Morphine Symptoms and Warning Signs

Morphine is a pure opiate that can be found naturally in most animals and plants – notably the opium poppy. This drug is one of the most powerful painkillers, but also features potent habit-forming properties and dangerous health effects when abused.

The tendency to abuse morphine is very high, due to the sensations of pleasure and euphoria the drug induces, alongside pain relief. This is why most legitimate users become abusers after a prescription regimen. According to the WHO, about 15 million people abused opioids in 2014 and became dependent on these drugs, with most of them becoming addicted via a prescription.

Morphine is also abused recreationally. People often take the medication against medical advice as a means to get ‘high’, experience euphoria or to suppress their emotional problems.

Continued abuse of morphine is a path that leads to dangerous health effects and eventually, addiction. It’s important to spot this issue in time by looking out for the warning signs of abuse and contacting your doctor when you notice them.

Types of Morphine Brands

Morphine is marketed under several brand names, including:

  • MS Contin
  • Avinza
  • Oramorph
  • Kadian
  • Morphabond
  • Roxanol

How does Morphine affect the body?

Morphine travels to the brain via the bloodstream and the time it takes to get there depends on the method of ingestion. Snorting, smoking and injecting the drug fast-tracks the time it takes for Morphine to take hold.

When the drug reaches the brain, it binds itself to opioid receptors in the Central Nervous System and those found in other parts of the brain. In doing so, this inhibits certain neurons from sending pain signals to nerves in order to quell sensations of pain and discomfort. This action also leads to a backlog of dopamine in the brain, causing a state of heightened euphoria and elation in those that take the drug.

This pain-free and euphoric state makes morphine more desirable to people that take it under prescription, which naturally leads to abuse in recreational users. Over time, the initial dose of morphine will not induce the pain-relieving and pleasurable sensations it previously did, which will call for more of the drug to be taken.

If you continue to take Morphine incrementally, the drug will eventually hijack your brain’s reward system and cause your body to become reliant on it for normal function. Therefore, you’ll feel like you’re not normal whenever you don’t take Morphine as frequently (or at the quantity) you’ve become accustomed do. When this occurs, withdrawal symptoms will begin to manifest, which will compel you to use the drug at all costs.

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Why does Morphine have the potential for abuse?

Morphine has a high potential for abuse, as a result of its interaction with the brain and the intense feelings of euphoria and pleasure it induces. When you take the drug according to prescription, you’ll find it difficult to discontinue use, lest the pain for which you initially took the drug returns.

For recreational users, taking morphine is a vehicle by which to elevate their mood and feel happy; as a result, they might consume as many morphine pills as they can – or even ingest the drug via other methods that make it act faster.

In both cases, your body will build up a tolerance to the effects of the drug once you’ve taken it for a while. Subsequently, you’ll increase your intake in order to experience its pain-relieving and sedative effects. This cycle will continue and ultimately lead to an ugly case of abuse or addiction if you don’t see a doctor.

Recognising the Common Warning Signs of Morphine Abuse

A common indicator that you’ve started abusing Morphine involves taking the drug for longer than prescribed and in larger doses than your prescription dictates. However, there are other telling signs that should alert you to an impending spell of abuse.

Firstly, you’ll begin to realise that Morphine no longer has the effects it used to when taken at standard doses. This is when your body builds tolerance.

Another sign of abuse is the onset of withdrawal symptoms when you reduce your intake or completely stop taking the drug after a period of continuous use. These symptoms surface in the form of muscle pains, depression, anxiety, nausea, vomiting, and cravings for the drug. Withdrawal symptoms occur according to your level of abuse and general state of health.

Other warnings to look out for if you’re worried that you or a loved one may be abusing Morphine include:

  • Nodding off
  • Dilated and pinpoint pupils
  • Shallow breathing
  • Inattention
  • Slurred speech
  • Itchy skin
  • Dizziness
  • Extreme drowsiness
  • Confusion
  • Lowered blood pressure
  • Loss of confusion
  • Gastrointestinal disturbances
  • Poor circulation
  • Weak pulse
  • Nausea and vomiting

The Dangers of Morphine Abuse

Morphine affects the brain in such a way that after a while, you’ll develop a habit of consuming it compulsively. This begins with tolerance all the way through to dependence, which can occur very quickly in the case of Morphine consumption. Recreational users are at a higher risk of addiction, because they consume the drug without initial medical supervision. Taking morphine according to the directions of a doctor will reduce your risk of addiction and dependence, though they can still occur via this means.

There are many related dangers of abusing Morphine for a long time and becoming addicted. One such danger is overdose, which can induce slowed breathing that in turn leads to coma and could even prove fatal. Other associated dangers of morphine abuse include:

  • Problems urinating
  • Sleep apnoea
  • Alternating periods of unconsciousness and alertness
  • Weakened immune system
  • Reduced sex drive
  • Circulatory inflammation or collapsed veins (in intravenous abusers)
  • Hallucinations
  • High risks of blood-borne infections and diseases (mainly in intravenous users)

Other dangers involved with Morphine abuse include: poor performance that could affect your career or academic aspirations; mood swings and emotional disturbances that could result in relationship problems; as well as fatigue and tiredness, which could prevent you from carrying out day to day activities. Being addicted to Morphine can also cause deep seated damage that affects other aspects of your social life, such as struggling to hold down a job, financial difficulties, incarceration (for possession of large amounts of a controlled substance), as well as issues with family and friends.

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Recognising a Morphine Addiction

Sometimes, it can be difficult to spot a morphine addiction – especially when it’s someone else’s. This is because most addicts tend to live in denial and attempt to hide their physical symptoms. If they started taking the medication for medical purposes, it can be difficult to tell if they’re compulsively taking the drug or doing so to stave off pain. Here are some behaviours your loved one may exhibit when they’ve become addicted to Morphine:

  • Loss of interest in previously enjoyed engagements and activities
  • A compulsive need to always take Morphine
  • Presence of the drug all around their living area
  • Dilated, pinpointed and pinpricked pupils
  • Lethargy
  • Financial difficulties
  • Heightened irritation over minor environmental changes
  • Irrational mood swings
  • Isolation
  • Sudden introversion and social shyness
  • Poor judgement
  • Dip in academic and work performance

‘Doctor shopping’ for multiple prescriptions

Morphine addiction and the brain

The brain naturally likes to repeat pleasurable events rather than relive painful sensations. As humans, we respond to these impulses. This is why we like to repeatedly engage in activities that we enjoy. Morphine offers a boon to people who suffer from pain as a result of medical conditions such as cancer, fibromyalgia, post-surgery, and even cases of kidney stones. However, users become too reliant on medication – especially when they find out it not only keeps their pain at bay, but also allows them to feel euphoric in the process.

The combination of these effects is one the main reasons people continue to take Morphine. However, there are related dangers when taking the drug without a modicum of control. If you abuse Morphine to the point of addiction, you’ll find that taking it becomes a necessity in order to stave off ugly withdrawal symptoms. Said withdrawal symptoms can cause complications if you don’t refrain from taking morphine whilst under medical supervision.

The presence of withdrawal shouldn’t confine you to use Morphine perpetually. Consequently, you could die from an overdose if you don’t stop abusing the drug.

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Learn the Short-Term Side Effects of Morphine Abuse

Abusing morphine in the short-term does not preclude you from experiencing adverse side effects. While these will be relatively milder than the side-effects of long-term use, they can be excruciating and problematic as well, depending on the amount of Morphine taken and how the drug was administered. These short-term effects can manifest as early as 15-60 minutes post-intake and may span up to six hours.

Possible short-term side effects of Morphine abuse include:

  • Dizziness
  • Hallucinations
  • Severe respiratory depression
  • Itchy skin
  • Nausea
  • Inability to concentrate
  • Drowsiness
  • Apathy
  • Coma

Learn the Long-Term Morphine Abuse Side Effects

Side effects of abusing Morphine over a long period include:

  • Depression
  • Restlessness
  • Confusion
  • Suppressed immune system
  • Severe constipation
  • Loss of coordination
  • Seizures
  • Coma
  • Death

Intervention for a Morphine Addiction

If you realise a loved one has become addicted to Morphine, it’s important that you call them to order from an angle of understanding and care, whilst offering to support them in helping to overcome their addiction. You can carry this out via an intervention, which involves a team that comprises other loved ones of the addict. A professional interventionist can help set up an effective intervention if you don’t know how to go about it yourself.

Detox and Withdrawal from Morphine

Detox refers to a process whereby your body attempts to eliminate the toxic remnants of Morphine in your system when you refrain from taking the drug for a long period. This phase is accompanied by a series of withdrawal symptoms that serve as reactions, because your body is losing a substance it has grown to rely on. Detox can be a difficult process, but you can safely negotiate this phase via a medically assisted detox programme.

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Treatment and Next Steps

Without treating your addiction to morphine, it’s possible you could relapse and start using it again after having abstained for a while. Treatment will equip you with skills that help overcome relapse triggers and cravings that could compel you to resume the addiction cycle. Contact a treatment centre or addiction helpline today once you notice any signs of morphine addiction.


What does treatment involve?

Treatment starts with an intake procedure, which involves providing your medical history, undergoing diagnostic testing about your drug use, and relaying the symptoms you’ve been experiencing. Intake will help doctors devise a treatment plan that mirrors your individual situation. After intake, you’ll move on to detox, whereby the remnants of morphine will be flushed out of your system and your withdrawal symptoms made more bearable. Rehabilitation normally follows detox; this involves therapy to help you tackle any psychological issues.

What type of treatment programme is right for me?

Treatment can be applied on an inpatient or outpatient basis. With the former, you’ll undergo treatment as a residential patient, while an outpatient programme will involve receiving treatment as a visiting patient. The type of treatment you undergo will largely depend on your level of addiction and living circumstances. It’s important you go through a proper evaluation and make an informed choice, based on the recommendation of your physician.

How long does treatment take?

Typically, rehab programmes last 30, 60 or 90 days, with the 90-day programme considered the gold standard of addiction treatment. However, the duration of treatment might be stretched or even shortened, depending on the level of your addiction, your general health, and the type of treatment programme you undergo.

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