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Morphine Abuse Symptoms

Symptoms of morphine abuse range from euphoria and reduced respiratory function to constipation and drowsiness. Long-term abuse can lead to addiction and life-threatening overdose. Recognizing addiction signs and withdrawal symptoms is crucial for timely intervention and treatment.

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Symptoms of morphine abuse include euphoria, constipation, reduced respiratory function, drowsiness, and nausea, among others. 

Morphine abuse is a serious issue that can lead to an opioid addiction and potentially a life-threatening overdose if not treated. Morphine overdose can be fatal. 

Morphine Abuse Statistics

  • Opioid prescription rates are falling. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says 131,778,501 opioid drug prescriptions like morphine were dispensed in 2022. In 2019, 153,626,197 opioid prescriptions were dispensed.
  • In 2023, researchers conducted a study of overdose rates. They found that men had a two to three times greater rate of overdose deaths from opioid drugs like morphine. They also found that men tended to use opioids more often than women do.
  • In the 2022 National Survey on Drug Use and Health, researchers found that the percentage of people 12 and older who abused opioids was higher among multiracial people and Black people than other ethnic groups.

Signs & Symptoms of Morphine Abuse

Morphine is an opioid with some legitimate uses in medicine for the purpose of pain management but, like most narcotics, it has significant abuse and addiction potential. As an opioid, morphine binds to opioid receptors in the brain. This suppresses pain, causes a euphoric rush, and generally leads to a sedated calm in the user.

Signs of morphine abuse include the following:

  • Reduced physical pain
  • Lower cough reflex
  • Decreased hunger
  • Euphoria
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Constipation
  • Slowed breathing
  • Sleepiness

Morphine Abuse Signs vs. Regular Use

Some people use morphine to address discomfort and pain caused by something like an injury or surgical procedure. This chart can help you understand what regular morphine use looks like and how it differs from morphine abuse:

Morphine UseMorphine Abuse
Takes the medication on a schedule set by a doctorTakes the medication based on internal factors, such as the urge to get high
Takes the medication via the method the doctor recommends (such as swallowing pills)May use the medication in an unusual way, such as crushing pills and snorting them
Uses the medication to address physical painUses the medication to get high
Gets the medication via a prescription from a pharmacyBuys the drug from dealers, steals the drug from others, or steals the drug from hospitals or pharmacies
Regularly discusses the need for the medication with the same doctorMay shop for doctors willing to prescribe the drug
Only uses the medication as long as it’s physically requiredMay try to quit but feel unable to do so

The Dangers of Morphine

The slowed breathing caused by opioids (respiratory depression) can potentially get so severe that a person begins to experience hypoxia, a condition where not enough oxygen is circulating in the body to meet the body’s needs. This has the potential to cause a person to fall into a coma, develop permanent brain damage, or even die.

Morphine abuse can also lead to physical dependence and addiction. Physical dependence occurs when the body adapts to the regular presence of a drug and then causes a person to experience withdrawal symptoms (discussed later) in its absence. This makes stopping continued opioid abuse more difficult, as you will feel physically ill and experience strong drug cravings when trying to quit. 

Addiction, which is separate but related to physical dependence, is a disease in which a person feels compelled to abuse a drug even if they understand it is doing them harm. They are unable to stop the continued abuse when addiction is present.

The U.S. National Library of Medicine says opioid addiction doesn’t have a clear pattern of inheritance. However, people who have family members with addiction appear to have a higher risk of addiction themselves. Researchers aren’t sure this is due to shared genetic factors, environment, lifestyle, or nongenetic influence shared by family members.

The longer one abuses morphine or any other opioids, the greater the chance of health issues and other complications. Abusing opioids can lead to job loss, the breakdown of important relationships, severe health problems, and death. 

Recognizing Morphine Addiction

Some signs that you or someone you know may struggle with a morphine addiction include the following:

  • Having difficulty stopping or regulating the use of morphine or another opioid despite wanting to cut down or having tried to before
  • Constantly worrying about getting a steady supply of morphine or another opioid and experiencing strong cravings, especially in places where drugs were previously used or obtained
  • Spending a lot of time obtaining, using, or recovering from the drug, and neglecting responsibilities such as work, school, or home obligations
  • Having problems in interpersonal relationships due to substance use and changing social patterns by withdrawing from family, friends, and activities in order to use drugs
  • Engaging in risky behaviors to obtain or maintain one’s supply of morphine or other opioids, and continuing to use these drugs despite knowing that they cause physical or psychological harm
  • Developing tolerance and needing more of the drug to achieve the same effect
  • Experiencing withdrawal symptoms, such as shakiness, sweating, queasiness, vomiting, or headaches, when unable to take the substance
  • Displaying other behavioral characteristics, such as being secretive about activities and relationships, sudden changes in activity patterns, lying about whereabouts or consumption habits, neglecting one’s appearance, losing energy or motivation, and stealing to support drug purchases

Morphine Withdrawal Symptoms

​​Opioids like morphine can cause withdrawal symptoms when long-term users quit the drug or cut back on its use. Typically, symptoms begin within about eight to 24 hours after the last use, and they can persist for four to 10 days.

Common symptoms of morphine withdrawal include the following:

  • Agitation
  • Anxiety
  • Muscle aches and pains
  • Insomnia
  • Runny nose and teary eyes
  • Sweating
  • Yawning
  • Abdominal cramps
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Dilated pupils
  • Goosebumps
  • Rapid heartbeat
  • High blood pressure
  • Chills

The severity of withdrawal will often depend on the level of morphine use or abuse a person regularly engages in. Generally speaking, people who abuse a drug rather than only using it as prescribed will experience more severe withdrawal when trying to stop their morphine use.

The World Health Organization says people experiencing mild opioid withdrawal benefit from drinking up to three liters of water per day. They may also benefit from using over-the-counter medications to ease diarrhea and nausea. Some people appreciate ibuprofen for headaches and muscle aches.

Some people can’t tolerate morphine withdrawal symptoms. They experience severe diarrhea and vomiting, accompanied by intense drug cravings. 

People like this benefit from enrolling in medical detox programs. Doctors can use medications like methadone or buprenorphine to ease withdrawal symptoms and help people get sober without severe symptoms.

What to Do if Someone Is Overdosing on Morphine

An opioid overdose is a medical emergency and requires immediate action. If you or someone around you experiences an opioid overdose, follow these steps:

  • Call 911. Call right away. Provide your location and a description of the situation. Stay on the line and follow the operator’s instructions.
  • Administer naloxone. If you have naloxone on hand, administer it as soon as possible. Naloxone is a medication that can quickly reverse the effects of an opioid overdose. It is available as an injectable or nasal spray and can be obtained from a pharmacy without a prescription in some countries. There is no negative to administering naloxone if the person is not actually experiencing an opioid overdose, so it’s always best to do it if you are unsure.
  • Perform rescue breathing. If the person is not breathing or is breathing slowly or irregularly, perform rescue breathing. Tilt their head back and lift their chin to open the airway. Pinch their nose and give two slow breaths into their mouth. Check for signs of breathing and pulse.
  • Monitor the person. Stay with the person and monitor their breathing and pulse until emergency services arrive. If they stop breathing, continue rescue breathing.

Remember that time is critical in an opioid overdose, with a faster response reducing the chance that a person experiences permanent damage as a result of an overdose. Even if a person is revived after naloxone is given, they still need further medical care.

A morphine overdose is caused by a high level of respiratory depression, meaning it will take less morphine to cause a life-threatening overdose if one also takes other substances that also cause respiratory depression, including alcohol and other opioids.

Updated May 10, 2024
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  2. Signs and Symptoms of Addiction. Psychology Today.
  3. Opioid Withdrawal. (January 2020). StatPearls.
  4. Opioid Overdose. (March 2023). Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.
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  6. Respiratory Depression and Brain Hypoxia Induced by Opioid Drugs: Morphine, Oxycodone, Heroin, and Fentanyl. (June 2019). Neuropharmacology.
  7. Non-Fatal Opioid Overdose and Associated Health Outcomes: Final Summary Report. (September 2019). Office of the Assistant Secretary for Planning and Evaluation.
  8. Factors Associated With Opioid Overdose After an Initial Opioid Prescription. (January 2022). JAMA Network Open.
  9. The Mechanisms Involved in Morphine Addiction: An Overview. (September 2019). International Journal of Molecular Sciences.
  10. Clinical Guidelines for Withdrawal Management and Treatment of Drug Dependence in Closed Settings. (2009). World Health Organization.
  11. United States Dispensing Rate Maps. (December 11, 2023). Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
  12. Men Died of Overdose at 2-3 Times Greater a Rate Than Women in the U.S. in 2020-2021. (June 14, 2023). National Institutes of Health.
  13. Highlights by Race/Ethnicity for the 2022 National Survey on Drug Use and Health. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.
  14. Opioid Addiction. (November 1, 2017). U.S. National Library of Medicine.
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