Morphine is a potent opioid often used to treat people suffering from severe and chronic pain such as those who have been in accidents or have a long-term painful illness. While morphine is typically only used in hospital settings or under prescription, it is highly addictive and people may become dependant on the substance even if not abusing it.

What is morphine?

Morphine is a strong opioid used to treat moderate to severe pain. It is synthesized from the poppy plant and can only be legally obtained via a prescription from a doctor. 

Morphine is widely used to relieve both acute and chronic pain. It can be administered orally, intravenously, epidurally, or intrathecally.[1]

Brand names

  • MS Contin
  • Morphine Sulfate ER
  • Avinza
  • Morphabond
  • Roxanol
  • Morphine Sulfate IR
  • Kadian[2]
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How does morphine work?

Morphine works by inhibiting pain signals being passed along nerves to our brains. It is an extremely strong drug and its effect mimics that of endorphins, our body’s natural pain-blunting hormones.

Morphine binds to opioid receptors in the brain, as well as neural pathways related to experiencing pain, producing analgesic effects. It artificially floods the brain with dopamine, inducing a relaxed state of euphoria.

Morphine is commonly taken in tablet form or via a liquid solution, but can only be injected via a syringe. Standard tablets are used to manage short-term pain and slow-release tablets for long-term pain. A doctor will decide which option is best suited for the situation. 

Morphine side effects

Morphine can have an array of unwanted side effects. These can range in occurrence from common to rare. 

Common side effects

  • Constipation – eat plenty of dietary fiber & stay well hydrated to manage constipation. Include gentle exercises into your daily routine such as light jogging or walking. Liaise with your doctor if constipation doesn’t go away and they can provide treatment options.
  • Mild Nausea – rest for a couple of days and this ought to go away on its own. Inform your doctor if it persists.
  • Vomiting – rest for a couple of days and inform your doctor. 
  • Drowsiness – morphine slows down your CNS causing sedation or drowsiness.[1]

Less common side effects

  • Confusion
  • Lightheadedness
  • Headaches
  • Muscle spasms
  • Extreme fatigue
  • Loss of appetite
  • Rash
  • Dizziness

Rare side effects

  • Mood changes
  • Seizures
  • Seeing or hearing things that aren’t real
  • Palpitations
  • Difficulty breathing

The higher the dose of morphine you take, the more likely you’ll experience side effects. Many people experience no side effects or very mild ones.[3]

Inform your doctor if you experience any side effects and do not change your dose without consulting them first.

Is morphine addictive?

Morphine is one of the most highly addictive opioids available via prescription. This is due to how quickly users can build up a tolerance to it, requiring larger doses to feel the same effect. 

Users become accustomed to the effects of morphine on their brains and body and develop a dependency on the drug. Quitting becomes increasingly hard as withdrawal symptoms become more intense and harder to contend with. This compulsive use of larger and larger doses of morphine constitutes an addiction. 

Some people have a higher risk of morphine addiction than others. This can be due to hereditary factors, with research showing that certain genes increase the likelihood of developing an opioid addiction.[4]

Environmental factors can also raise the risk, with research showing you are more vulnerable to an opioid addiction if you grew up with an addicted parent, lived in poverty, or experienced abuse as a child.[5]

Signs of morphine addiction

Morphine addiction can manifest in physical, psychological, and behavioral signs. 

Physical signs

  • Dilated pupils
  • Constantly dozing off
  • Slurring your words
  • Breathlessness
  • Loss of appetite

Psychological signs

  • Increased euphoria
  • Heavy mood swings
  • Chronic inattentiveness

 Behavioral signs

  • Lying or stealing money to get more morphine
  • Doctor shopping to get multiple prescriptions for morphine
  • Irritable or aggressive whilst not on morphine
  • Isolating themselves from family and friends
  • Experiencing withdrawal symptoms when they stop taking morphine
  • Decreased performance at work

Morphine withdrawal symptoms

When morphine is used, it stimulates the neural pathways associated with ‘reward’. The effects of morphine wear off between 9 and 13 hours.[1] Once an addict’s brain has created the connection between morphine use and the reward pathway, it can lead to tolerance and dependence.

Dependence on morphine results in the user experiencing withdrawal symptoms whenever they are not taking the opioid. These can vary and the degree to which they are felt depends on the quantity and time the user has taken morphine for.

Quitting morphine is an uphill battle and can feel extremely challenging without help. Symptoms of morphine withdrawal can feel exceptionally uncomfortable, and it can be tempting to relapse to find relief. It is recommended to taper yourself off the drug over time, rather than going cold turkey; but you should always discuss your circumstances with your doctor or other medical professional.

Below is a list of withdrawal symptoms and a rough timeline for typical withdrawal symptom onset:

  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Sleep problems
  • Sweating
  • Muscle aches and cramps
  • Agitation
  • Fatigue
  • Diarrhea
  • Tremors

Withdrawal timeline

Upon your last dose of short-acting opioids, such as morphine, you will experience withdrawal symptoms between 8 and 24 hours after your last use. These will persist for up to 10 days.[6]

These usually occur in 2 stages with early withdrawal symptoms including sweating, fatigue, a runny nose, and tearing up. 

Late withdrawal symptoms tend to be more severe and include chills, a high fever, palpitations, insomnia, nausea, vomiting, loss of appetite, muscle pain, diarrhea, and strong cravings to take morphine.

Morphine detox

Quitting morphine can be done cold turkey, but medical professionals will usually recommend a tapering-off process. This involves gradually weaning off morphine with smaller and smaller doses in order to reduce the severity of symptoms and the likelihood of relapse. This process can be directed by a doctor or other suitable medical professional.

It is recommended that addicts carry out their morphine detox in a medically supervised institution. This allows for regular progress check-ins and ensures their environment is optimized to give them the best chance of a full recovery.

Wherever detox takes place, good self-care is equally important. Eating nutritious food, walking regularly in nature, drinking plenty of water, and talking regularly to friends and family can all help with the detox process. 

Medications used in morphine detox

Treatment for morphine addiction

Stopping opioid abuse like morphine alone is challenging and most will be best served seeking help from a medical professional. Seeking aid from medical professionals, attending inpatient rehab or outpatient opioid treatment, counseling, and support groups during the recovery journey can prove useful, especially when attempting to navigate the trying period of withdrawal and detox.

Supporting a loved one with morphine addiction

If you notice a loved one’s behavior has changed and you recognize the telling signs, they may be battling addiction. Whilst this can feel frustrating because we want them to take better care of themselves, it is important to not be too heavy-handed in your approach.

Coming across as too forceful, exasperated, or intimidating can push them away. Ensure you come from a place of compassion and understanding and be aware that their morphine abuse could well be a way to cope with trauma or mental health issues. Listen to what they have to say, express your worries honestly and calmly, and encourage them to seek medical help or counseling.

Remember, despite both your efforts and your loved one’s commitment to the cause, recovery can often involve passages of relapse. It is vital that you remain supportive and encouraging in these moments as this is just another step on the road to recovery for your loved one. Read here for more on how to support a loved one with addiction.

Morphine FAQs

Where does morphine come from?

Morphine is extracted from the seed pod of the poppy plant, Papaver Somniferum. Morphine is synthesized by scientists in laboratories for medical use. Read here to learn about morphine versus other opioid drugs.

What is morphine’s legal status in the USA?

Morphine is a schedule II narcotic under the Controlled Substances Act and is only legal via medical prescription

What does morphine look like?

Morphine can come in tablet or liquid form for oral consumption, and liquid form for injections.

What is the psychological effect of morphine?

Morphine floods the brain with dopamine causing temporary euphoria, numbness, and relief from pain. 

What are common slang names for morphine?

Morf, Morfo, Morpheus’ teardrops, Mister blue, God’s drug, Dreamer, Emsel, First Line, and Unkie.