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Side Effects of Morphine Misuse and Addiction

Morphine is an opioid painkiller that is prescribed for the management of severe pain (trauma, surgical and cancer related pain) where alternative treatment is not adequate to control pain.1,2 Morphine can be used safely and effectively for pain management; however, it has a high potential for misuse and addiction.2

In this article, you will learn more about the dangers of morphine, side effects of the drug, effects of long-term use of morphine, the dangers and symptoms of morphine overdose, withdrawal symptoms, and treatment options for morphine misuse and addiction.

Is Using Morphine Dangerous?

Morphine has been classified as a Schedule II controlled substance as it can be a safe way to manage severe and chronic pain; however, the risks of misuse, diversion, and addiction are high.2 Morphine can cause respiratory depression, especially in those with pre-existing conditions such as asthma and COPD.2 While morphine can be dangerous on its own, the risk of death increases exponentially when combined with other substances that depress the central nervous system such as alcohol, other opioids or benzodiazepines.2

Side Effects of Morphine

When taken as prescribed, morphine provides relief from acute or chronic and severe pain.1 One of the more immediate and short-term effects of morphine is a sense of euphoria, which is a reason morphine and other opioids are misused.3 In addition to pain relief and euphoria, there are common side effects of morphine that affect more than 10% of people who use it, including:2

  • Constipation.
  • Headache.
  • Nausea and vomiting.
  • Difficulty breathing.
  • Sedation.

Less common side effects of morphine use that impact between 5% and 10% of morphine users include:2

  • Diarrhea.
  • Abdominal pain.
  • Urinary retention and infections.
  • Rash.
  • Sweating and fever.
  • Insomnia.
  • Dry mouth.
  • Depression.

Effects of Long-Term Morphine Misuse

Morphine, while an effective form of pain relief, is commonly misused and has a high potential for tolerance, dependence, and addiction.2 Tolerance occurs when the brain adapts to the current dosage of morphine and no longer receives the same benefit or effect requiring more of the drug to achieve the desired result.4

Dependence occurs when the neurons in the brain have adapted to the presence of morphine so that when morphine is absent or significantly reduced the brain becomes dysregulated, which could lead to withdrawal symptoms.4 Addiction occurs when the use of morphine is compulsive and continues despite negative social, psychological, financial, and other personal consequences.4

Due to the high potential for misuse, morphine is not typically prescribed unless other forms of treatment have been unsuccessful.2 People who have been prescribed morphine or those who are using illicit morphine over a long period are at risk of experiencing negative effects of long-term morphine use.2

Such effects include:2

  • Breathing problems.
  • Severe interactions with central nervous system depressants such as alcohol and benzodiazepines.
  • Adrenal insufficiency, which can lead to many symptoms, including dizziness and fatigue.
  • Severely low blood pressure and blood flow.
  • Gastrointestinal problems.

Some of the more severe and life-threatening long-term effects of morphine use include:

  • Risk of seizures, especially in those who have a history of seizure disorders.2
  • Physiological dependence that can lead to withdrawal symptoms if the dose of morphine is reduced or is quit suddenly.2
  • Brain chemistry changes that lead to tolerance, impulse control problems, and difficulty deriving pleasure in normal activities.5
  • Accidental overdose.2
  • Premature death, especially when combined with other central nervous system depressants such as alcohol or benzodiazepines.2

Dangers of Morphine Overdose

The risk of morphine overdose increases after the first dose, when a dose is increased, or when someone who is in treatment for morphine addiction, relapses.2 Crushing, chewing, or dissolving extended-release versions of morphine also increases the risk of an unintentional overdose as the delivery of the morphine is no longer controlled.2 Combining morphine with other central nervous system depressants such as alcohol or benzodiazepines should be avoided as it is strongly related to an increased risk of death.2

Symptoms of Morphine Overdose

When a person has taken a fatal dose of morphine, they will experience symptoms of an overdose, which can include:2

  • Slowed or stopped breathing.
  • Sedation that can lead to stupor or coma.
  • Flaccid limbs.
  • Cold and clammy skin.
  • Pinpoint pupils.
  • Low blood pressure.
  • Slowed heart rate.
  • Airway obstruction.
  • Death.

When someone is experiencing a morphine overdose, they must be given basic life support and a dose (or two) of Naloxone immediately, as morphine overdose can be lethal.2 Naloxone is an opioid antagonist that reverses the fatal effects of opioids.2 If Naloxone is not readily available, basic life support—including clearing airways and providing oxygen—may help until medical professionals arrive to administer Naloxone.2

Morphine Withdrawal Symptoms

If you or a loved one has been using morphine for a long time, you may be physically and psychologically dependent.5 Dependence on morphine can lead to withdrawal symptoms if you drastically reduce or abruptly quit taking morphine.5

Morphine withdrawal symptoms will vary depending on several factors, including current dose, period of use, route of administration, polysubstance misuse history, age, and genetic predisposition.5 People who are using morphine at high doses, over a long period, intravenously, and with other substances are at risk of more severe morphine withdrawal. Although withdrawal symptoms are not usually deadly, they can be incredibly uncomfortable, leading the individual to engage in further morphine use. This use can lead to overdose, and morphine overdose can be deadly.5

Withdrawal symptoms can be psychological or physiological. Psychological symptoms of morphine withdrawal include:5

  • Increased drug-seeking, including seeking illegal substances such as heroin.
  • Compromised impulse control.
  • Obsessive thoughts about morphine.
  • Significant morphine cravings.

Physiological symptoms of morphine withdrawal include:6

  • Nausea.
  • Vomiting.
  • Diarrhea.
  • Chills.
  • Sweating.
  • Insomnia.
  • Joint and muscle aches.
  • Uncontrollable body movements or spasms.
  • Sensitivity to light.
  • Increased blood pressure.
  • Increased body temperature.

Withdrawing from morphine can be unpleasant or painful and is often a barrier for people who wish to achieve sobriety.6 Medical detox is a safe and effective way to manage the symptoms of withdrawal from morphine and should be considered if you want to quit using morphine.7

Morphine Addiction Treatment and Detox

If you or someone you love is misusing morphine, it is important to seek treatment. Treatment for morphine addiction involves several levels of care which begins with medical detox and ends with aftercare and maintenance. Upon admission to treatment, you can expect the following:

  • Medical detoxification: Medical detox is the first step in the journey to recovering from a morphine addiction. Medical detox occurs in a secure setting where your symptoms are managed by medical professionals to help make you more comfortable during the acute stages of withdrawal.8
  • Rehabilitation: Occurs after acute detox is complete and takes place in an inpatient or residential rehabilitation facility, partial hospitalization program (PHP), or intensive outpatient program (IOP). While in rehab, you will receive group, individual, family, and recreational therapy. Amenities and rules vary depending on the facility; however, the goal will be to assist you in understanding your addiction and how to live a life in recovery.8
  • Aftercare: This includes medication-assisted treatment (MAT), individual therapy, support groups, and alumni programs. Aftercare provides ongoing support while you are living in recovery and facing triggers that could lead you to use again.

Recovery from morphine is most easily sustained when a combination of aftercare programs, including MAT and behavioral therapy are utilized consistently.8 It is helpful to know that recovery is often a lifelong journey that requires ongoing support and management much like any chronic physical illness.8 Speaking with a medical professional who specializes in substance misuse can improve your treatment outcomes and your confidence that you are making the right decision for your personal journey.

If you or a loved one is struggling with misuse or addiction to morphine, help is available. Search for a treatment center near you or instantly verify whether coverage is offered by your health insurance provider. Making the call to talk about morphine treatment is the first step to taking your life back and beginning your life in recovery. Contact one of our admissions navigators today at .

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