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Morphine Abuse: Symptoms, Effects, and Treatment

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By: Renaissance Recovery

Medically Reviewed by: Diana Vo, LMFT

Last Updated: 7/1/2021

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Authored By: Joe Gilmore

Table of Contents

Morphine abuse can easily lead to morphine addiction and the development of opioid use disorder.

An opiate used to relieve pain, morphine has a strong potential for addiction and abuse due to the speed at which tolerance builds. Opiates are chemical compounds extracted from the sap and fibers of opium poppies. Opioids, by contrast, are man-made chemical compounds.

Morphine is prescribed to treat moderate and severe pain, as well as chronic pain. The substance is also used for pain relief following major surgeries, to treat cancer-related pain, and to address shortness of breath at the end of life.

In addition to powerful pain-relieving effects, morphine also induces a dreamlike state of euphoria, partially responsible for its high abuse potential. How does morphine drug abuse occur, then?

How is Morphine Abused?

The most common effects of using morphine are as follows:

  • Pain relief
  • Euphoria
  • Sleepiness
  • Unexpected drowsiness
  • Skewed sense of wellbeing
  • Calm, relaxed feeling
  • Reduced anxiety

Morphine is primarily abused for the pleasurable, trancelike state of bliss it brings about.

Beyond this, there is a potential for anyone prescribed opiates or opioids to abuse this medication. When prescribed longer-term for ongoing chronic pain, many people find tolerance and dependence grow, possibly even developing full-blown opioid use disorder.

Any time morphine is used without a prescription, this is considered morphine abuse. Although morphine is a legal substance if prescribed, morphine possession without a supporting prescription is a criminal offense.

People abuse morphine in the following ways:

  • By using someone else’s prescribed medication
  • By using more morphine than prescribed when tolerance builds and the effects of this opiate diminish over time
  • For purely recreational purposes

Abusing morphine in high doses heightens the risk of overdose. CDC data shows that of the 100,000+ drug overdose deaths reported in the United States in 2020, over 75,000 involved opioids. This represents a sharp increase from the 55,000 opioid-related overdose deaths reported in 2019.

Watch out for the following signs of a possible morphine overdose:

  • Intense drowsiness
  • High blood pressure
  • Slurred speech
  • Inattention
  • Fever
  • Pain in side or lower back
  • Reduced responsiveness
  • Slowed breathing
  • Spasms
  • Muscle cramps
  • Swelling of extremities or face
  • Lack of movement

The above symptoms occur because morphine is a CNS depressant. A morphine overdose can lead to coma and unconsciousness. Breathing can also slow to the point of death.

In addition to the raised risk of morphine overdose, abusing morphine can also easily trigger morphine addiction. Indeed, morphine addiction most often stems from consistent abuse. When tolerance to morphine builds, two things happen:

  1. You’ll need more morphine to achieve the same effects
  2. You will experience withdrawal symptoms when you do not take morphine

Psychological dependence can accompany physical dependence, leading to compulsive use despite adverse outcomes. Morphine addiction is similar in intensity to heroin addiction. Sudden withdrawal can be unpleasant, uncomfortable, and potentially even deadly. We’ll highlight the benefits of medical detox at dedicated morphine rehab centers below.

Morphine Abuse Facts

Next, some facts about morphine drug abuse before we outline some specific signs and symptoms indicating the potential presence of an opioid use disorder.

What is morphine?

Morphine is an opiate, a non-synthetic narcotic with a high potential for abuse.

Despite the strong abuse profile of morphine, it has legitimate medical uses and can be legally prescribed to treat a variety of pain.

Where does morphine come from?

Morphine, like heroin, is derived from opium.

In the US, some of the morphine obtained from opium is used to produce morphine-based pharmaceutical products. The remainder is processed into codeine, as well as other derivatives.

What forms does morphine abuse take?

Many people dependent on morphine inject the substance. The drug enters the bloodstream more rapidly, and so brings on more immediate effects.

Morphine was traditionally used almost exclusively by injection. There are now more routes of administration, including:

  • Oral solution
  • Immediate-release tablet
  • Extended-release tablet
  • Injectables

Morphine can be abused in all of these forms.

What is deterrent coding and how does it prevent morphine abuse?

Deterrent coding has been added to morphine tablets so they cannot be crushed and snorted or injected.

How does morphine affect the body?

Using or abusing morphine provides pain relief and also results in a pronounced decrease in appetite and a suppression of the cough reflex.

How does morphine affect the mind?

Abusing morphine leads to the relief of chronic pain at the same time as inducing a sense of euphoria.

Chronic morphine abuse leads to tolerance, physical dependence, and psychological dependence.

What are the most common overdose effects of morphine?

Cold and clammy skin, slowed breathing, and extreme sleepiness could indicate morphine overdose. Seek immediate medical attention.

Morphine is classified as a Schedule II narcotic under the Controlled Substances Act.

What happens when morphine abuse leads to morphine addiction?

Morphine addiction is clinically termed opioid use disorder. Most cases of opioid use disorder respond favorably to clinical detox, medication-assisted treatment, and psychotherapy.

Morphine Abuse Symptoms and Side Effects

The short-term morphine abuse side effects include:

  • Nausea
  • Constipation
  • Drowsiness
  • Vertigo
  • Depression
  • Increased tolerance

You can expect to experience the following psychological symptoms if you abuse morphine:

  • Euphoria
  • Intense preoccupation with morphine
  • Inability to focus on surroundings
  • Impaired mental performance
  • Poor judgment
  • Continuing to use morphine despite awareness of the problems caused by morphine abuse

People abusing morphine often exhibit the following behavioral markers:

  • Doctor shopping to obtain multiple prescriptions
  • Stealing to acquire more morphine
  • Lying about morphine use
  • Hiding the substance

Extended use of morphine will cause these side effects to compound, leading to greater damage to your physical, emotional, and social health.

Sustained abuse of morphine can also lead people to experiment with more powerful opioids, or even to try using heroin.

Common long-term effects of morphine abuse include the following:

  • Respiratory failure
  • Lung failure
  • Damage to circulation
  • Confusion
  • Hallucinations
  • Loss of consciousness
  • Anemia
  • Asphyxiation
  • Coma

If the above laundry list of negative outcomes from morphine abuse seems distressing, there’s some good news. With the appropriate treatment, you can tackle even severe cases of opioid use disorder and reclaim a life free of morphine.

an image of a man in treatment for morphine abuse

Morphine Abuse Treatment

If you are physically dependent on morphine, you are liable to experience intense withdrawal symptoms if you discontinue use. Choosing to withdraw from morphine in a medical detox center is the safest option for many people – more on that below.

Morphine abuse can be treated in the same way as addiction to other opioids using the following interventions:

  • Medication-assisted treatment (MAT)
  • Counseling
  • Psychotherapy (CBT or DBT)

There are several FDA-approved medications that can be beneficial for the treatment of opioid use disorder.

Methadone maintenance therapy can be effective for the treatment of opioid use disorders. An opioid agonist, methadone tricks the opioid receptors in your body into feeling like they are still receiving morphine. Using methadone can improve morphine abuse treatment retention and also minimize the chance of relapse.

Buprenorphine (a partial opioid agonist) and naloxone (an opioid antagonist) can also help to counter the rewarding effects of morphine, inhibiting further abuse.

MAT is always most effective when delivered alongside talk therapies and counseling. We can help you with this here at Renaissance.

What if you need the support of a medically-supervised detox?

Morphine Detox

Sustained morphine abuse causes your body to be accustomed to the steady supply of this substance. Resultantly, the body produces fewer natural opioids.

Removing morphine from the equation causes a radical imbalance in the chemical systems in your body, triggering the following adverse outcomes:

  • Vomiting
  • Nausea
  • Diarrhea
  • Fever
  • Watery eyes
  • Pupil dilation
  • Profuse sweating
  • Increased blood pressure
  • Body aches
  • Restlessness
  • Insomnia
  • Anxiety
  • Depression

Morphine withdrawal symptoms typically peak within three to five days, disappearing after ten days with detoxification complete. In some cases, post-acute withdrawal symptoms can linger for a month or more. Throughout this vulnerable phase, expect to experience strong cravings for morphine.

With a medically-managed detox, you’ll benefit from around-the-clock clinical care and supervision.

Take advantage of the above medications and more to tamp down the scope and severity of withdrawal symptoms, while also reducing the intensity of cravings for morphine.

With your system purged of all opiates, you’ll then be ready to build on this foundation by engaging with an outpatient treatment program for morphine abuse.

An image of a beach next to a treatment center for morphine abuse

Morphine Rehab Center at Renaissance Recovery

If you engage with one of our outpatient programs here at Renaissance, choose from the following:

Whichever level of support and structure makes the best fit for your circumstances, you’ll have the chance to build a robust platform for sustained recovery. We offer evidence-based treatments including MAT, psychotherapy, and counseling. You can also access holistic therapies for a whole-body approach to healing.

When you complete your treatment program, you’ll not only be morphine-free, but you’ll also have the tools you need to enjoy sober living without relapsing and abusing morphine. Get started by calling the friendly team today at 866.330.9449.

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Diana Vo, LMFT

Diana is an addiction expert and licensed marriage and family therapist who has been in the field of mental health for over 10 years.

Joseph Gilmore

Joseph Gilmore has been in the addiction industry for three years with experience working for facilities all across the country