Morphine is one of the longest-used opiates along with codeine. It was discovered as an active alkaloid in the opium poppy plant in 1804. Since then, it has become one of the most commonly used painkillers all over the world. It was instrumental in battlefield medicine for the treatment of injuries and post-surgery pain. Though it’s an effective painkiller, it’s also extremely addictive. Its habit-forming potential began to be discovered after it’s extensive use in the Civil War when thousands of soldiers developed substance use disorders.
Today, morphine is considered a Schedule II drug in the U.S., which means it’s a prescription drug and a controlled substance with a recognized potential for abuse. Learn more about morphine addiction and how it can be effectively treated.
Morphine is a prescription drug that’s used to treat moderate to severe pain symptoms in a variety of settings. It’s a naturally occurring opiate, unlike heroin, which is a semi-synthetic opioid produced from morphine, and fentanyl, which is a synthetic opioid made in a lab. Morphine, like other opioids, works in the brain by mimicking your body’s own opioids called endorphins. In fact, endorphins are so similar to morphine that their name is a combination of the words “endogenous morphine.” Endorphins are responsible for moderating the pain response in your body. They help ease discomfort and facilitate healing. Endorphins are the reason you feel good right after a workout.
Morphine binds to the same opioid receptors that are designed for endorphins, and they block pain signals from being sent and received all over the body. Morphine and other prescription opioids are more effective in relieving severe pain than your natural endorphins. However, morphine can also cause sedation, euphoria, constipation, and slowed breathing. Prescription opioids also come with the risk of developing substance use disorders.
Most people that take morphine as directed don’t develop a severe substance use disorder. In fact, the most common side effect of the drug is constipation, which can happen with regular therapeutic use. However, using the drug in high doses, longer-than recommended, or for recreational purposes can lead to several adverse effects. Morphine misuse significantly increases your risk of an opioid use disorder. Long-term use can also lead to a chemical dependence on morphine, which can lead to uncomfortable flu-like symptoms when you attempt to quit.
Using morphine or other opioids recreationally also increases your risk of an opioid overdose. High doses of morphine can slow down important functions of your nervous system, causing you to lose consciousness. It can also cause a dangerous symptom called respiratory depression, which is when your breathing stops or slows down. A morphine overdose can be fatal when your breathing slows to the point of oxygen deprivation, leading to coma and death.
Naloxone is a drug that can reverse an opioid overdose. It kicks opioids off of their receptors and blocks them from binding.
Long-term opioid addiction can lead to the use of illicit drugs like heroin. The National Institute on Drug Abuse reports that the misuse of prescription opioids is a significant risk factor for later heroin use. Between 75 and 80 percent of people who use heroin report that they started by first misusing prescription opioids. Opioid use disorders can lead to other long-term health issues like infectious diseases.
Addiction is a disease that affects the brain. Specifically, it changes the way the reward center of the brain reacts to drug use. The reward center is an important system that’s designed to encourage the repetition of healthy activities like eating a satisfying meal. Healthy activities cause the release of feel-good chemicals in the brain like dopamine, serotonin, and endorphins. Your reward center responds to these activities by producing feelings of pleasure and reward. Psychoactive substances that have euphoric effects can cause the release of the same feel-good chemicals. However, drugs like morphine are often so potent that the reward center confuses them for natural healthy activities.
When you develop an addiction, your reward center will create powerful compulsions to use the drug, especially when you feel stressed. Addiction can be identified by powerful compulsions to use, despite the negative consequences caused by drug use. These compulsions can get out of control, affecting multiple areas of your life, including your health, finances, and relationships.
READY TO GET HELP?
Talk to a treatment expert
Opioid use disorders may also involve chemical dependency, which is when your body adapts your brain chemistry around a drug you use frequently. If you stop taking the drug, your brain chemistry will become unbalanced. Morphine dependence may produce withdrawal symptoms similar to the flu. Along with powerful drug cravings, chemical dependence may make it extremely difficult to quit on your own.
The misuse of opioid medications like morphine is a major problem in the United States. Prescriptions are often given out that don’t get completely used up. The remainder is often given to friends and family. The misuse of prescription opioids may progress to the misuse of illicit drugs like heroin. In the last several years, opioid addiction and overdose rates have risen dramatically due to the abuse of prescriptions and the influx of illicit drugs.
According to the 2018 National Survey on Drug Use and Health, around 9.9 million people over the age of 12 misused prescription opioids within a year before the survey. Around 695,000 of these were adolescents between the ages of 12 and 17.
Morphine addiction is a serious substance use problem that needs to be addressed as soon as possible. Even though it’s a chronic disease, addiction can be treated effectively. But addiction is also progressive, which means that it can get worse over time if it’s ignored. Addiction to an opioid often requires treatment for you to achieve lasting sobriety.
Addiction treatment is a process with multiple levels of care, a variety of treatment options, and a multidisciplinary focus. Treatment is designed to address biological, psychological, and social issues that may be directly or indirectly related to addiction. When you first start an addiction treatment program, you’ll go through a biopsychosocial assessment, which examines all your areas of need. If you have high-level needs, you’ll begin with higher levels of care.
Morphine isn’t known to cause life-threatening withdrawal symptoms, but opioid withdrawal is extremely uncomfortable and difficult to get through without relapsing. In some cases, medical detox is necessary. Detox is the highest level of care and involves medically managed inpatient treatment 24-hours per day. The next level of care is medically monitored or clinically managed inpatient treatment, where you will continue to receive less intensive round-the-clock care.
When you are able to live on your own safely, you’ll move to intensive outpatient treatment, which involves nine or more hours of treatment each week, or outpatient treatment, which involves fewer than nine hours of treatment. Through treatment, you’ll go through several therapy options, depending on your needs. Behavioral therapies are among the most common, and you’ll likely go through both individual and group therapy sessions.
American Psychiatric Association. (2017, January). What Is Addiction? Retrieved from https://www.psychiatry.org/patients-families/addiction/what-is-addiction
National Institute on Drug Abuse. (n.d.). Opioids. Retrieved from https://www.drugabuse.gov/drugs-abuse/opioids
National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2018, June 6). Prescription Stimulants. Retrieved from https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/drugfacts/prescription-stimulants
SAMHSA. (2018). Key Substance Use and Mental Health Indicators in the United States. Retrieved from https://www.samhsa.gov/data/sites/default/files/cbhsq-reports/NSDUHNationalFindingsReport2018/NSDUHNationalFindingsReport2018.pdf
Scheve, T. (2019, July 25). What are endorphins? Retrieved from https://science.howstuffworks.com/life/inside-the-mind/emotions/endorphins.htm