Morphine Abuse, Withdrawal, Side Effects, & Treatment
Use of morphine and other opioids is very dangerous, with potential consequences that include opioid addiction and overdose. Misuse of morphine, or any other opioid, at higher doses increases these risks. According to the 2019 National Survey of Drug Use and Health (NSDUH), an estimated1.6 million people 12 years old or older met criteria for opioid use disorder in the past year.1 In 2019, an average of 38 people died every day of a prescription opioid overdose.2
This article will provide an overview of the dangers of morphine misuse, withdrawal symptoms and timeline, and how opioid use disorder (OUD) is diagnosed and can be treated effectively.
What Is Morphine?
Morphine is a prescription opioid pain relief drug derived naturally from opium poppies.3,4 Morphine—like other opioids—works by binding to opioid receptors to block pain signals that travel from the brain to the body.3
Morphine is prescribed in injectable preparations or as tablets, solutions, or sublingual films to be taken by mouth.4,5 Some prescription brands that contain morphine include:5
- Oramorph SR (discontinued).
While morphine is effective in treating pain, it also has a high potential for misuse, also often called “abuse.” Morphine misuse includes using at higher doses or taking it in ways other than prescribed, such as using morphine to get high.3,6
Is Morphine Addictive?
Morphine is an effective pain relief medication, but it can also result in pleasurable feelings. It is often misused for this purpose.4 Regular use of morphine, even when used therapeutically as prescribed by a doctor, can result in tolerance and physiological dependence. Both are adaptations of the body to a drug and are often precursors to developing an opioid use disorder, a chronic medical illness marked by the compulsive use of opioids despite harmful and negative consequences.3,7
If you’ve been using morphine as directed and have experienced uncomfortable withdrawal symptoms as a result of missing a dose or two, your body has likely developed a physiological dependence on the drug. Dependence is expected when on morphine therapy and should be managed by your physician. If you are using morphine in ways other than directed by a physician and are experiencing withdrawal symptoms as a result of stopping use or reducing the amount you take, your physiological dependence meets one of two criteria needed for a doctor to diagnose you with an opioid use disorder. 3,7,8
What Are the Side Effects of Morphine?
Morphine has many side effects that a person may experience. These include:9,10
- Dry mouth.
- Small pupils.
- Nausea and vomiting.
- Stomach pain.
- Itchy skin.
- Anxiety and other mood changes.
Long-term Risks of Oxycodone
Prolonged use of opioids is associated with many serious health risks, including:15
- Hormonal changes that can lead to issues such as low testosterone in men and osteoporosis in women.
- Increased risk of falls/fractures in the elderly.
- Increased risk of depression and other mood disorders.
- Severe, prolonged constipation which may lead to bowel obstruction.
- Hypoxemia (lack of adequate oxygen) and sleep-disordered breathing.
- Increased risk of heart attack and heart failure.
- Development of opioid use disorder.
What Are the Symptoms of Morphine Withdrawal?
For many people who struggle with morphine addiction, recovery involves the necessary step of going through withdrawal. Generally, morphine withdrawal symptoms begin around 8 to 12 hours after the final dose (or significant dose reduction).16 Symptoms may include: 8,16
- Profuse sweating, chills and goosebumps.
- Runny nose.
- Teary eyes.
- Low mood.
- Muscle twitching.
- Muscle and bone pain.
- High blood pressure and fast pulse.
- Stomach pain.
These symptoms usually subside within 7 days, though some symptoms such as low mood, anxiety, and insomnia may linger.8,16
Morphine Detox and Treatment
Opioid addiction is a chronic illness but is also a treatable one. With the right help, OUD can be managed effectively and people whose use was once out of control can return to a normal and productive life.7
Because addiction is such a complex disease, treatment is typically individualized—what works for one person may not necessarily be right for someone else.7 That said, many treatment plans for opioid addiction follow a similar basic outline. This involves:
- Medical detox, or the medical management of withdrawal symptoms.
- Rehabilitation treatment (inpatient or outpatient).
- Aftercare, or continuing treatment.
How to Detox Safely from Morphine
Medical detox is the medical management of withdrawal symptoms. Opioid withdrawal can be very unpleasant, and the discomfort of withdrawal symptoms may lead someone to give up on their efforts to quit misusing opioids. Through medical supervision as well as medication, medical detox can make the process easier to handle and help to prevent relapse.16
Upon arrival to a medical detox facility, the patient is evaluated to determine how they can best be treated. This involves: 16
- Observing any early withdrawal symptoms and measuring vital signs such as blood pressure and temperature.
- Evaluating the patient’s mental status.
- A blood test to determine the concentrations of toxins in their system.
- Learning about the patient’s general physical and mental health as well as their history with substance misuse and withdrawal.
Staff will then monitor the patient’s health throughout detox and administer medication when needed to help stabilize the patient’s condition and relieve symptoms. Common medications in opioid withdrawal often include opioid agonists like methadone and buprenorphine, which ease withdrawal symptoms and opioid cravings.16,17 Other drugs may also be used for the management of specific symptoms, such as clonidine, which reduces feelings of anxiety.16, 17
Rehab Treatment for Morphine Addiction
After medical detox, the next stage in treatment is rehabilitation. Rehab for opioid addiction can take place in a variety of settings (inpatient, residential, or outpatient) and usually involves a combination of various therapy methods. Behavioral therapy can teach someone to recognize triggers that lead them to use, empower them with positive coping mechanisms, and motivate them to do something other than misusing opioids or taking drugs.19
Rehab treatment should address other mental health disorders, such as anxiety or depression, that a person has alongside an opioid use disorder. The high rate of cooccurring disorders along with substance use disorders calls for a comprehensive approach that identifies and treats both co-occurring disorders simultaneously.7,20
Inpatient treatment is beneficial for those with severe substance use disorders, those with have a high risk of relapse, have limited family/social support, or that lack a safe and stable living environment. Inpatient or residential treatment requires patients to stay at the facility 24/7 throughout treatment.22
Less intensive options, like outpatient treatment, require attendance at therapy but allow patients to return home each day. Some forms of outpatient treatment, such as partial hospitalization, are more intensive with services that closely match inpatient rehab, while others are much less intensive, requiring a minimal amount of therapy and services per week. Outpatient care may be sufficient when someone is at a lower risk for relapse, is surrounded by supportive friends and family, has a reliable form of transportation, and lives in a stable environment.22
It is also possible for someone to “step down” to an outpatient program after completing inpatient treatment.
Aftercare or Continuing Treatment for Morphine Addiction
After inpatient or outpatient rehab, many people benefit from following an aftercare or continuing treatment plan. This can be as simple as attending peer support group meetings, like Narcotics Anonymous (NA) or attending weekly outpatient therapy sessions.23 For others, it may involve a temporary stay in a sober-living facility.24 The plan will differ for each person and may require some adjustments along the way as the person’s needs change. An aftercare program can help someone remain focused on healthy habits while surrounding themselves with supportive peers.
If you or a family member is struggling with addiction to morphine or other opioids, consider reaching out to an admissions navigator at .