Morphine is a potent painkilling substance included in many medicines. But if users consume more than prescribed, or use it without a prescription, morphine can create a powerful drug dependency that can be difficult to overcome—and also put users at grave risk for a drug overdose, which could be fatal. Treatment for morphine drug addiction can be effective if addicts are truly dedicated to healing, and morphine addicts who receive intensive inpatient treatment for their dependencies have greatly improved odds for recovery.
What Is Morphine Addiction?
Morphine is one of the most potent painkillers available and is often prescribed for severe pain of various types. As a drug in the opiate class, morphine is included in a number of painkillers and is used as a precursor in the manufacture of several others. It may be prescribed as pills, or in liquid form for faster pain relief through injection.
All opiates are potentially addictive, and those who abuse them are also prone to overdose. Drugs in the opiate class are responsible for up to 70 percent of all drug overdose deaths in the United States, and morphine is well represented in this category.
People who become addicted to morphine face a challenging path to sobriety, but with comprehensive treatment recovery is an achievable goal.
Facts and Statistics
Morphine addiction statistics show a drug with high potential for abuse, which is a common characteristic of all opiate painkillers.
A closer look at morphine and opiate use and abuse reveals that:
- In 2016, 2.1 million people suffered from opiate use disorders in the United States, and 1.8 million suffered from addiction to pain relievers, including morphine.
- Between 2005 and 2011, emergency department visits attributable to morphine use increased by 120 percent, from 15,762 to 34,593.
- In the United States, the amount of morphine consumed per capita rose from only two milligrams (mg) per person in 1980 to 29 mg/person in 2000, to a peak of 80 mg/person in 2013.
- In 2015, 24 percent of opiate overdose deaths were traceable to natural (morphine) or semi-synthetic (oxycodone) opiates (there were more than 52,000 such deaths in total).
- In 2010, United States companies manufactured 78.4 tons of morphine, which accounted for 19 percent of the global total.
- In 2010, people living in the United States consumed about 55 percent of the global total of morphine.
- In one Australian survey, 38 percent of those who admitted to injecting morphine reported an addiction to the drug.
Symptoms and Diagnosis of Morphine Addiction
A morphine addiction can develop with shocking rapidity, and it is this aspect of morphine use that catches people off-guard.
Heavy and regular use of morphine produces multiple symptoms that indicate the presence of a drug addiction, including:
- Low blood pressure
- Breathing difficulties
- Itchy skin
- Frequent drowsiness
- Equilibrium problems
- Confusion and slowed thinking processes
- Stomach problems
- Nausea and occasional vomiting
- Circulation problems
- Sleep apnea
- Problems urinating
As tolerance builds and morphine addiction increases in intensity, the behavior of sufferers will begin to reflect their deep-rooted drug dependency.
Behavioral symptoms of chronic morphine addiction include:
- Doctor shopping, or faking illness or injury to get additional morphine prescriptions
- Purchasing black market morphine (or other opiates) to supplement legally obtained supplies
- Begging, borrowing, or stealing morphine, or the money to purchase it
- Loss of interest in personal hygiene
- Secretive behavior, isolation from family and friends
- Inability to concentrate and focus
- Appearance of needle marks and bruising (if morphine is injected)
For medical professionals, diagnosing morphine addiction is a relatively straightforward process, as long as patients are honest about their drug use and their inability to control it.
Morphine addiction may be diagnosed if:
- Morphine has been consumed more heavily and for longer periods than expected
- Multiple attempts to quit using morphine have failed
- Securing and using morphine has become a time-consuming process
- Cravings are experienced regularly
- Employment, educational, and family responsibilities are frequently neglected
- Morphine use is implicated in relationship problems
- Occupational, social, and/or cherished recreational activities are no longer a priority
- Morphine use has led to hazardous behaviors, accidents, or exposure to danger
- Physical or psychological problems have developed in connection with morphine use
- Morphine tolerance has grown dramatically
- Withdrawal symptoms are experienced when morphine is not consumed on schedule
Six or more of these symptoms must be present for a severe morphine addiction to be diagnosed, but someone who exhibits as few as two symptoms may be diagnosed with a mild form of dependency.
Should morphine addiction remain undiagnosed for weeks or months, the risk of overdose—and possible death—can rise exponentially.
The signs of morphine overdose include:
- Extreme dizziness
- Confusion and disorientation
- Cold, clammy skin
- Constricted pupils
- Loss of normal muscle tension
- Cardiac symptoms
- Dangerously low blood pressure and a weak pulse
- Overwhelming drowsiness, to the point of unresponsiveness
- Shallow breathing and respiratory distress
- Loss of consciousness
If an overdose victim loses consciousness before anything is done, it may already be too late to get help. When summoned to provide aid, emergency medical personnel will often administer the drug naloxone, which can halt the neural binding of morphine (or any other dangerous opiate) and stop an overdose from progressing.
Many lives have been saved by naloxone, but it can only work if medical attention is sought promptly when an overdose is suspected.
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Causes and Risk Factors
Chronic pain is the biggest risk factor for morphine addiction, since this is the primary reason people start taking the drug.
But there are other risk factors for opiate addiction and drug addiction in general that may come into play, including:
- Family history. This association between parental and sibling drug abuse and an elevated risk for drug dependency has some genetic elements, but the normalization of drug use in such an environment also contributes to the problem.
- Previous history of drug abuse. Recreational drug users often develop addictions to multiple substances, and morphine is frequently abused by those seeking a new and different type of euphoria.
- Mental health problems. People with undiagnosed mental health issues often use drugs and alcohol to escape from the emotional pain of their symptoms. Men and women with anxiety disorders, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), or bipolar mania, for example, sometimes turn to opiates because they believe these drugs will help them relax—which they may, but only for a short time before dependency sets in.
Ultimately, it is the highly addictive nature of morphine and opiates that puts everyone who uses them at risk. If the addictive qualities of these drugs are not taken seriously, things may quickly get out of hand for those who misuse opiates for any reason.
Supervised Detox for Morphine Addiction
Morphine addiction produces serious withdrawal symptoms that can derail recovery if left untreated or unmanaged. Withdrawal symptoms will appear within a few hours after use of the drug stops, and likely peak in intensity over a two-to-three-day period.
The withdrawal symptoms experienced by people attempting to overcome morphine addiction include:
- Agitation, restlessness
- Nausea and vomiting
- Joint and muscle pain
- Heavy sweating
- Anxiety, panic attacks
- Runny nose, sneezing
- Chills, feelings of being feverish
- Diarrhea and stomach cramps
- Racing heart and shallow breathing
- Intense cravings
Detox for morphine addiction will include careful 24-hour medical monitoring by doctors, nurses, and addiction specialists. Any urgent physical or emotional problems will be treated as necessary, while withdrawal symptoms will be managed to minimize their intensity and reduce the suffering they cause.
During a five-to-10-day medical detox for morphine addiction, substitute medications may be introduced to help the patient wean off opiates gradually, safely, and sustainably.
Methadone, naltrexone, and buprenorphine bind with opiate receptors in the brain just like morphine, but without causing the same level of euphoria or the same intensity of cravings and withdrawal symptoms. Quitting an opiate drug suddenly and abruptly is never a good idea, and the use of opiate-based medications during detox and beyond can smooth a morphine addict’s transition to drug-free status and increase the chances of a long-lasting recovery.
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At least 40 percent of people with an opiate addiction suffer from co-occurring mental health disorders, with mood disorders (depression and bipolar disorder) and anxiety disorders (generalized anxiety disorder, social anxiety disorder, panic disorder) being the most frequently diagnosed.
In the case of depression, the severe life disruptions caused by drug addiction may be responsible for the onset of symptoms or for an increase in their intensity. People with anxiety disorders are prone to becoming dependent on mood-altering substances that help them relax, and many anxiety disorder sufferers who abuse morphine may also abuse alcohol or other opiates, which can have the same type of effect (in the early stages of use).
When co-occurring disorders are diagnosed, people seeking morphine addiction treatment will need an integrated recovery and rehabilitation plan that addresses all of their symptoms and gives equal priority to all existing conditions. Comprehensive dual diagnosis treatment is the only way for healing to occur and sobriety to be maintained.
Morphine Addiction Treatment and Prognosis
Morphine addiction is a serious medical condition that requires detox followed by intensive inpatient treatment. Rehabilitation programs will include daily individual, group, and family psychotherapy sessions, as morphine dependent men and women explore the reasons for their addictions and work to overcome their self-destructive patterns of behavior.
Residential addiction treatment facilities are equipped to offer both detox and comprehensive inpatient treatment, as well as evidence-based supplemental programs including holistic health practices and life skills training. They can also offer long-term assistance through continuing care and aftercare programs that keep recovering morphine addicts focused on the future and their quest for lasting wellness.
Relapse prevention strategies are an essential part of aftercare, as they must be since relapse is a genuine risk that can undermine anyone’s recovery from a substance abuse problem. In addition to ongoing therapy, medications like methadone, naloxone, and buprenorphine may continue to be administered for an extended period, with the goal of eventually weaning patients off those drugs once it is safe to do so.
Treatment and relapse prevention for morphine addiction can both be successful, as long as patients are determined to get well and willing to accept the challenges they will encounter on the road to long-term sobriety.