Morphine is one of the most commonly used pain relievers for people suffering from moderate or severe pain. It’s also commonly used before surgery. People who develop an addiction to morphine run the risk of suffering severe consequences. Treatment and support are available to help them recover.
Used as early as the Civil War, morphine is one of the most well-known painkillers in the world. Morphine is a naturally-occurring chemical found in the seed pods of the opium poppy plant, and the illicit drug heroin is made using morphine.
Doctors prescribe morphine to treat moderate to severe pain. It can also be used preventatively before surgeries and to aid in anesthesia. Brand name drugs containing morphine include Avinza (discontinued), Kadian and MS Contin.
Morphine changes the way the central nervous system responds to pain. It belongs to the group of drugs called opioids. Morphine can exaggerate the side effects of other drugs and alcohol, so people taking the drug for pain are usually advised to avoid drinking.
Morphine is a Schedule II controlled substance. The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration classifies drugs with a medical purpose that have a high potential for abuse and can lead to severe psychological and physical dependence in Schedule II. Drugs that do not have a medical purpose but have a similar likelihood for addiction — such as heroin — are classified in Schedule I.
Doctors usually administer morphine by injection in pill form. When used for extended periods of time, it can lead to physical dependence, but people taking morphine to treat pain do not usually develop an addiction.
People who abuse morphine are much more likely to develop an addiction than people who take it as prescribed by a doctor. When the body is exposed to morphine for long periods of time, the brain begins to crave the presence of the drug. When a person doesn’t consume the drug, the brain reacts negatively — a reaction called withdrawal. Doctors will usually taper a patient’s dosage of morphine to avoid severe withdrawal symptoms.
Addiction causes people to continue taking morphine despite its harmful effects. The person no longer needs the drug to treat pain, but they may think they do. Many people addicted to morphine don’t take the drug to treat pain. They take it to avoid withdrawal.
The illicit drug heroin is converted to morphine in the body when it enters the brain. Morphine acts on the pain and reward systems in the brain. The dangerous side effects of the drug occur because the brain stem reacts to opioids and it controls critical components of the body such as blood pressure and respiration.
People who abuse morphine are more likely to suffer dangerous side effects of the drug, especially those who take it in high doses or inject it intravenously.
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Doctors are careful when determining the dosage of morphine to give to a patient because the drug can cause severe side effects in high doses. When taken as prescribed, morphine usually causes side effects such as pain relief, decreased hunger and decreased cough.
Other common side effects of morphine include:
The symptoms of prescription drug abuse are much more serious. Overdosing on morphine can lead to death from severely depressed breathing, but a drug called naloxone can reverse the effects of morphine overdose if it is administered quickly.
Other symptoms of abusing morphine include:
People diagnosed with morphine addiction suffer other problems associated with long-term addiction. They may make risky decisions in attempts to get drugs. Their work performance and relationships may suffer as morphine becomes the number one priority in their life. They may switch to other dangerous drugs, such as heroin, if they are unable to obtain morphine.
Recovering from morphine addiction requires treatment. Drug rehab clinics develop specialized treatment plans that are unique to each patient. If a person is suffering from co-occurring mental health disorders, the treatment plan will address those issues as well. Treatment also explains other underlying causes of addiction to patients, which often assists in recovery.
Treatment for morphine addiction begins with detox from the drug. Treatment centers provide supervised detox to make the experience as comfortable as possible. Some medications, including methadone and buprenorphine, can ease opioid withdrawal symptoms.
Untreated symptoms of morphine withdrawal include:
Withdrawal is different for everyone, and the severity of symptoms depends on the severity and length of addiction. Rehabilitation facilities can counteract and ease some symptoms of withdrawal.
After morphine detox, clinicians offer patients a variety of behavioral therapies to help them learn how to live without the drug. Cognitive behavioral therapy explains the underlying causes of addiction and how to cope with stressful situations in life. Contingency management offers people tangible rewards for remaining abstinent and adhering to behaviors that align with sobriety goals.
After a stay at rehab ends, people recovering from addiction require support to adjust to life without morphine. Family and friends can assist loved ones in recovery by supporting them during stressful times in life. Some people in recovery find 12-step programs and peer-run support groups helpful.