Can you get addicted to morphine?

Yes, you can get addicted to morphine after just a few doses. More here on morphine’s addiction potential and ways to recognize it. Plus, a section on non-opiate pain relief alternatives.

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Morphine is addictive

Yes, you can get addicted to morphine.

Morphine causes addiction by interacting with neurons in the brain. Repeated use of morphine can actually change the way your brain and body respond to pain and pleasure. Once addicted, you start to crave morphine constantly and start to use it to deal with physical and emotional pain.

So, how can you avoid getting addicted to morphine? In this article, we explain more about morphine’s addiction potential, signs and symptoms of a problem, and what you can do to prevent it. Then, we invite your questions at the end. In fact, we try to respond to all legitimate questions personally and promptly.

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What is morphine…really?

Morphine is a naturally occurring substance extracted from the seedpod of the poppy plant. As a medication, morphine is used for the relief of pain, both acute and chronic. Additionally, morphine can also be used to sedate patients pre-operatively and to facilitate the induction of anesthesia.

Morphine belongs to the group of drugs called “narcotic pain relievers”, or opiates. It acts directly on the central nervous system. As a powerful opiate, morphine is a drug of choice for people who abuse prescription medicines or street drugs. Morphine is available in a variety of prescription forms, such as:

  • Immediate and controlled release tablets and capsules (15-200 mg)
  • Injectables (0.5-25 mg/mL)
  • Oral solutions (2-20 mg/mL)
  • Suppositories (5-30 mg)

Brand name medicines with morphine

Morphine has several clinical uses. Therefore, morphine is included in several brand names under which it is sold. Some of the most widely used brand names for morphine include:

  • Avinza
  • Embeda
  • Kadian
  • MS Contin
  • MSiR
  • Oramorph
  • RMS
  • Roxanol

Morphine effects on the brain

The human body has a natural ability to produce its own opiate-like effects of pain relief and pleasure. Specific groups of neurons communicate with one another to produce sensations, perceptions, and behaviors. The three general types of opioid receptors are:

  1. The mu (µ) receptor found throughout the brain and spinal cord.
  2. The kappa (k) receptor found predominately in the brain (hypothalamus).
  3. The delta (δ) receptor located in certain sections of the spinal cord.

Morphine has the ability to alter the neuronal communication within these systems. However, the drug activates specific receptors with different effet. For example, morphine’s pain relieving and euphoric activities appear to be mediated mostly by the mu-receptor.

When the opioid receptors are activated, these neurons release neurotransmitters that shut down the ability of other neurons to communicate with one another. The end result of this activity is the change in the sensation and perception of pain, as well as the development and maintenance of addictive behaviors.

How does morphine get you ‘hooked’?

Morphine has crucial effects on the midbrain that includes the following structures:

  • the limbic system
  • the thalamus
  • the hypothalamus
  • the hippocampus
  • the nucleus accumbens

Each of these brain structures inside the midbrain control behaviors such as : emotions, pain, hormones, memory, and reward. Morphine use also clouds the brain’s ability to make judgments, understand reasoning and planning. However, the cerebellum is the part of the brain which gets addicted to drugs, including morphine.

When a person uses morphine s/he feels a sense of reward and pleasure. Individuals who are high on morphine feel cravings and a constant need for more and more morphine because of the intense feelings of pleasure and relaxation. Reward, pleasure, and instinct are behaviors controlled by the cerebellum. Repeat the behavior, repeat the reward…and a cycle is born.

Am I at risk of morphine addiction?

Addiction doesn’t choose…anyone can fall a victim to this chronic disease. But, while some people may use morphine therapeutically and never cross the line, some face greater risks of addiction.

If you may be wondering why some people are more likely to get ‘hooked’, here are some of the main contributing factors:

  1. Your home, peer, and community environment.
  2. Having parents with a history of drug abuse.
  3. Your individual response to opioids and other drugs.
  4. Severe physical or psychological trauma.
  5. Mental health conditions such as depression and anxiety.

Morphine addiction signs and symptoms

Q: What does it mean to be addicted to morphine?
A: Addiction to morphine is a chronic disease characterized by drug seeking behavior and use that is compulsive, or difficult to control, despite harmful consequences.

If a loved one is prescribed morphine, it can be difficult to determine whether they have developed an addiction or are simply keeping the pain under control. While it can control extreme chronic pain to some extent, this drug is often abused. If you suspect that someone you care about may be addicted to morphine, you can look for the following tell tale signs:

Behavioral signs of addiction:

  • Avoiding/neglecting activities due to morphine use.
  • Compulsive use of morphine.
  • Continued use of morphine regardless of harmful consequences.
  • Using multiple sources (often illegal) to get morphine.

Physical signs of addiction:

  • Cravings.
  • Increase in morphine doses without consultation with doctor.
  • Loss of control over morphine use and doses.
  • Experiencing withdrawal after morphine discontinuation.

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How to avoid morphine addiction

The best way to avoid morphine addiction is to only take morphine as prescribed. Furthermore, be in constant communication with your prescribing doctor. Honesty will be your best ally. For example, when you notice euphoric effect, report it immediately. When you notice an increase in your tolerance for morphine, report that, too.

In order to prevent addiction to morphine it is important to be honest about any past addiction problems or addiction risk factors. Another way to prevent the occurrence of morphine addiction is to look for available pain-management alternatives. Some possible pharmacological alternatives will vary by situation. For example, medications for migraine will be different than medications used for fibromyalgia. Medicines used to treat pain include:

  • Acetaminophen
  • Botulinum toxin (BOTOX) injections
  • Gabapentin
  • Pregabalin
  • Norephinephrine reuptake inhibitors
  • Tricyclic antidepressants and serotonin
  • NSAIDs
  • Topical agents (lidocaine, capsaicin, NSAIDs)

You can also look into drug-free treatments for acute or chronic pain. Complementary and alternative treatments for pain that are opiate-free include:

  • Acupuncture
  • Biofeedback
  • Cold or heat therapy
  • Electroanalgesia such as CES, PENS, SCS, TENS
  • Exercise therapy
  • Herbal medicines and dietary supplements
  • Interventional pain management
  • Nuclear medicine
  • Physical therapies
  • Psychological interventions

Questions about morphine dependency

We hope to have addressed your main concerns about taking morphine and avoiding addiction. But, we realize that you may still have a question you’d like answered.

Please let us know if you have questions about morphine or its addictive properties. Leave us your question(s) in the comments section right below the article. If you have a personal experience that you’d like to share, please feel free to post in the comments section below. We try to respond to all legitimate inquiries personally and promptly, or refer you to professionals who can help.

Reference sources: CDC: Non Opioid Pain Alternatives
NCBI: Morphine
Medline Plus: Morphine Oral
DEA: Morphine
State of Michigan: Non-Opioid Pain Treatments
NHTSA: Morphine (And Heroin)
Mark Nawrot, Ph.D. – Areas of the Brain Affected
Drugs The Straight Facts – Morphine
About the author
Lee Weber is a published author, medical writer, and woman in long-term recovery from addiction. Her latest book, The Definitive Guide to Addiction Interventions is set to reach university bookstores in early 2019.
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