Morphine is a prescription opioid pain reliever used to treat moderate-to-severe pain. Medically, it is used to treat cancer patients, patients who have had surgery, people with chronic back pain or kidney stone pain, and those who have been in accidents. HIV/AIDS pain management can also involve the use of morphine.
It comes from the opium found in the poppy plant and was first isolated from raw opium in 1804. German chemist Friedrich Sertürner, who performed this procedure, named the new drug after Morpheus, the Greek god of dreams. The medication is sold under multiple names, including Kadian, RMS, MSIR, and MS Contin, and available in three forms—as a pill, a liquid or a suppository.
Morphine is highly addictive, and even people who have a legitimate prescription for it can become dependent on it in as little as two weeks. The drug works by reducing neurotransmitters that carry pain signals to the brain so the users don’t feel discomfort for a few hours. In addition to morphine being used in medical settings, it is abused on the streets as a substitute for heroin, an illegal opioid that is synthesized from morphine. People addicted to heroin may seek out morphine if they can’t access heroin.
Street names for morphine include:
The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) has categorized morphine as Schedule II drug, which is defined as as drug “with a high potential for abuse, with use potentially leading to severe psychological or physical dependence.” These drugs are also considered dangerous, the definition says. Morphine is abused for its euphoric and calming effects. It dissolves anxiety and causes users to have shallow breathing. The risk of abuse is higher for people who have a personal or family history of substance abuse. They may chew, crush, snort, or inject it in its dissolved form. Polydrug use is common among drug users. Some people who abuse morphine may even try to enhance the drug’s effects by using it with other drugs or alcohol.
Alcohol is a depressant just like morphine, and together they can suppress the central nervous system and cause serious health problems. People who drink and use morphine or other drugs may not even be aware of how much of a substance they are taking to get high. Overdose is a definite possibility as it can become increasingly difficult for a person to control the highs. A person who has ingested alcohol and morphine should seek immediate medical attention as they could experienced depressed breathing and a slower heart rate.
A morphine-alcohol mix can speed up the user’s metabolism and lead to a number of dangerous side effects including nausea, dizziness, paranoia, panic, and hallucinations. People who abuse morphine and alcohol also can experience seizures, kidney failure, liver disease, coma, and overdose.
Morphine abuse can lead to overdose and death. Users are advised to not use morphine in any manner that is not prescribed. They also should not be used as muscle relaxants, tranquilizers, and sedatives.
Longtime or frequent morphine users will build up a tolerance for the drug over time, which means they will have to take larger amounts of the drug for their bodies to respond to it. Higher amounts can lead to overdose. Those who suddenly stop or reduce their usage likely will experience withdrawal, the period when the body attempts to adjust to a lower amount of the drug being in its system.
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Users in morphine withdrawal may experience these physical and psychological changes as they manage strong cravings.
Physical morphine withdrawal symptoms include:
Psychological morphine withdrawal symptoms include:
Withdrawal effects can also include uncontrollable crying, involuntary yawning, chills, and cold sweats. Prolonged morphine use can also harm one’s immune system, making it easier for someone to catch infections. The most obvious signs that someone is in active morphine addiction includes sweating, shaking, and vomiting. Sweating can last up to three days. Users in withdrawal may also appear to be in pain or highly anxious.
Morphine withdrawal will not be the same for everyone. The intensity and duration depend on various factors, including:
The half-life of morphine is estimated to be between two hours to four hours. Acute withdrawal symptoms can start six to 14 hours after the last dose is taken and peak within 36 hours to 72 hours. Symptoms can last up to several weeks to a month or longer, depending on the person.
Here is a general overview of what happens when morphine users stop taking the drug.
First 6-14 hours – There may be noticeable changes in mood, including anxiety, and users may have strong cravings for morphine.
Hour 15 to two days – Recovering morphine users may experience flu-like symptoms, such as a runny nose and chills. They may have aching muscles, appetite loss, diarrhea, and sleeping difficulties. They also may battle intense cravings for morphine, which makes this a vulnerable period for relapse. Symptoms can peak within the first three days.
Days 4-6- Physical symptoms start to ease up, including muscle aches. Nausea may begin to subside, but psychological symptoms persist.
Day 7 and beyond – Longtime morphine users will generally feel better but may have Post-Acute Withdrawal Syndrome (PAWS). This is a period when persistent withdrawal symptoms randomly appear from here for several more weeks or months, and in severe cases, years.
PAWS symptoms include emotional instability or mood swings, short-term memory loss, depression, insomnia, dizziness, and cravings for morphine or other drugs and alcohol. Professional addiction treatment programs and other supports, such as a 12-step program such as Narcotics Anonymous and Alcoholics Anonymous, can help recovering users manage this period.
Some people see addiction as a choice. But in actuality, while using drugs may start as a choice, many people find they can’t put down the drugs, even if they want to. The National Institute on Drug Abuse tells us that addiction is a chronic, relapsing brain disease that changes the brain’s structure and how it works. These changes are often long-lasting and they are the reason people, such as addicted morphine users, can’t stop despite the dangerous, harmful, and destructive consequences that come with chronic use.
That doesn’t mean some won’t try to stop using on their own, and they may do it suddenly. Quitting morphine abruptly after frequent or longtime use; however, is a highly dangerous practice that is strongly discouraged. The highly addictive drug makes it difficult for some users to stop, but once they do, the psychological discomfort they feel may prompt them to pick up the drug again. Doing so can end in a dangerous relapse, which can permanently damage the body or lead to death.
There’s help for people who want to end their morphine dependence safely. A medical detox at a licensed, reputable drug rehabilitation center or detox center is the first step.
A 24-hour detox conducted by medical professionals ensures you or your loved ones are monitored in a controlled setting as uncomfortable withdrawal symptoms are managed during the removal of morphine from the body. The substance typically stays in the body at least two days. While the intensity and duration of the withdrawal period varies by the individual, a medical detox ensures the client is kept safe and can get the attention needed if any medical emergencies arise.
The medications that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has specifically approved for morphine detox include buprenorphine, clonidine, and methadone. Clients may also be given medications to help ease high blood pressure, nausea, chills, cravings, depression, and other symptoms.
People who have completed morphine detox are encouraged to enter an inpatient, residential, or outpatient treatment program where they can focus on their addiction. Outpatient treatment offers the most flexibility while inpatient and residential likely require a 30-day or longer stay at the treatment facility.
Research shows that at least 90 days (three months or more) are needed to treat drug addiction. A longer stay gives clients a chance to develop the life skills and strategies they need to live morphine-free. They can benefit from cognitive behavioral therapy, dialectical behavioral therapy, mindfulness, and other therapies and approaches that support their path to recovery.
Before a treatment program is planned to treat morphine addiction, recovering users likely will undergo an evaluation that reviews factors such as the severity of the addiction and if other health issues are present. In the case that a mental health disorder is uncovered, a treatment plan that includes therapies for co-occurring disorders, such as anxiety, depression and post-traumatic stress disorder among others, will be recommended.
U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration.Drug Schedules. Retrieved from https://www.dea.gov/drug-scheduling
Psychology Today. (2015, May 26) Detoxing After Detox: The Perils of Post-Acute Withdrawal. Mager, D. MSW Retrieved from https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/some-assembly-required/201505/detoxing-after-detox-the-perils-post-acute-withdrawal
NIDA. (2018, July 2). Media Guide. Retrieved from https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/media-guide
National Academies of Sciences. (2017, July 13). Balancing Societal and Individual Benefits and Risks of Prescription Opioid Use. 6, Opioid Approval and Monitoring by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK458654/