Morphine affects the brain and body by relieving pain and producing feelings of calm, sedation, and euphoria. As an opioid, the side effects of morphine abuse are similar to that of heroin, fentanyl, and prescription opioids like Oxycontin (oxycodone) and Vicodin (hydrocodone).
As with other drugs, both short-term and long-term abuse of morphine is likely to lead to an increase in side effects, which can have serious health consequences. Perhaps the most debilitating side effects of morphine abuse are an addiction, overdose, and withdrawal. Without help, withdrawal can be painfully difficult and overdose can result in death.
Understanding Morphine Abuse
Morphine is derived from opium and is considered the ultimate opioid. In terms of potency, strength, and action, all other opioids and opiates are compared to morphine. While only a small percentage of the morphine derived from opium is used for medical purposes, the remaining morphine is processed into prescription opioids like codeine and Demerol (meperidine).
The effects of morphine include two crucial elements: pain-relief and pleasure.
Because of the rewarding effects caused by morphine in the brain, addiction is likely to develop when the drug is abused. Injecting or snorting morphine causes the drug to quickly enter the bloodstream and reach the brain. Once in the brain, morphine activates different opiate receptors that produce intense feelings of pleasure and euphoria.
Repeated morphine abuse will likely result in tolerance, which means a higher dose is required to achieve the desired effect. Morphine abuse occurs when the drug is taken without a prescription, for long periods of time, or in larger quantities than directed.
Short-Term Side Effects Of Morphine Abuse
Due to how morphine interacts with the brain, the drug will produce multiple side effects when abused. Morphine results in feelings of relaxation and calm, as well as a feeling of being in control. Morphine’s powerful effects can cause a person to seem “out of it” or distant like they’re mentally drifting away into a sedated version of themselves.
Some common side effects of morphine abuse include:
- decreased sexual desire/performance
- dry mouth
- a headache
- mood changes
Morphine slows down activity in the brain and nervous system, which can result in slowed breathing and extreme drowsiness. The effects of sedation can be so intense a person may become unconscious.
Which short-term effects occur depend on how morphine was abused, how much a person took, the person’s health, and a variety of other factors. Keep in mind, any short-term effects may occur after using morphine for the first time.
Harmful Side Effects Of Morphine Abuse
There are several serious, possibly harmful side effects that may occur as a result of morphine abuse. It is medically recommended for a person experiencing any serious side effects call for help immediately.
Some serious side effects of morphine include:
- breathing problems
- changes in heartbeat
- chest pain
- hallucinations (hearing or seeing things that aren’t there)
- loss of appetite
- swelling of the face, eyes, mouth, lips, and throat
The more morphine a person takes, the higher the risk of experiencing serious side effects. Side effects vary from person to person, but the continual use of morphine is likely to result in brain changes that will affect how a person thinks and behaves.
Long-Term Side Effects Of Morphine Addiction
Long-term morphine abuse is almost certain to lead to addiction, which is a brain disorder defined by compulsive use, a lack of control, intense cravings, and continual use despite harmful consequences. Addiction changes the brain in ways that can cause problems in day-to-day life and relationships.
Some long-term effects related to addiction can include:
- impulsive or risky behavior
- inability to enjoy food, sex, or other pleasurable activities
- lack of control over stress levels
- memory and learning problems
- nutrition problems
- poor decision-making skills
- relationship problems
Depending on how morphine is abused, long-term effects may include heart and lung disease, mental illness, and contracting HIV/AIDS and other infectious diseases. Prolonged use of morphine is also likely to result in physical and psychological dependence, which can make it very difficult to stop use as the brain and body has adapted to having morphine in the system.
Withdrawal is likely to occur when a person abruptly stops using morphine due to physical dependence on the drug. Symptoms can last for several days or longer, and can be so unpleasant they may force a person to use more drugs for relief. Symptoms of morphine withdrawal may include:
- back, muscle, or joint pain
- difficulty falling or staying asleep
- fast heartbeat/breathing
- stomach cramps
- teary eyes/runny nose
Entering a medically supervised detox program can be an effective way to manage withdrawal symptoms. Detox programs take place in hospitals or inpatient treatment centers and allow staff to administer medications to alleviate symptoms, provide safety and support, and monitor progress.
Morphine overdose occurs when a person takes too much of the drug, either on accident or purposefully. The risk of a morphine overdose, and other serious, life-threatening effects, is increased when morphine is used with substances like alcohol, benzodiazepines, and other prescription opioids.
Symptoms of a morphine overdose include:
- blue lips and fingernails
- coma (unresponsiveness)
- difficulty breathing or no breathing
- pinpoint pupils
If a person shows any signs of an overdose, 9-1-1 should be called immediately. A morphine overdose can cause a person to stop breathing, which can result in death if the overdose goes untreated. Overdosing on morphine will likely require further hospitalization, which should be followed by addiction treatment.
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Morphine Addiction Treatment
For opioids like morphine, addiction treatment usually consists of a combination of medication and behavioral therapy. Medications include government-approved drugs like methadone, buprenorphine (Suboxone), and naltrexone (Vivitrol). These drugs can be effective for:
- alleviating uncomfortable symptoms
- helping people complete treatment
- reducing drug cravings
- reducing the risk of overdose and death
Medication-assisted treatment (MAT) is the use of these medications alongside behavioral therapy. With medications helping to reduce cravings and alleviate symptoms, therapy can help a person confront their struggle with addiction and change their thinking and attitudes towards drugs.
Inpatient rehab programs can be effective treatment options because they involve around-the-clock care and supervision, which can provide the structure a person needs to learn how to successfully manage addiction and thrive in recovery.
Additional resources from DrugRehab.org:
- Morphine Addiction Drug Rehab Centers
- A Quantum Leap in Pain Relief? Scientists Create Drug As Strong as Morphine, But Much Safer
- Is Buprenorphine An Opiate?
- Opioid Addiction in Cancer Patients
- The Most Commonly Abused Opiates