Morphine Abuse, Withdrawal & Treatment
Morphine is a prescription opioid medication primarily used for treating pain. It is available as a liquid, tablet, and in injectable preparations.1
Like heroin and prescription opioid medications, morphine can also induce feelings of relaxation and pleasure, and people may misuse the drug at higher doses to feel a “high” or “rush” of temporary euphoria.1
What Are the Signs of Morphine Abuse?
Morphine is a powerful opioid that has a high potential for abuse which may lead to physiological dependence or addiction. Misuse of morphine or other opioids can be dangerous and has been associated with many serious health problems including overdose and death.1,2
Someone is misusing a prescription opioid when they take a prescription that doesn’t belong to them or misuse their own prescription (such as by taking more than prescribed or taking it in ways other than intended, e.g., snorting crushed tablets). 3
Someone who is abusing morphine or other opioids may display certain behavioral and physical signs, such as:4,5,17
- Seeming preoccupied with getting more morphine or other opioids.
- Requesting extra refills or new prescriptions and lying about lost or stolen medications.
- Visiting multiple doctors requesting morphine or other opioids.
- Not wanting to discuss non-opioid pain treatments.
- Losing interest in favorite activities in order to use morphine or other opioids.
- Behaving secretively and/or isolating oneself from friends and family.
- Changes in mood, attitude and energy levels.
- Decreased performance at school or work.
- Neglecting important obligations as a result of recurring opioid misuse.
- Decreased attention to personal hygiene.
- Eating less than usual.
- Constricted, or “pinpoint”, pupils.
- Seemingly overly sleepy.
- Small sores or scars on the forearm or always wearing long sleeves even in hot weather (potential signs of injection use).
- Experiencing symptoms of opioid withdrawal, such as shaking, diarrhea or vomiting.
If someone is displaying the signs of opioid misuse, they may have developed an opioid addiction, or what treatment professionals call an opioid use disorder. An OUD is a treatable medical disorder characterized by repeated use of opioids despite them causing serious problems in someone’s life.6
While only a medical or mental health professional is equipped to diagnose an opioid use disorder, reading the diagnostic criteria may help you recognize whether you or someone you love needs help. View the full list of criteria.
Morphine Withdrawal & Detox
Once someone has become dependent on morphine, they will experience withdrawal symptoms when they reduce or cease taking the drug.3
It is difficult to predict how long or severe withdrawal may be because there are so many variables, such as someone’s general physical and mental health, their history of opioid misuse, how much morphine or other opioids they’ve been taking, and how often they’ve taken opioids, etc.7,8
Generally, withdrawal from morphine and other opioids usually begin within 8 to 12 hours of the last opioid dose and subsides after 3 to 5 days. 7 Common morphine withdrawal symptoms include:7,8
- Excessive sweating.
- Pounding heart.
- Muscle twitching.
- Abdominal cramps.
- Muscle aches.
- Bone pain.
- Runny nose.
- Teary eyes.
- Nausea and vomiting.
While opioid withdrawal is seldom life-threatening, it is often very unpleasant and can be a major hurdle for people with OUD who want to quit, leading many of them to return to using opioids. With medical detoxification, patients are monitored and can be prescribed medications to stabilize any condition that may arise and make the process more bearable.7
Detox is an important first step in a person’s recovery because it allows them to safely withdraw from morphine and other opioids they were misusing, preparing them for further treatment, which is often necessary for long-term abstinence from illicit opioid use.7
Morphine Addiction Treatment
While morphine and other opioids are powerfully addictive substances, OUD is treatable. With the right help, many people are able to overcome the disorder and regain their health and social functioning.9
Effective treatment of OUD often involves a combination of pharmacological and behavioral health therapies and may involve more than one level of care. There is no single treatment pathway that leads to remission of the disease of the OUD, and some may need higher levels of treatment intensity than others.9
One person’s treatment plan, for example, might begin with medical detox, transition to inpatient rehab, and continue with aftercare plans such as weekly attendance at outpatient therapy or moving into a sober living facility. Another person’s treatment plan might consist of detox followed by outpatient treatment with aftercare that includes weekly attendance at a mutual-help group and is further supported by the use of a treatment program alumni app.
Behavioral Therapies for Morphine Addiction
Behavioral therapy is a vital part of addiction recovery and remission of OUD. There are several behavioral therapy methods that have been shown to be effective in treating substance use disorders. These include:
- Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT). CBT focuses on identifying and changing harmful thought and behavioral patterns.10
- Contingency Management (CM). Opioids (including morphine) act on the reward and motivation centers of the brain, which results in reinforcing drug use, often at the sake of more productive behaviors. CM helps to change a person’s motivation toward engagement in healthy and productive activities by providing tangible rewards for positive behaviors.11,12
- Family Behavior Therapy (FBT). FBT involves the patient and at least one family member. The purpose is to apply behavioral strategies learned in therapy within the family to improve the home environment.13
Some treatment facilities also use supplemental, alternative therapies that many patients find helpful. For example, Desert Hope Treatment Center provides expressive art and music therapy in addition to the more traditional, well-established therapies like those listed above.
Medications that Help Treat Morphine Addiction
Medication-assisted treatment (MAT) is also an important aspect of treatment for many people recovering from OUD.14
Two opioid agonists can be used in maintenance treatment, methadone and buprenorphine, and both have been demonstrated to be effective in preventing relapse to opioid misuse.15 These drugs bind to the same opioid receptors as morphine does to relieve withdrawal symptoms and cravings. When used as directed by a physician, use of these drugs will not produce a euphoric high in patients and are safe to use over the course of months or even years.15,16
Naltrexone—an opioid antagonist—is sometimes prescribed to patients with OUD after they have successfully detoxed from all opioids. Naltrexone is designed to discourage relapse, or a return to opioid use, by blocking the pleasurable subjective effects of opioids.16