Morphine Abuse and Addiction Treatment Options
Morphine is a type of opioid that’s been used medicinally to help relieve and manage pain for over 100 years. Like other opioids, morphine is prescribed for patients who are experiencing moderate to severe pain. All opioids have a high risk of misuse and addiction, and morphine is no exception.
It does not take long to develop a dependency on opioids due to the strong withdrawal symptoms they impose. This makes quitting an opioid that much harder, and abruptly stopping an opioid can be dangerous. These risks and complications make treating morphine addiction tough, and it requires the guidance of a specialist to ensure a person’s health and safety. In this article, we’ll explore what morphine is, how it impacts the body, and the best course of treatment for those who depend on or are addicted to morphine.
What Is Morphine?
The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) maintains lists of all controlled substances in the United States. Morphine is on the Schedule II list, which means it’s recognized that morphine presents a high risk of misuse, but it can be prescribed for medical purposes. Of all opioid pain medications, morphine is one of the most widely used.
Opioids work well for pain relief because of how they interact with receptors in the brain. When someone takes morphine, they’ll find that they experience reduced levels of pain. Morphine can modify how pain signals are sent from the spinal cord to the brain, blocking some pain signals altogether and minimizing others.
Aside from modifying pain signals, opioids can also trigger the release of dopamine. Dopamine is a chemical used naturally in the body to regulate mood, and its release can cause a “high” or euphoric feeling that can become addictive.
When someone takes more morphine than prescribed or uses it in ways not guided by a doctor, the drug is more likely to produce the elevated sense of well-being that forms habits. Dopamine is already recognized by the brain as a reward to reinforce actions. For instance, dopamine is released upon physical exercise and after eating a good meal. So, when dopamine is released as a result of taking morphine, it makes an individual more likely to take the drug again, as it taps into the same pathways for rewarding desirable actions.
Signs of Morphine Use
A person can misuse morphine whether they’ve been prescribed it by a doctor or not. One example of morphine misuse is taking it in a way that’s not consistent with how it was prescribed. For instance, a person may grind up a morphine pill so that they can inject or snort it, which leads to a more intense high than taking it as a tablet. They may also take a larger amount than prescribed or more often than prescribed.
To get a prescription, a person may lie about the pain they’re experiencing so that they can take morphine for its psychoactive effects. An individual may also find and take someone else’s morphine. Ultimately, in any situation where a person is taking morphine without a prescription, to experience a high or for any reason other than pain relief, they are misusing the drug.
Several side effects can accompany morphine use, even when being prescribed by a doctor. The most common side effects of morphine include:
- Itchy skin
- Dry mouth
Long-term use of morphine can change hormones, lowering testosterone in men and causing osteoporosis in women. Opioids can also create mood disorders or worsen preexisting conditions, such as depression.
Those misusing opioids may find their breathing is irregular or shallow while sleeping, which can eventually impair oxygen to the brain and organs, resulting in permanent damage. Over time, using morphine will also cause changes in behavior, although the signs can be hard to spot.
A person misusing morphine or any other prescription opioids may show changes in physical characteristics or behavior. For instance, they may seem preoccupied with other things because they are secretly fixated on finding or taking more opioids. A person who refills their prescriptions early may also be misusing the drug. Lying about lost medications or coming up with other excuses is another warning sign.
A major red flag is a person visiting more than one doctor in an attempt to get multiple opioid prescriptions or refills. At a doctor’s visit, a person trying to misuse morphine will probably be unwilling to discuss alternatives to opioids for their pain relief. For instance, they may refuse or dismiss suggestions to try physical therapy or massage alongside or instead of the opioid prescription.
How Does Morphine Impact the Brain?
Morphine is known to have habit-forming tendencies because its effects, like other opioids, create a cycle of misuse. When someone takes morphine, they may feel like both physical and mental pain melt away. Sadness, stress, and anxiety can disappear—even depression can be temporarily alleviated as they experience an increase in dopamine. That dopamine elevates the mood, creating an experience that the body instinctually feels is good and will seek out again.
The high that morphine creates is enough in itself to make a person crave the drug or crave a larger amount of the drug to intensify its effects. The repeated use of morphine can create tolerance in a person’s body, which occurs when the body grows accustomed to a certain dose. This means that the effects of a lower dose are reduced, and to have the same effects they used to experience, a person will have to increase their dose.
Tolerance can happen to anyone who is taking morphine regularly, even someone who is taking morphine under their doctor’s guidance. However, self-increasing a morphine dosage in response to a developed tolerance is dangerous. Those taking morphine as a prescription should tell their doctor when they feel they’re no longer experiencing the same benefits of their dose. The doctor may suggest taking a break for a while or switching medications, perhaps temporarily, to reduce dependence.
Morphine dependence occurs when a person takes morphine regularly. At this point, the presence of opioids has altered the brain’s chemistry to the point where, when a dose starts to wear off, withdrawal symptoms set in. The withdrawal symptoms of any opioid can be severe and even life-threatening, and they contribute to the cycle of dependence. A person who has become dependent on morphine will find it very difficult to stop taking it.
If a person misses a dose of morphine or tries to stop taking it, the withdrawal symptoms are likely to cause them to take another dose. This contributes to the addiction because a person knows that if they don’t take enough morphine or if they don’t take it at all, they’ll experience very uncomfortable side effects, so they take more. Their tolerance increases, so they have to take even more to avoid withdrawal symptoms.
This cycle is scary because it can create an addiction even in people taking morphine with the best intentions. The cycle also puts opioid users at a high risk of overdose, which is why medical intervention is so important for anyone who is taking morphine.
Is Morphine Misuse Always an Addiction?
Opioids put users at a high risk of dependence and tolerance, but these things alone do not mean a person is addicted to a drug. Officially, opioid addiction is classified as opioid use disorder (OUD), and forming OUD goes beyond a physical dependence on morphine. OUD is treatable, but it’s a condition that impacts the brain and is caused by a combination of factors, including genetics, environment, co-occurring disorders, and early drug use.
A person is most likely to be diagnosed with opioid use disorder if they experience at least two of the following within a year of opioid use:
- Taking opioids in a higher amount than intended.
- Taking opioids for longer than intended.
- Wanting to reduce their intake, but failing to do so.
- Craving more opioids.
- Spending a significant amount of time thinking about or acquiring opioids.
- Finding it difficult to concentrate on daily tasks.
- Continuing to use opioids despite the consequences.
- Skipping or abandoning activities; using opioids with disregard for safety.
- Using opioids despite having a condition that they may worsen.
- Building a tolerance to opioids.
- Experiencing withdrawal when they reduce or try to quit their opioid intake.
What’s important to understand is that dependence does not represent an addiction. For instance, someone who is taking morphine for pain as prescribed by their doctor is likely to become dependent on the morphine. Dependence puts a person at risk for addiction, but addiction only occurs when they begin to misuse and overuse the drug. For those taking morphine under the guidance of their doctor, dependency and tolerance do not count toward the diagnosis of OUD.
Whether a person is experiencing dependence with or without OUD, proper treatment must be sought. Even in cases of dependence without opioid use disorder, quitting morphine is difficult, and suddenly stopping the drug can even be dangerous. That’s why anyone who is taking morphine should seek out a medical professional with experience in medical detox. The medical detox process can help a person gradually taper off their morphine dosage while exploring other therapies that will minimize the uncomfortable withdrawal symptoms.
How Is Morphine Addiction Treated?
Opioids are powerful drugs that can quickly cause dependency and lead people to fall into a cycle of misuse because of the intense withdrawal symptoms. Fortunately, long-term and permanent recovery is possible. The first step in overcoming a morphine addiction is treating the physical dependence that your body has formed on the drug. From there, an addiction specialist will focus on helping an individual regain healthy thought and behavior patterns.
In general, addiction treatment can be separated into three phases:
- Medical detox
- Continuing care
With that said, every addiction treatment plan is completely personalized to the individual. At Zinnia Health, we combine research-backed methods with a one-to-one approach that helps ensure each person’s unique needs, challenges, and goals are met. Here’s what that means when broken down into the three phases of treatment.
1. Medical Detox
The first stage of addiction treatment is the medical detox. The detox process cannot be avoided as it’s the stage in which a person stops taking morphine and allows it to leave their system completely. The longer someone has used morphine, the more difficult the associated withdrawal symptoms will prove to be. Regularly taking large amounts of morphine will also intensify withdrawal symptoms, but they are not impossible to overcome.
In medical detox, the individual will be assessed based on their opioid use history, physical health, and other metrics. This will help the team come up with an appropriate tapering schedule. The tapering schedule for opioid use is gradual to reduce risks and symptoms, making the experience as comfortable as possible for the individual. In many cases, a weaker opioid, such as Suboxone, may be used in the treatment of morphine addiction.
If a medication is used to help a person transition off opioids, that medication will be prescribed in small doses and closely monitored by a doctor. In the case of Suboxone, the medication has weak opioid-like effects to help gradually reduce dependency, but it’s almost impossible to misuse it thanks to the presence of naloxone (an opioid blocker) within the Suboxone formulation.
Throughout the medical detox, a person will also get help in the form of talk therapy, peer support, and general guidance with wellness and nutrition. These particular components of recovery will be ramped up in the next phase as soon as a person has finished their detox and is completely off opioids.
The rehabilitation process officially begins at the end of the detox, which is when all opioids are out of the person’s system and they are officially drug-free. The rehabilitation process is essential to long-term success and avoiding relapse. While the physical withdrawal symptoms are over, a person who misused morphine may still find themselves with emotional or behavioral challenges that could lead them to use opioids again.
During rehabilitation, an individual will work with professionals to help understand what led them to morphine in the first place, how they ended up misusing it, and what changes are necessary to avoid those risks and challenges in the future. With that in mind, Zinnia Health takes a holistic approach to rehabilitation. This begins with the treatment of any co-occurring conditions, like depression, anxiety, or stress.
Rehabilitation at Zinnia Health looks different for each individual, but it may include one-to-one therapy, peer support groups, wellness classes, goal-setting, and other forms of guidance.
3. Continuing Care
We believe that long-term success is most likely for individuals who receive lasting support, and that’s why aftercare or continuing care is the third and final leg of the morphine treatment program. Continuing care begins when an inpatient client leaves the treatment center to be on their own or when an outpatient client transitions away from regular sessions and stands on their own again.
One important element in continuing care is establishing a strong peer support group. Zinnia Health helps individuals surround themselves with like-minded people who can support them through the introduction of group therapy and other activities. No one faces addiction or recovery alone when they partner with our team.
Continuing care also involves some follow-up visits where the person will come back to sit down and talk about the changes or challenges they’re seeing on the road to recovery. The individual will continue to have access to Zinnia Health’s caring team for support, guidance, and assistance in avoiding relapse and achieving lasting success.
Are You Seeking Help?
At Zinnia Health, we believe every individual deserves personalized treatment and lasting care. If you’re interested in learning more about how Zinnia Health can help someone with morphine or opioid addiction, don’t hesitate to reach out. Our caring team is standing by to offer advice and guidance and help with affordable, effective recovery. Contact us today to learn more.