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Morphine & Addiction

Morphine is classified as an opioid analgesic, which means it is usually prescribed for the purposes of helping patients manage moderate to severe pain. 

Struggling with Opioid Addiction? Get Help Now

Morphine in pill and injection form is approved by the FDA for the treatment of both acute and chronic pain. Morphine is considered to be one of the most effective options for post-surgical pain management.[1] 

Because the drug is so powerful when it comes to mitigating pain, morphine has a high potential for abuse. Even if patients are taking the drug exactly as a doctor prescribed, dependence can quickly form, which can lead to addiction if misuse begins.

Is Morphine Addictive?

Yes, morphine is addictive. 

Morphine’s interaction with the brain’s reward system can lead to addiction through its stimulation of opioid receptors, specifically the mu opioid receptor (MOR). The MOR is associated with creating a feeling of sedation or euphoria in users and is part of the development of physical dependence.[2] 

Long-term use of morphine can lead to dysregulation of these receptors and chronic changes in the central nervous system and the pleasure and reward pathways, creating a psychological dependence on the drug. When psychological and physical dependence on morphine co-occur, morphine addiction is in effect.

Morphine Addiction Statistics

  • At least 2 million people have an opioid use disorder (OUD) in the United States due to abuse of prescription opioids like morphine.[3]
  • Prescription opioids like morphine were involved in about 24% of all opioid overdose deaths in 2020, a 16% increase in the number of prescription opioid deaths from the year prior. An average of 44 people died each day as a result, amounting to more than 16,000 deaths that year.[4] 
  • Prescriptions for opioid medications like morphine decreased by 44.4% between 2011 and 2020, including a 6.9% decrease from 2019 to 2020.[5] 
  • During the COVID-19 pandemic, despite a 14% decrease in overall emergency room visits, ER visits for overdose caused by opioids like morphine increased by more than 10% in 25 emergency departments across six states.[6]

Morphine Addiction Potential vs. Other Opioids 

Morphine is considered the prototype of the opioid classification of drugs, and its addiction potential is often used as the standard to compare with other opioids.

When compared to heroin, one study found no difference in preference for morphine versus heroin among users, indicating a similar potential for the development of addiction.[7]

Methadone is a long-acting opioid medication like morphine, but it triggers less of a high and less tolerance when it binds to the opioid receptors, which may make it less addictive when compared to morphine.[8]

Fentanyl, on the other end of the spectrum, is estimated to be about 50 to 100 times stronger than morphine, depending on the batch.[9] This makes it more addictive and deadlier, even in small doses.

What Does Morphine Do?

The primary effect of morphine takes place in the central nervous system and gastrointestinal tract, as the drug binds to and activates the mu opioid receptors in the brain, spinal cord, and other tissues.[2] This action inhibits the expression of pain processing in multiple pathways, so the user feels relief and even euphoria.[10]

This feeling can be addictive to the user, causing them to crave more and more of the substance in order to re-experience that high. For some, it may feel as if they will be unable to function without the physical and psychological relief provided by the drug. When this happens, they seek out the drug compulsively, building up a tolerance in the process and ultimately an addiction. 

Though morphine can be highly effective for pain management, it is recommended that patients only take it while under the supervision of a physician and for a short period of time in order to lessen the risk of abuse and addiction. 

Even when used as prescribed, if the morphine is mixed with other substances, abused in any way, or if a dose is accidentally doubled, it can lead to opioid overdose, which can be fatal. 

Is Morphine an Opioid?

Yes, morphine is an opioid. It is derived from the poppy plant just like opium and binds to the opioid receptors in the brain.

Ways to Consume Morphine

Morphine is available in a number of forms, and patients may be prescribed different versions based on the situation and their needs. Forms of morphine include the following:[11]

  • Oral liquid solution
  • IV liquid solution
  • Patch
  • Short-acting tablet
  • Short-acting capsule
  • Extended-release tablet
  • Extended-release capsule

The short-acting oral formulations (oral liquid solution, short-acting pills and tablets) are generally effective for up to four hours, while the extended-release pills and tablets may remain effective for up to 12 hours or, in some cases, up to 24 hours. Morphine patches may last even longer.[12] Every brand is different, so it is important to follow the directions of the prescribing physician.

Liquid injections administered as a shot or in an IV are generally given in a hospital setting. The prescribing doctor will manage the frequency and amount of doses.

Morphine Side Effects

Though everyone is different, there are a number of side effects that are possible with use of morphine. Some of the side effects that may occur as a person gets used to taking the medication in the first few days may include the following:[11]

  • Stomach cramping and nausea
  • Headaches 
  • Sleepiness
  • Mood shifts
  • Dry mouth

More serious side effects may include the following: 

  • Vomiting
  • Chest pain
  • Losing consciousness
  • Agitation
  • Hallucinations
  • Blue or purple color to the skin
  • Fever
  • Rash, swelling, itching, or hives
  • Difficulty breathing 

Treatment & Recovery from Morphine Addiction

There are a number of different evidence-based treatment approaches that may be appropriate for someone who is ready to get help for morphine addiction. 

The first step is medical detox, a process that provides for medical support while someone goes through the withdrawal symptoms that occur when stopping morphine. 

For some, medication-assisted treatment is the best path for detox and management of OUD. Because morphine is an opioid, medications like buprenorphine or methadone may serve as a replacement option for morphine, managing withdrawal symptoms and cravings and enabling recovery.[13]

Once medication assisted treatment is underway, the individual can then begin the behavioral counseling and support that will assist them in making lifestyle changes that provide for a new life in recovery. 

Opioids like morphine are highly addictive, and psychological dependence can be as challenging to treat as physical dependence. The risk of relapse is always present, but with the right support and care, individuals become less vulnerable with more time in recovery. 

Relapse is not failure. It can become a source of information and self-understanding that aids in healing and relapse prevention in the future. 

For more information about treatment for morphine addiction and long-term support in recovery, reach out to Boca Recovery Center today. 

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Medically Reviewed By Dr. Alison Tarlow

Dr. Alison Tarlow is a Licensed Clinical Psychologist in the States of Florida and Pennsylvania, and a Certified Addictions Professional (CAP). She has been a practicing psychologist for over 15 years. Sh... Read More

Updated March 20, 2024
  1. Morphine. Murphy PB, Barrett MJ, Bechmann S. U.S. National Library of Medicine. Published May 22, 2023. Accessed February 9, 2024.
  2. The mechanisms involved in morphine addiction: An Overview. Listos J, Łupina M, Talarek S, Mazur A, Orzelska-Górka J, Kotlińska J. International Journal of Molecular Sciences. 2019;20(17):4302.
  3. Evidence on strategies for addressing the opioid epidemic. Phillips JK, Ford MA, Bonnie RJ. Pain Management and the Opioid Epidemic: Balancing Societal and Individual Benefits and Risks of Prescription Opioid Use. Published 2019. Accessed February 9, 2024.
  4. Prescription opioid overdose death maps. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Published June 23, 2021. Accessed February 9, 2024.
  5. Report shows decreases in opioid prescribing, increase in overdoses. American Medical Association. Published September 21, 2021. Accessed February 9, 2024.
  6. Emergency department visits for nonfatal opioid overdose during the COVID-19 pandemic across six US health care systems. Soares WE, Melnick ER, Nath B, et al. Annals of Emergency Medicine. 2022;79(2):158-167.
  7. A comparative study of physiological and subjective effects of heroin and morphine administered intravenously in postaddicts. Martin WR, Fraser HF. The Journal of Pharmacology and Experimental Therapeutics. 1961;133:388-399.
  8. The neurobiology of opioid dependence: implications for treatment. Kosten TR, George TP. Science & Practice Perspectives. 2002;1(1):13-20.
  9. CDC’s response to the opioid overdose epidemic. Centers for Disease Control. Published June 17, 2021. Accessed February 9, 2024.
  10. Wang JY, Huang J, Chang JY, Woodward DJ, Luo F. Morphine modulation of pain processing in medial and lateral pain pathways. Molecular Pain. 2009;5:60.
  11. Morphine. U.S. National Library of Medicine. Published February 15, 2021. Accessed February 9, 2024.
  12. Comparison between intravenous morphine versus fentanyl in acute pain relief in drug abusers with acute limb traumatic injury. Vahedi HSM. World Journal of Emergency Medicine. 2019;10(1):27.
  13. Information about medication-assisted treatment. U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Published May 23, 2023. Accessed February 9, 2024.
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