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Morphine Addiction & Misuse: Effects, Symptoms & Treatment

Peter Manza, PhD profile image
Reviewed By Peter Manza, PhD • Updated Aug 10, 2023 • 14 cited sources

Morphine addiction and misuse are contributors to the opioid epidemic across the U.S. 

Morphine is an acute analgesic, or short-term pain reliever, which works by binding to opioid receptors present in the central nervous system, such as in the brain and spine. While useful when used properly, morphine can be dangerous when used outside the parameters of a prescription. 

The drug has a significant impact on our brain circuitry by releasing dopamine, a chemical that is essential to making behaviors feel rewarding.[1] This puts individuals at risk for addiction. 

If morphine addiction forms, it is best treated with medication like Suboxone via a professional addiction treatment program.

What Is Morphine?

Morphine is a powerful pain-relieving medication that belongs to the opioid class of drugs.[2] 

Morphine is extracted from opium poppy. It binds with particular receptors in vital regions like the brain and spinal cord, reducing the ability of pain signals to travel to the brain while also giving a user a powerful rush of euphoria. The resulting calming and pain-free effect makes it very useful for the treatment of the type of severe pain associated with surgeries, injuries, cancer, arthritis, and back pain, among many other types of potentially debilitating pain. 

At the same time, morphine is an opioid, which is a class of drug that generally has significant potential for misuse and to cause opioid use disorder (OUD). It’s important that morphine is only used as prescribed to avoid this. 

Common side effects of morphine use include dizziness, drowsiness, nausea, and constipation. It can also have more severe side effects, discussed in more detail later.[2]

How Addictive Is Morphine?

It should be noted that morphine, like most opioids, has a significant misuse and addiction risk.[3] Therefore, it should only be used under the guidance and supervision of a healthcare professional.

The powerful effects generated by morphine include inducing sensations such as euphoria, sedation, and a feeling of contentment. Long-term use can quickly develop into dependency, and this triggers withdrawal symptoms if one stops taking morphine suddenly.[4]

Physical dependence isn’t the same as addiction, but they are linked. Physical dependence can cause a person to continue using a drug beyond when they otherwise would. As a person uses morphine, it continues to flood the brain with a rewarding surge of chemicals, making the brain learn to associate that drug use with reward. Eventually, this can make normally rewarding healthy behaviors feel less rewarding and compel a person to misuse morphine, which then means OUD forms.

The negative effects stemming from morphine addiction can be very serious. They extend beyond the risk of potential overdose incidents. Continued use of opioids is taxing on the body and often makes it difficult to function in day-to-day life, potentially interfering with a person’s ability to go to work and school and meet important family obligations. Many people who struggle with OUD develop issues relating to depression, anxiety and mood.[5]

Common Names for Morphine

Despite its legal status, morphine can still be found on the street under a variety of names, each with their own connotations.

According to the DEA, some of the common street names for morphine include the following:[6] 

  • Dreamer
  • Emsel
  • First Line
  • God’s drug
  • Hows
  • MS
  • Mister Blue
  • Morph
  • Morpho
  • Unkie

These names may vary depending on the region and the individuals involved in the illegal trade of the drug.

Street names are sometimes used to hide what one is selling from law enforcement, but they’re also often used to imply things about a drug to customers. For example, God’s drug may imply the drug is especially powerful or safe, while Dreamer may be used to imply the drug can cause vivid, pleasant hallucinations. 

Importantly, these names often don’t imply things that are true about a given drug. They’re just used to market it. Oftentimes, a dealer wants a drug to sound fun and safe to use, but note that morphine isn’t safe to misuse. Its continued misuse has destroyed people’s lives and regularly leads to fatal overdoses.

What Are the Side Effects of Morphine?

Morphine is a powerful opioid medication that can deliver intense pain relief benefits, but it also carries certain risks for users. Among the most typical side effects associated with its use are constipation, nausea and vomiting, and feelings of dizziness and fatigue that may impede normal daily activities.[7] 

Morphine use also causes respiratory depression, which is a serious concern for individuals who have pre-existing breathing issues such as COPD. Some less common symptoms are itchiness, which can be severe and isn’t fully understood, as well as episodes of confusion. 

In some instances, people experience adverse outcomes, such as lowered blood pressure leading to feelings of faintness or weakness caused by its potent effects on the body’s opioid receptors.[8] 

Additionally problematic is morphine’s addictive nature, leading users to experience withdrawal symptoms when discontinuing use after an extended period of time. Since addiction often involves increasing doses of the drug, the danger done can be far-reaching. 

Common Causes of Morphine Addiction & Misuse

An addiction to morphine is classified as an opioid use disorder (OUD).[9] Misusing morphine by using more than prescribed or extending its use beyond what is medically necessary can increase the risk of dependence on the drug. Morphine’s addictive nature may pose more risk for those who have previously struggled with substance misuse or who have a family history of such misuse.

Morphine addiction is caused in part by morphine essentially hijacking the brain’s reward system. As discussed earlier, morphine use causes a buildup of dopamine that can “teach” the brain to want to engage in further opioid misuse. 

There is no easily predicted timeline of how long this can take to occur. While this is generally a relatively long-term process, repeated misuse of morphine can easily lead to addiction even in those who haven’t misused drugs in the past and don’t have a family history of addiction. Those underlying risk factors only increase the risk an addiction will occur with repeated misuse.

Signs & Symptoms of Morphine Misuse

Some common signs of morphine misuse and addiction include the following:[10]

  • Taking morphine more frequently or in larger doses than prescribed by a healthcare professional
  • Using morphine for reasons other than pain management, such as to achieve a feeling of euphoria or relaxation
  • Continually using morphine even after pain has subsided
  • Engaging in illegal activities, such as stealing or forging prescriptions, to obtain morphine
  • Experiencing withdrawal symptoms when the drug is not available, such as nausea, vomiting, sweating, and restlessness
  • Neglecting important responsibilities, such as work or school, due to morphine use
  • Struggling with financial difficulties due to the cost of obtaining morphine
  • Changes in mood or behavior, such as increased irritability, anxiety or depression
  • Using other substances, such as alcohol or benzodiazepines, in combination with morphine to enhance its effects
  • Developing an increasing tolerance to morphine

Most often, professional treatment will be needed to recover from morphine addiction. While there is no cure for addiction, Medication for Addiction Treatment (MAT) programs allow people to effectively manage their opioid use disorder, saving lives.

Morphine Withdrawal

Morphine withdrawal occurs when you stop taking morphine after a period of sustained use. It can also sometimes occur when you lower the dose from the level that your body is used to. 

In the first phase of withdrawal, the body is adjusting to the absence of the drug, and this tends to be the most intense period. This phase is associated with a range of symptoms that can be very uncomfortable.

Some of the symptoms of morphine withdrawal include the following: 

  • Feeling hot and cold
  • Feeling sick to your stomach
  • Throwing up 
  • Diarrhea
  • Sweating a lot
  • Crying more than usual
  • Trouble sleeping
  • Feeling worried or scared
  • Muscle pain all over your body
  • Heart beating faster than usual
  • Goosebumps
  • Dehydration

Overall, morphine withdrawal can be a very difficult experience, but there are treatments and strategies that can manage the symptoms and make the process more comfortable. Morphine withdrawal is not typically life-threatening, as long as a person can regularly drink fluids to replace those lost through their various withdrawal symptoms.

One of the highest risks during withdrawal is relapse. Many people take more morphine or other opioids in an effort to simply make withdrawal symptoms disappear. This is why proper treatment is needed during this vulnerable time.[11]

Can You Overdose on Morphine?

Morphine is a central nervous system depressant, which means that it can slow down breathing and heart rate when taken in large doses or when mixed with other drugs or alcohol. Death via morphine overdose is not uncommon, particularly if the condition is not promptly treated.

Symptoms of a morphine overdose may include the following: 

  • Weak pulse 
  • Confusion
  • Shallow or slow breathing
  • Extreme drowsiness 
  • Cold and clammy skin 
  • Small pupils 
  • Low blood pressure
  • Loss of consciousness

If you suspect that someone may have overdosed on morphine or any other drug, seek medical attention immediately by calling 911 or taking the person to the nearest emergency department. If you have naloxone on hand, administer it promptly to reverse the overdose.[12]

MAT Therapy for Morphine Withdrawal 

MAT involves the use of medications, such as Suboxone, to manage withdrawal symptoms and cravings in people recovering from opioid use disorder, including morphine addiction. For people who previously thought recovery was impossible, MAT can make it possible.

When you take Suboxone, you won’t experience euphoria or feel high.[13] You’ll simply feel normal. This will allow you to focus on other aspects of treatment and early recovery. Without the distractions and discomfort of withdrawal symptoms and cravings, you can make significant gains in recovery.

At Bicycle Health, we offer Suboxone as part of our Medication for Addiction Treatment program for opioid use disorder. Via our telemedicine services, you can access Suboxone and MAT safely, conveniently and privately from the comfort of your own home. You can then pick up your prescription at your local pharmacy. Telemedicine in addiction treatment enables more people to get the help they need.[14]

Reach out to us today to learn more about how Bicycle Health works. We’re available to answer your questions and help you discover if MAT is right for you.

Reviewed By Peter Manza, PhD

Peter Manza, PhD received his BA in Psychology and Biology from the University of Rochester and his PhD in Integrative Neuroscience at Stony Brook University. He is currently working as a research scientist in Washington, DC. His research focuses on the role ... Read More

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  2. Morphine. StatPearls January 2023. Accessed April 2023.
  3. Opioid Addiction. StatPearls January 2023. Accessed April 2023.
  4. The Neurobiology of Opioid Dependence: Implications for Treatment. Addiction Science & Clinical Practice July 2002. Accessed April 2023.
  5. Prescription Opioid Use and Risk for Major Depressive Disorder and Anxiety and Stress-Related Disorders: A Multivariable Mendelian Randomization Analysis. JAMA Psychiatry November 2020. Accessed April 2023.
  6. Morphine. U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration. Accessed April 2023.
  7. Opioid-Induced Nausea and Vomiting. Annals of Palliative Medicine July 2012. Accessed April 2023.
  8. The Effects of Pain and Analgesic Medications on Blood Pressure. Current Hypertension Reports June 2022. Accessed April 2023.
  9. Opioid Use Disorder and Treatment: Challenges and Opportunities. BMC Health Services Research November 2019. Accessed April 2023.
  10. Warning Signs of Substance and Alcohol Use Disorder. Indian Health Services. Accessed April 2023.
  11. Review Article: Effective Management of Opioid Withdrawal Symptoms: A Gateway to Opioid Dependence Treatment. The American Journal on Addictions March 2019. Accessed April 2023.
  12. Naloxone for Opioid Overdose: Life-Saving Science. National Institute on Drug Abuse. June 2021. Accessed April 2023.
  13. 5 Myths About Using Suboxone to Treat Opiate Addiction. Harvard Health Publishing. October 2021. Accessed April 2023.
  14. Use of Telemedicine in Addiction Treatment: Current Practices and Organizational Implementation Characteristics. International Journal of Telemedicine and Applications. March 2018. Accessed April 2023.

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