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Morphine Abuse Signs, Symptoms & Side Effects

Last Updated: October 26, 2022

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Morphine is an opiate that is derived from the poppy plant. It is used to manage severe pain, usually in palliative care and it is classified as a narcotic pain reliever. When used as directed by a physician, morphine can be a very useful medication; however, morphine can be habit-forming. The misuse of morphine is dangerous due to morphine side effects which include central nervous system (CNS) depression and difficulty breathing or swallowing. Understanding the addictive characteristics of morphine and being aware of the signs and symptoms of morphine addiction is important for providing intervention and appropriate treatment to begin the path to recovery and healthy living.

How is Morphine Abused?

Morphine is available by prescription as an oral syrup solution, extended-release tablets and capsules, injection and as suppositories. Depending on its form, morphine can be swallowed, injected or smoked. Morphine drug abuse causes a euphoric high and feelings of relaxation. The effects of morphine begin to wear off about nine to thirteen hours after use. It is common for people who are addicted to morphine to use morphine or other opioids multiple times in a day to prevent withdrawal symptoms.

How Addictive is Morphine?

Morphine is highly addictive and habit-forming. When taken, morphine binds to certain receptors in the brain, called opiate receptors, and causes the release of specific chemicals, including dopamine, that trigger the “reward pathway” of the brain. This pathway creates the sensation and urge to continue to repeat the action that caused the triggering of the reward pathway, for example continuing to use morphine. People can become addicted to morphine. Once the brain has established the connection between using morphine and triggering the reward pathway, it can be difficult to break the cycle. Also, morphine misuse can cause dependence which results in withdrawal symptoms and severe, undesirable physical reactions to the withholding of morphine. The positive reinforcement from the triggering of the reward pathway with morphine use and the negative reinforcement from withdrawal symptoms after morphine wears off makes morphine a highly addictive substance. Many people may wonder how long it takes to get addicted to morphine. There is no specific answer because it depends on each person’s brain chemistry. For some people, addiction could occur after just one use, which makes the misuse of morphine dangerous. It is common for people who have become addicted to morphine to move on to heroin, which is an illegal drug that is a chemically modified version of morphine. Heroin is also highly addictive and has been associated with an alarmingly high prevalence of drug overdose injuries and deaths.

Morphine Addiction Statistics

The past couple of years have come with a dramatic increase in opioid misuse and opioid-related injuries and deaths. The substantial effect that this has caused on the country and the world has become known as the opioid epidemic. In 2016, more than 190 million prescriptions were dispensed for opioid prescriptions and nearly 15,000 people in the United States died from drug overdoses involving natural or semisynthetic opioids, which include morphine, oxycodone and hydrocodone. Certain states have been affected the most by the opioid epidemic. While morphine is an effective medication for pain management, especially in the palliative care setting, its wide use makes it an easy target for diversion. Sadly, most morphine addiction facts and statistics are likely to underestimate the actual number of people who are struggling with morphine addiction and dependence. Knowing how to recognize morphine misuse and addiction can be life-saving.

Short-Term Morphine Side Effects

Because of the relatively short duration of action for morphine and the intense effects of withdrawal, people with morphine addiction cycle through many psychological and physical side effects. Habitual morphine users shift between a relaxed and docile state during the high then to an aggressive and irritable state when withdrawal symptoms start. Recognizing the signs of morphine abuse and the short-term effects of morphine important in identifying a substance use disorder.

  • Physical Side Effects: The short-term effects of morphine on the body include increased drowsiness, stomach pain and cramps, dry mouth, headache, warm-flushing of the skin, impaired coordination, pinpoint pupils, difficulty breathing or swallowing and nausea.
  • Behavioral Side Effects: The short-term effects of morphine on the brain includes euphoric sensation after drug use, slowed and clouded mental functioning, nervousness and mood changes.

Long-Term Morphine Side Effects

The long-term use of morphine can cause many possible side effects and an increased risk for dependence, tolerance and addiction. Recognizing the side effects of long-term morphine use can be the first step in providing intervention and getting access to appropriate morphine addiction treatment.

  • Physical Side Effects: The long-term effects of morphine on the body include dependence leading to withdrawal symptoms when the drug is withheld, irregular menstruation, sexual dysfunction, seizures, extreme drowsiness, difficulty breathing causing long term lung dysfunction, changes in heartbeat, loss of coordination, twitching and constipation.
  • Behavioral Side Effects: The long-term effects on morphine on the brain include mood changes,drug-seeking behavior due to addiction, anxiety, agitation, hallucinations, confusion, memory problems and decreased sexual desire.

If you are taking morphine prescribed by your physician, you should have regular follow-up with your doctor and review any symptoms you are experiencing to ensure that you are not developing any long-term side effects from morphine use.

Morphine Overdose Symptoms

Taking too large of a dose of morphine or taking it with other substances that increase the negative effects of morphine could result in an overdose. Morphine overdoses are dangerous and can lead to serious injuries and death. The chance of surviving a morphine overdose is directly linked to how quickly someone receives emergency medical attention. Narcan (naloxone) is a medication that reverses respiratory failure resulting from a morphine overdose. Naloxone works quickly, but the amount needed to reverse an overdose is dependent on the amount and type of drugs causing the overdose. Morphine overdose symptoms include:

  • Limp body
  • Shallow or slow breathing
  • Pale or ashen skin
  • Loss of consciousness
  • Blurred vision
  • Slow heartbeat

If you or someone you know experiences these signs of a morphine overdose, it is very important to call 9-1-1 and seek immediate medical attention. The sooner that appropriate medical care is rendered, the better the chance of survival.

How to Address Morphine Addiction

Great advances have been made regarding morphine addiction treatment. When deciding to break the cycle of addiction, it is best to seek out the help of trained health care professionals who can provide a personalized approach, including medication-assisted treatment and appropriate psychological support.

Key Points: Understanding Morphine Side Effects and Addiction

Some key points to remember about morphine and morphine addiction are:

  • Morphine is an opiate that is derived from the poppy plant
  • Morphine is used to manage severe pain, usually in palliative care, and it is classified as a narcotic pain reliever
  • Morphine can cause a euphoric “high” and feelings of relaxation that can lead to dependence, tolerance and withdrawal
  • If you are taking morphine prescribed by a physician, it is important to take it as prescribed and to talk to your doctor about any symptoms you experience while taking it
  • Morphine use causes physical and behavioral effects which can become worse with long-term use
  • Morphine overdose is possible and can be deadly
  • Signs of morphine overdose include pale or ashen skin, loss of consciousness, slowed breathing or limp body

See More: Morphine Addiction Treatment

If you or a loved one struggle with morphine addiction and are considering treatment for recovery, The Recovery Village Columbus offers comprehensive addiction treatment led by specialists who care. Call today to speak with a representative who can get you started on the path to recovery.


Our Recovery Advocates are ready to answer your questions about addiction treatment and help you start your recovery.