Medically Reviewed

Morphine Addiction and Treatment

4 min read · 6 sections
As a prescription opioid, morphine is used to treat severe pain. However, it’s also a Schedule II substance with a high potential for misuse and dependence. Learn about the therapeutic and adverse effects of morphine, along with risks for respiratory depression, withdrawal, overdose, and addiction.
What you will learn:
Therapeutic uses for morphine and its potential for misuse.
Morphine side effects, risks of mixing, and respiratory depression.
Opioid overdose risks and symptoms.
Morphine withdrawal, detox, and treatment.

What is Morphine, and What is Morphine Used For?

Morphine is a prescription opioid that is clinically indicated for the treatment of severe pain.1 It’s available as a generic (i.e., morphine sulfate) as well as by brand names such as Duramorph PF and MS Contin.2

While there are valid therapeutic morphine uses, people also misuse opioids such morphine because they can produce pleasurable effects, including a rewarding sense of relaxation and euphoria. Like other opioids, morphine attaches to and activates opioid receptors in the brain, which then modifies pain signaling. This activation is also associated with an increase in dopamine activity in key regions of the brain, which can reinforce the act of taking morphine and prompt people to repeat the experience.3  

Not surprisingly, perhaps, morphine is a Schedule II substance under the Controlled Substances Act, which means that it has a high potential for misuse, and use may lead to severe psychological or physical dependence.4,5 According to the 2022 National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH), more than 5 million people aged 12 and older used morphine products in the past year, with an estimated 375,000 people engaging in nonmedical misuse of morphine.6

People who develop an addiction to opioids such as morphine may be diagnosed with an opioid use disorder (OUD). The NSDUH subdivides this category into heroin use disorder and prescription pain reliever use disorder when prescription opioids such as morphine are involved.  According to the NSDUH, 6.1 million people aged 12 or older had an opioid use disorder (which includes both prescription pain relievers as well as heroin) in the past year, and 5.6 million people specifically had a disorder related to prescription pain reliever use.7

What Are the Different Methods of Morphine Administration?

Morphine is available in different prescription forms, such as tablets, capsules, suppositories, and injectable solutions.8 Prescription morphine may be taken in oral tablet or capsule form, as a syrup or liquid oral solution, or administered via intramuscular or intravenous injection.4 Historically, morphine was largely misused via injection. However, given a variety of current formulations, morphine can also be misused through oral routes.9

Adverse Effects of Morphine Use

In addition to therapeutic effects such as pain relief, morphine has several common adverse effects such as:1

  • Over-sedation.
  • Profound sleepiness.
  • Lightheadedness.
  • Nausea and vomiting.
  • Constipation.
  • Sweating.

Morphine can have an effect on the entire body, and a range of other, less common morphine side effects have been reported with morphine use.1

Morphine and Respiratory Depression

Serious reactions to morphine are possible and can include:1

  • Respiratory depression.
  • Apnea.
  • Circulatory depression.
  • Respiratory arrest.
  • Cardiac arrest.
  • Shock.

Respiratory depression is one of the most severe risks of using opioids such as morphine; it refers to dangerously slowed or stopped breathing that can often occur during overdose.1,3 Respiratory depression is a particular risk because it can lead to hypoxia, a condition where the brain does not receive enough oxygen, which can lead to coma, brain damage, or death.3

Regardless of whether a person uses morphine therapeutically or misuses it, the risk of respiratory depression can increase when a person simultaneously uses other substances such as benzodiazepines or other central nervous system (CNS) depressants (including alcohol). Respiratory depression can also be a particular risk when first starting morphine and during dose increases, or in the elderly and people with chronic pulmonary disease.1

Misusing extended-release morphine, such as crushing, chewing, or dissolving the pellets in the capsules, can result in a rapid release and absorption of a potentially deadly dose of morphine, which can lead to dangerous respiratory depression and mortality.10

Dangers of Mixing Morphine and Alcohol

Mixing drugs—a practice called polysubstance use—is never safe, as it can cause unexpected and/or stronger effects than either drug alone.11 Mixing morphine with alcohol (or other CNS depressants such as benzodiazepines) can be a risky practice, as it can increase a person’s risk of respiratory depression, profound sedation, coma, and death.1 Suicidal patients who use opioids may face an increased short-term risk of suicide attempts, especially when also drinking alcohol.12

Signs and Symptoms of Morphine Misuse

Misuse of prescription opioids such as morphine can include:3

  • Taking morphine to get high.
  • Taking someone else’s prescription.
  • Taking morphine in a dose other than prescribed.
  • Taking morphine by a route other than prescribed.

A morphine addiction is diagnosed as an opioid use disorder (OUD). Only a medical professional can diagnose an OUD, but it can be helpful to know the symptoms. To receive an OUD diagnosis, a person needs to meet at least 2 of the following criteria within a 12-month period, including:13

  • Taking opioids for longer periods of time or in larger amounts than intended.
  • Being unable to cut down or stop opioid use.
  • Spending a lot of time obtaining, using, and recovering from the effects of the opioid.
  • Experiencing cravings, or intense desires or urges for the substance.
  • Failing to fulfill obligations at home, work, or school due to opioid use.
  • Continuing opioid use despite having interpersonal or social problems that are caused or worsened by substance use.
  • Giving up social, recreational, or occupational activities due to opioid use.
  • Using an opioid drug in risky or dangerous situations.
  • Continuing opioid use despite having a physical or mental health problem that is tightly linked to the substance.
  • Developing tolerance or needing increasing amounts of an opioid to achieve previous effects.*
  • Suffering from withdrawal, meaning that unpleasant symptoms occur when you stop using or cut back on opioid use, or that continued opioid use is necessary to relieve or avoid them.*

*These criteria should not factor into an OUD diagnosis in those solely taking morphine therapeutically under appropriate medical supervision.

Morphine Withdrawal Symptoms

Morphine withdrawal can occur when someone who is dependent on morphine suddenly stops or cuts down their use.3 People suffering from morphine withdrawal may make repeated attempts to find other sources of opioids or try to treat their pain or withdrawal symptoms with illicit opioids, such as heroin or other substances.1

The signs and symptoms of morphine withdrawal may include:1,14

  • Anxiety.
  • Insomnia.
  • Irritability.
  • Increased blood pressure, respiratory rate, or heart rate.
  • Muscle aches and pain.
  • Abdominal cramps.
  • Nausea and vomiting.
  • Diarrhea.
  • Fever.
  • Chills.
  • Sweating.
  • Teary eyes.
  • Runny nose.

Morphine withdrawal symptoms are not typically medically dangerous, but they can be extremely unpleasant.1,14 To keep people as safe and as comfortable as possible, medical withdrawal management (often including various medications) and detox are often recommended.

Morphine Addiction Risk Factors

A variety of factors can influence a person’s risk of addiction. However, it is unlikely that one specific risk factor will determine whether a person develops addiction. Rather, addiction is thought to develop as a result of a combination of contributing factors, and it may be less likely to develop when certain protective factors, such as healthy recreational and social activities or regular supportive monitoring by parents during childhood, are present.15

Risk factors can include:15,16,17

  • Childhood trauma.
  • High levels of family conflict.
  • A family history of substance use or mental health disorders.
  • A current mental health problem.
  • Aggressive behavior in childhood.
  • A lack of parental supervision in childhood.
  • Low peer-refusal skills.
  • Drug experimentation.
  • Easy access to drugs.

Morphine Overdose Potential

Morphine can pose a risk of overdose, which occurs when a person has taken enough morphine to produce dangerous and potentially life-threatening symptoms.3

Risk factors for overdose related to morphine and other opioids include:18

  • Taking high daily doses of prescription opioids.
  • Combining opioids with alcohol and other depressants.
  • Taking more opioids than prescribed.
  • Using illicit or illegal opioids (e.g., heroin or illicitly manufactured fentanyl, which can contain harmful or unknown substances).
  • Medical conditions such as sleep apnea or reduced liver or kidney function.
  • Being older than 65 years of age.

Additionally, misusing extended-release preparations of morphine (such as crushing or chewing tablets) may be an even greater risk factor for overdose due to the uncontrolled delivery of the drug.10

Morphine overdose symptoms can include:18

  • Small, constricted, pinpoint pupils.
  • Falling asleep or loss of consciousness.
  • Respiratory depression, or slow, shallow breathing.
  • Limp body.
  • Pale, blue, or cold skin.

An overdose is a medical emergency. If you suspect that you or someone else is overdosing, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) offers this guidance:18

  • Call 911 right away.
  • Give the person naloxone, if available.
  • Keep the person awake and breathing.
  • Lay the person on their side to prevent choking.
  • Stay with them until emergency help arrives.

Naloxone is a life-saving medication that can rapidly reverse the effects of overdose and restore a person’s breathing, but it must be administered quickly, and it only has temporary effects, which is why people require immediate medical attention even after naloxone is given.1,10

Morphine Addiction Treatment Options

Morphine addiction is typically treated with a combination of medication, counseling, and behavioral therapies.3 Rehab for opioid use disorders such as morphine addiction is tailored to the unique needs of each individual. However, common levels of care for addiction include:19

With facilities scattered across the U.S., American Addiction Centers treats myriad substance use disorders, including those involving opioids such as morphine. If you or a loved one is struggling with an opioid use disorder, AAC is here to help—and to listen to your unique story.

Take the first step by speaking with an admissions navigator at or by verifying your insurance benefits online. Available 24/7 for a free and confidential conversation, AAC staff can discuss payment options and treatment particulars and can help you begin your recovery today.


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