Morphine Risks, Effects & Addiction Treatment

Morphine is an extremely addictive prescription opioid (narcotic). When used improperly, morphine has several risks. For example, there is a high risk of overdose, addiction, and physical dependency. Learn more here.
Evidence Based
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What is Morphine?

Morphine is a prescription opioid (narcotic) that is used to treat moderate to severe pain. It is available in both short-acting and extended-release (XR) forms. Morphine should only be used under the supervision of a doctor who can adjust your dosage and the length of prescription, as needed. 

Morphine is extremely addictive and there is a high risk of abuse. It alters how the brain and nervous system respond to pain. So, stopping morphine after a dependency has developed (without gradually tapering the dosage) is extremely difficult.

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Risks of Morphine

When used improperly, morphine has several risks. For example, there is a high risk of overdose, addiction, and physical dependency. There are also many side effects linked to morphine, based on how often the drug is used and the dosage amount.

Mild side effects are usually not a cause for concern, but severe symptoms can result in a need for medical attention. 

Common side effects include:

  • Drowsiness (nodding out)
  • Stomach pain and cramps
  • Dry mouth
  • Headache
  • Nervousness
  • Mood changes
  • Small (pinpoint) pupils 
  • Difficulty urinating or pain when urinating

More serious side effects of morphine that require immediate medical attention include:

  • Reduced breathing rate that includes long pauses between each breath or any difficulty breathing
  • Seizures
  • Purplish or blue skin hue
  • Increased heartbeat
  • Chest pain
  • Loss of coordination
  • Agitation
  • Confusion
  • Hallucinations
  • Hoarse voice
  • Drug Interactions
  • Fever
  • Sweating or shivering
  • Severe muscle stiffness or twitching
  • Any effect on sexual activity
  • Nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, or reduced appetite
  • Weakness
  • Dizziness
  • Fainting
  • Skin reactions including hives, rash, or itching
  • Swelling of the eyes, face, lips, mouth, or throat

Morphine interacts with certain medications, and people taking them should not use the drug. This includes opioid analgesics and opioid antagonists. It’s also important that people using morphine not consume alcohol because it can trigger a severe reaction.

The combination of morphine and the following medications and substances can trigger a serious interaction:

  • Alcohol
  • Nalbuphine
  • Butorphanol
  • Buprenorphine
  • Sodium oxybate
  • Drugs that cause respiratory depression

Certain medications trigger moderate interaction when used in combination with morphine. Make sure your doctor is aware of all the medications you are taking before using morphine (both prescription and over-the-counter).

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Overdose Symptoms

It is possible to overdose on morphine. People who are prescribed morphine by their doctors often receive a rescue medication (known as Naloxone) that reverses the potentially fatal effects of an overdose. Naloxone blocks the effects and relieves the dangerous symptoms triggered by an overdose.

Symptoms of overdose include:

  • Slow, shallow, or irregular breathing
  • Drowsiness
  • Loss of consciousness
  • Limp muscles
  • Cold, clammy skin
  • Contracted pupils
  • Reduced heart rate
  • Blurred vision
  • Nausea
  • Fainting

Morphine is a physically addicting drug. This means a physically dependent person will experience withdrawal if and when they stop using the drug.

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Withdrawal Symptoms

Dependency and withdrawal are possible regardless of whether a person is using morphine by prescription or recreationally. Dependency develops faster when someone is abusing morphine with larger-than-recommended doses.

Morphine abuse also occurs when someone uses the drug:

  • Without a prescription
  • To get high
  • With alcohol or other drugs intended to enhance the effect
  • More frequently than recommended
  • Attempts to obtain the drug or more of the drug through manipulation or illegal means

Withdrawal will occur regardless of whether a person was abusing the drug if he or she is physically dependent. Withdrawal intensity varies from person to person, based on several factors including:

  • Amount and method of use
  • Length of time abusing the drug
  • Simultaneously abusing other drugs
  • Previous unpleasant experiences with withdrawal
  • Existing medical or mental health issues

Morphine withdrawal symptoms occurring within the first few days of the last dose include:

  • Restlessness
  • Muscle twitches
  • Muscle aches
  • Yawning
  • Sweating
  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Bone pain
  • Heavy sweating
  • Runny nose and teary eyes
  • Dilated pupils
  • Gastrointestinal discomfort and stomach cramping
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • High blood pressure
  • Fast pulse rate
  • Fast breathing rate
  • Diarrhea
  • Fever
  • Restlessness
  • Weakness
  • Anxiety
  • Irritability
  • Depression

As time passes, most of the above symptoms will diminish, but some will linger and new symptoms associated with post-acute withdrawal syndrome (PAWS) could develop. These include:

  • Irritability
  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Sleep problems
  • Low energy and fatigue
  • Feeling emotionally numb
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Detoxing From Morphine

Stopping morphine once an addiction develops usually isn’t life-threatening, but it is very unpleasant. However, there are some instances in which withdrawal is a very serious medical issue.

Severe dehydration from vomiting and diarrhea can occur. Those with pre-existing heart conditions or anxiety disorders might also develop medical emergencies during withdrawal.

Medically assisted detoxification is essential for these people and is recommended for anyone with a morphine addiction. Professional detoxification reduces or eliminates symptoms of withdrawal and reduces the risk of relapse.

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Addiction Treatment Options

The most successful treatment for morphine addiction begins with a medically supervised detox. Following detox, the person addicted to the drug can reduce his or her chances of relapse by participating in a rehabilitation program. These programs address various issues surrounding addiction and provide coping skills to the person to help him or her reduce the risk of relapse.

Morphine addiction treatment is available on an inpatient or residential and outpatient basis. Some people with morphine addictions choose to participate in a residential program initially and then graduate to outpatient treatment after some time.

Morphine addiction treatment tends to be long-term, with some residential programs lasting up to a year and outpatient therapy continuing indefinitely.

Treatment tends to include behavioral therapy, group, and individual counseling, and in some cases, medication-assisted therapy (MAT).


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Resources

“Morphine: MedlinePlus Drug Information.” Medlineplus.Gov, 2018, medlineplus.gov/druginfo/meds/a682133.html

CDC Guideline for Prescribing Opioids for Chronic Pain. 2019, www.cdc.gov/drugoverdose/prescribing/guideline.html

“Drugs & Medications.” Www.Webmd.Com, www.webmd.com/drugs/2/drug-327-819/morphine-oral/morphine-oral/details/list-interaction-medication

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Updated on: June 24, 2020
Author
Addiction Group Staff
About
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Medically Reviewed: March 13, 2020
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Annamarie Coy,
BA, CADACII/ICADC, ICPR, MATS
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