Morphine, derived from the poppy plant, is one of the most potent narcotic opioids derived from opium. Since the discovery of the opium poppy plant, humans have exploited it for medicinal and recreational effects. It has been used for centuries, but mostly in Asia where the plant is native.
In industrialization times, many of the Asian people took advantage of the transportation network. When they migrated to the Americas, they brought the poppy plant with them. Bringing opium was common in their country, and the usage of opium continued as they migrated away from home. In the 18th and 19th centuries, opium abuse skyrocketed and reached disturbing levels.
Solutions were urgently sought to overcome the addictive effects and maintain its medicinal properties. In 1805, Friedrich Wilhelm Serturner isolated a yellow-white crystalline compound from opium. He gave himself the drug to test its effects, and he found that it relieved pain while causing euphoria. The drug was then named morphine, which is named after the Greek god of dreams, Morpheus.
The drug started to gain popularity as an opium alternative and a way to treat opiate addiction. In 1853, the hypodermic needle was perfected, which was a new way of introducing the drug into the bloodstream. Morphine was then considered 10 times more effective than opium in relieving pain. Unfortunately, its addictive properties became enhanced, which was a new challenge to overcome—morphine addiction.
Morphine sulfate was created and introduced as a means of addressing dependence in those requiring pain relief. The tablets were able to release morphine into the bloodstream at a much slower rate. These were seen as a solution to morphine addiction and dependence. These tablets are prescribed today for pain management that is severe enough to warrant the drug.
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.
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 the 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 excessive 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.
If a user has a prescription for morphine, the transition from misuse to abuse and addiction can be hard to recognize until things have escalated to the point where the negative impact of someone’s morphine addiction can no longer be ignored.
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 to pile up, the signs of morphine addiction will become more and more readily apparent. They include:
As with any opioid use disorder, effective morphine addiction treatment begins with medical detoxification. The goal of detox is to treat acute intoxication and get someone mentally and physically stabilized by removing drugs or alcohol and other toxins out of their system.
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 administer medications 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, treatment for morphine addiction should continue in the form of an inpatient or outpatient program. Depending on various factors, a person may find that living at a recovery center is more beneficial than only being there for treatment sessions and returning home at the end of the day.
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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, 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.
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 experience 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:
If someone is exhibiting the symptoms of a morphine overdose, it’s critical for them to receive emergency medical attention to avoid death and potentially permanent brain damage. Call 911 for immediate help.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2017, August 01). Prescription Opioid Overdose Data. Retrieved from https://www.cdc.gov/drugoverdose/data/overdose.html
National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2018, August). Overdose Death Rates. Retrieved from https://www.drugabuse.gov/related-topics/trends-statistics/overdose-death-rates
U.S. National Library of Medicine. (2017, January 31). Morphine Overdose. Retrieved from https://medlineplus.gov/ency/article/002502.htm
(n.d.). Morphine: MedlinePlus Drug Information. Retrieved from https://medlineplus.gov/druginfo/meds/a682133.html
National Institute on Drug Abuse. (n.d.). Heroin. Retrieved from https://www.drugabuse.gov/drugs-abuse/heroin