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Morphine Addiction: Statistics, Signs & Treatment

Morphine is a prescription painkiller, and it’s one of the more potent opioid drugs that’s legally available in the U.S. For centuries, it’s been used to treat moderate-to-severe pain. However, it’s extremely addictive and has a high risk of abuse and overdose.

Today, morphine is mostly prescribed for the in-hospital treatment of post-surgery pain, as well as palliative care for cancer patients. However, even with all of the restrictions and other  monitoring, morphine is still misused and abused.

Since the current opioid crisis is focusing more on heroin and fentanyl, people may not realize that morphine can be just as dangerous, despite being prescribed by a doctor. Even when someone uses morphine as directed, they can become dependent on it.

How Does Morphine Work?

As an opioid, morphine significantly strengthens the body’s natural pain-suppressing abilities by raising the level of opioids in the brain and central nervous system (CNS) to slow down activity and inhibit nerve signals that carry feelings of pain.

The opioids produced by your body are called neurotransmitters. They control pain signals and help regulate stress. Morphine mimics these natural opioids to enter the brain, bind with the receptors, activate them, and produce an excess of opioids that flood the brain and nervous system for significantly stronger feelings of relief, sedation, and relaxation.

Morphine also produces the effect of creating an excess amount of dopamine, which plays a role in processing cognition, emotions, and mood. Dopamine is the brain’s way of “rewarding” certain behaviors that are necessary to living by releasing euphoric feelings that motivate repetitive  behavior.

When morphine causes this excess dopamine, it creates the “high” that people commonly associate with substance abuse. As the brain becomes rewired to associate the behavior of morphine use with the reward of extra dopamine, it can motivate the individual to keep using.

What Are the Signs of Morphine Addiction?

If a user has a prescription for morphine, the transition from misuse to abuse and addiction can be difficult to recognize until things have escalated to the point that the negative impact of someone’s morphine addiction can no longer be ignored.

Some common signs of long-term morphine abuse can include:

  • Chronic drowsiness
  • Abnormal sleep patterns
  • Slurred speech
  • Depression
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Frequent, severe constipation
  • Hallucinations
  • Sexual dysfunction

The key difference between dependency and addiction is the loss of control over usage, which slides into compulsive drug-seeking behavior.

At this point, using morphine will take priority over nearly everything else, including relationships and responsibilities. As these behaviors start piling up, the signs of morphine addiction will become more and more readily apparent. They  include:

  • Using morphine without a prescription
  • Using more morphine than the prescribed dosage
  • Attempting to forge a prescription or get multiple prescriptions
  • Experiencing an increasing tolerance to morphine’s effects
  • Having cravings and withdrawal when not using morphine
  • Hiding or lying about morphine use
  • Missing money or valuables to pay for morphine
  • Needing to use morphine to feel “normal”
  • Experiencing a significant decline in personal hygiene
  • Becoming socially isolated and withdrawn
  • Having poor performances at work or in school
  • Being unable to quit using morphine, despite multiple attempts

What’s Involved in Addiction Treatment for Morphine?

As with any opioid use disorder, effective morphine addiction treatment begins withmedical detoxification. The goal of detox is to treat acute intoxication and get someone mentally and physically stabilized by flushing any drugs or alcohol out of their systems.

While the symptoms of morphine withdrawal are typically milder than the ones associated with other depressants (such as benzodiazepines or alcohol), they can still be very unpleasant and painful. Morphine detox shouldn’t be attempted alone, as serious health complications can occur without experienced medical supervision.


A professional detox team can administermedications to help with withdrawal symptoms that will carefully reduce someone’s morphine usage. A tapering schedule is used to replace it with weaker, less dangerous opioids, such as methadone or Suboxone.

After completing the detox process, addiction treatment for morphine should continue in the form of an inpatient or outpatient program.

Depending on various factors, they may find thatliving at a recovery center is more beneficial to their treatment needs than only being there for treatment sessions and returning home at the end of the day.

Addiction rehabilitation gives clients the time, resources, and support they need to better understand addiction as a disease, which will help them manage their addictive behaviors and remain substance-free after completing treatment.

Generally, a treatment plan is put together through a collaboration between the client and their therapist, in order to create the best plan for them. Some common therapies and treatments include cognitive behavioral therapy, dual diagnosis treatment, group therapy, holistic therapy, addiction education, EMDR therapy, and relapse prevention planning.

How Dangerous Is Morphine?

Morphine prescriptions are so restricted and closely monitored because they can be very dangerous, even when taken as prescribed. A significant part of this danger involves the speed with which a user can build up a tolerance to morphine, despite its potency.

If someone starts abusing morphine to compensate for this tolerance, they will rapidly start experiencing incredibly uncomfortable withdrawal symptoms after they stop using it.

This combination of rapid tolerance and withdrawal leads to an increased risk of overdose. It can also result in mixing morphine with other depressants (such as alcohol or benzodiazepines) to enhance the drug’s effects.

Whether used in combination or on its own, it’s possible to fatally overdose on morphine, which could slow the nervous system down to the point of fatal suffocation. Some of the symptoms of a morphine overdose include:

  • Confusion
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Dangerously slow and shallow breathing
  • Speaking problems
  • Tiny pupils
  • Bluish skin around the lips and fingernails
  • Weak, heavy feelings in limbs
  • Impaired reflexes and coordination
  • Inability to remain fully conscious
  • Comas

If someone is exhibiting the symptoms of a morphine overdose, it’s essential for them to receive emergency medical attention as soon as possible, in order to avoid death and potentially permanent brain damage.

Statistics about Morphine Abuse


  •  According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), almost 50 Americans fatally overdose on prescription opioids (including morphine) every day.
  •     Over 10 percent of the U.S. population has used morphine at least once in their lifetime.
  •     In 2016, morphine and other prescription opioids were involved in 19,354 overdose deaths in the U.S.


Many people

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Just because you have a prescription for morphine, that doesn’t mean it’s safer to abuse it than illicit opioids like heroin. There’s no such thing as safe substance abuse, and if you or a loved one is struggling with morphine abuse or addiction, now is the time to seek help.

Is your loved one struggling with morphine abuse or addiction? Are you? If so, it’s important for you to treat it with the seriousness it requires and get help before it’s too late.


Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2017, August 01). Prescription Opioid Overdose Data. Retrieved from

National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2018, August). Overdose Death Rates. Retrieved from

U.S. National Library of Medicine. (2017, January 31). Morphine Overdose. Retrieved from

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