Anyone can develop an addiction to morphine. With treatment and a few lifestyle changes, recovery is indeed possible.
For more than 200 years, morphine has been used for moderate to severe pain relief. That may be why you started taking it: to feel better and help you heal.
But now that some time has passed, it seems you need to take more to get the same effects. Or, perhaps, when you try to cut back, you experience severe withdrawal symptoms.
Maybe efforts to cut down your morphine use have been unsuccessful. Maybe you’ve developed an intense urge for the drug, and you spend a great deal of time thinking about it, trying to get it, and using it.
If you’re feeling concerned, you’re not alone. You may be experiencing symptoms of dependence and addiction. However, morphine addiction, like any other, is manageable with a solid recovery plan.
Although we use the word in this article, “addiction” is no longer used as a formal term in diagnostic manuals. It’s been replaced with the term “substance use disorder.”
This new term allows doctors to divide substance use disorder into mild, moderate, or severe, which can tailor treatments. Severe substance use disorder is sometimes called “addiction.”
According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 5th Edition (DSM-5), substance use disorder is used to describe a wide range of disorders that involve compulsive use of substances and chronic relapse.
What many people may refer to as addiction is, in fact, substance use disorder.
Morphine is a natural substance derived from the opium poppy, a type of plant.
Morphine is part of a class of drugs called opioids. These drugs interact with the opioid receptors in your brain. Opioid addiction affects
Morphine is available as:
- short- and long-acting tablets
- intravenous (IV) administration
Doctors prescribe it to manage moderate to severe pain, like after a surgery or during cancer treatment. It can also be used in end-of-life palliative care.
You may see morphine prescribed under several brand names. These include:
- Oramorph SR (discontinued in the United States)
Morphine — aptly named for Morpheus, the Greek god of dreams — changes your body’s relationship to pain and, depending on the dose and your physiological response, may cause euphoria.
“Morphine helps release the neurotransmitter dopamine, which blocks pain signals and creates a pleasurable feeling. This is why it works as a pain reliever,” says Holly Schiff, a licensed clinical psychologist based in New York and Connecticut.
Although it’s not always the case if you take minimally effective doses for the prescribed time, morphine dependence is possible with larger or unnecessarily high doses.
“You are rewarding your brain and body with positive feelings, which causes you to crave it. This is how physical dependence begins,” Schiff says.
Morphine is considered a Schedule II controlled substance in the United States because it has a high potential for misuse.
Morphine misuse may come on so slowly, you might not realize it’s happening. For example, you could start taking the drug a few minutes earlier each time, which could increasingly cut time in between doses.
“A red flag is when someone starts making excuses to use beyond the need for pain relief, for instance,” says Jeff Chervenak, a therapist and recovery coach in Avon, Connecticut.
Misuse of morphine can cause:
- labored breathing
- lowered blood pressure
- upset stomach, nausea, or vomiting
Addiction looks different for everyone.
Put simply, an addiction is when you want to stop doing something that feels good because of the side effects or consequences, yet you find yourself unable to stop.
Addiction is divided into two categories:
Physical addiction (or dependence)
Your body is chemically dependent on the substance. When you stop taking it, you experience distressing withdrawal symptoms. As you put the substance back into your system, your body will return to equilibrium.
You feel emotionally or compulsively drawn to the substance because of the effects it can provide. This may change your behavior, thoughts, and actions.
In sum, according to the DSM-5, symptoms of morphine use disorder include:
- taking a substance in larger amounts than prescribed by a health professional
- taking a substance for longer periods of time than originally intended
- unsuccessful efforts to decrease or discontinue use
- spending significant time thinking about, using, or planning to get the drug
- intense cravings or urges for consuming the substance
- significant impairment in social interactions, cognitive functions, or productivity
- neglecting or giving up on occupational, social, or leisure activities
- using the drug in situations in which it may be physically risky to do so
- using the substance despite being aware of or experiencing health challenges from it
- tolerance to the drug (requiring an increased dose to achieve desired effects)
- experiencing withdrawal symptoms when decreasing or ceasing to use the substance
Tolerance and withdrawal symptoms do not necessarily indicate substance use disorder if other symptoms are not present.
“Some signs that someone might be addicted to morphine is if they are not fulfilling major obligations at work, school, or home,” Schiff says. “Instead, they are spending most of their time using or trying to find the drug in order to use.”
Other signs may include:
- collapsed veins if injecting the drug
- needle marks
- poor circulation
- sleep apnea
- small pupils
- urinary issues
- weakened immune system
- concentration issues
- difficulty remembering things
- impaired judgment
- injecting or smoking morphine so it enters the bloodstream quicker
- faking or creating injury to obtain prescriptions
- hiding your use from loved ones
- poor hygiene
A morphine overdose is considered a medical emergency.
Warning signs include:
- clammy or cold skin
- blue lips or fingertips
- extreme confusion
- extreme fatigue
- shallow breathing
If an overdose is happening to you or someone near you, it requires emergency medical attention. It’s highly advisable to call 911 or go to the nearest emergency room. You can also call poison control at 800-222-1222.
You may have a higher chance of developing a morphine use disorder if you have:
- a genetic predisposition
- some mental health conditions
- personal history of substance use
- family history of substance use
- repeated morphine use from chronic pain
- lack of a support network
If you have a history of trauma, that can play a role, too.
“Morphine directly stimulates the reward pathways in the brain, bypassing the common ways we do this through behavior,” Chervenak says. “This can be intense, especially if the individual is experiencing other stressors in their lives or has a history of trauma.”
This happens even if you may not be aware of it.
“It is my experience that most people don’t realize they have a trauma history. Nevertheless, the sense of comfort is powerful,” Chervenak says.
It may be best to go through withdrawal under the watchful eye of a health professional you trust. It can be challenging, but having expert guidance may make it more tolerable.
Some withdrawal symptoms include:
- heart palpitations
- joint pain
- muscle pain
- nasal drip
- psychomotor agitation
- watery eyes
Medication-assisted treatment (MAT)
Some medications may ease withdrawal symptoms and block morphine’s ability to bind to your opioid receptors. These include:
- buprenorphine (Subutex, Sublocade)
- buprenorphine/naloxone (Suboxone, Zubsolv)
You can find detoxification facilities through the Treatment Locator from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA).
Individual and group therapy
Working with a therapist trained in cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) can help you understand your thought patterns and the behaviors that drive you to misuse morphine.
If one-on-one counseling isn’t accessible to you, you may wish to consider a local support group, such as:
Morphine use disorder – what some people refer to as morphine addiction – can happen to anyone. No matter how things feel right now, support is available.
“All addictions can be overcome, no matter how severe they have become,” Schiff says.
It may aid your recovery to keep learning about addiction. Here are some books you may find useful:
- “Overcoming Opioid Addiction” by Adam Bisaga, MD
- “In the Realm of Hungry Ghosts” by Gabor Maté, MD
- “It Works, How and Why: The Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions of Narcotics Anonymous” by Narcotics Anonymous
“I recommend the TED Talk by Johann Hari,” Schiff says. “I also like the work of Dax Shepard and Russell Brand, who are both very open about their recovery from addictions.”
If you’re willing to take the first step, recovery from morphine use disorder is possible — one day at a time.
Here are some additional resources to take the next step:
- American Psychiatric Association’s Find a Psychiatrist tool
- American Psychological Association’s Psychologist Locator tool
- Asian Mental Health Collective’s therapist directory
- Association of Black Psychologists’ Find a Therapist tool
- National Alliance on Mental Illness helplines and support tools
National Institute of Mental Health’s helpline directory
- National Queer and Trans Therapists of Color Network
- Inclusive Therapists