the habit. Very few people are able to remain sober on their own without psychiatric or medical interventions. Individual therapy as well as group therapy are often useful. Addicts often find the accountability of organized addiction treatment groups to be quite helpful. Speaking to others who suffer with the same issues and deal with the same cravings can be cathartic.

It is necessary to note that tolerance plays a large role in the number of overdose deaths. For example, a non-user can die from a dose of morphine around 120mg. Yet a frequent user may ingest up to 2500 mg a day. Users will not account for their loss of tolerance after a period of sobriety and may ingest a similar dose of the drug when they relapse. Death can occur quickly with high doses of opiates. Users who don’t account for threat of tolerance decrease may put themselves at risk for overdose.

Morphine and heroin overdoses can be countered with naloxone which is an opioid receptor antagonist. It immediately reverses the effects of morphine but can also instantly send the user into withdrawal symptoms. Naloxone can be life-saving for someone overdosing, but it may need to be administered a few times to work depending on the original dosage.

The use of morphine has brought relief to many clients who would otherwise suffer from unmanageable pain, but its benefits also come with great negative impacts. If you or someone you know has a morphine addiction or is developing dependency, it is important to seek help from an experienced treatment center. Get in touch today to take the first step toward morphine addiction recovery.

Written By: Sprout Editorial Team

The Sprout Health Group editorial team is passionate about addiction treatment, recovery and mental health issues. Every article is expert-reviewed.