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Morphine addiction: what you need to know

Written by Drew Redd. Mina Draskovic, B.Psy., reviewed this content for accuracy.

Morphine is a powerful and highly addictive opioid painkiller. Long-term use can quickly create morphine dependence, to the point where your brain and body can’t function normally without it. 

A 2023 article published in Cells explains the negative impact of morphine addiction on nearly every aspect of a person’s life, suggesting that “morphine dependency usually results in undesired outcomes such as anxiety, depression, and cognitive alterations.” Research shows that in 2016, more than 19,000 people in the United States overdosed on morphine and other prescription opioids.

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If you or someone you know is struggling with a morphine addiction, there is hope. Ardu’s compassionate, evidence-based morphine rehab center can help you reclaim your life and achieve lasting sobriety.

Our opioid addiction treatment center provides comprehensive treatment programs tailored to your needs to overcome opioid use disorders and build a foundation for lasting recovery.

My experience at Ardu has been phenomenal. The staff at Ardu is incredible, I have never felt so loved and cared for. They go above and beyond for their clients, they’re truly amazing people and very knowledgeable. You all have made such a huge impact on my life and recovery.

Jenna Perryman


What is morphine?

Morphine is a highly addictive opioid drug derived from the opium poppy plant. It is used in medical settings for its potent pain-relieving properties. Due to its high potential for abuse and addiction, morphine is classified as a controlled substance.

Unlike many other opioids, such as fentanyl or oxycodone, which are synthesized in laboratories, morphine is a naturally occurring substance found in the opium poppy plant. It is extracted from the plant’s seed pod and refined into different forms. As a naturally derived substance from the opium poppy, morphine is classified as an opiate, a subgroup within the larger opioid family that is natural and non-synthetic.

Chemically, morphine belongs to alkaloids, nitrogen-containing compounds found in certain plants. It binds to specific receptors in the brain and central nervous system called opioid receptors. When morphine attaches to them, it reduces the perception of pain and induces feelings of euphoria and relaxation.

Morphine’s powerful analgesic properties make it a valuable tool in medical settings.

How is morphine administered?

Morphine can be administered through many different routes, depending on the person’s needs, the severity of their pain, and the medical setting. The choice of administration route is crucial, as it helps the drug work better and reduces the chances of side effects.

  1. Oral administration: morphine can be given orally in the form of immediate-release or extended-release tablets, capsules, solutions, or syrups. This is a convenient route for patients who can swallow and absorb medications effectively.
  2. Intravenous (IV) administration: morphine is injected directly into a vein, providing rapid pain relief. This method is commonly used in hospital or emergency settings when it’s necessary to quickly control pain.
  3. Intramuscular (IM) administration: the drug is injected into a muscle, resulting in a slower onset of action than IV administration. IM injection is used when IV access is not available or practical.
  4. Subcutaneous (SC) administration: morphine is injected beneath the skin. This is useful for patients in palliative care settings who cannot take oral medications or when IV access is not possible. 
  5. Rectal administration: when oral or injectable routes are not suitable (mostly because patients experience nausea or vomiting), suppositories containing morphine are inserted into the rectum. 
  6. Epidural or intrathecal administration: morphine is injected into the space around the spinal cord (epidural) or directly into the cerebrospinal fluid (intrathecal). These methods provide targeted pain relief for specific body areas and are often used during and after surgery or for managing chronic pain conditions.
  7. Smoking or inhaling: some people abuse morphine by heating the drug and breathing in the vapors. They do this for a faster high, but this method is super dangerous and can damage their lungs.
  8. Snorting: others crush morphine tablets into a powder and snort it through their nose. Snorting morphine kicks in quicker than swallowing it, but it can seriously damage the inside of the nose. This method makes overdosing more likely.

When morphine is injected, snorted, smoked, or inhaled, it produces a faster and more intense high, increasing the risk of addiction and overdose.

If you or someone you love is struggling with morphine addiction, know that there is hope. At Ardu Recovery Center, we offer compassionate and effective drug rehab programs that help you break free from the grip of addiction.

Medical uses of morphine

Morphine has long been used in medical settings to treat patients with severe or chronic pain. The widespread medical use of morphine has also contributed to its potential for abuse and addiction.

Morphine is primarily used for:

  • Post-surgical pain management. Morphine is often prescribed to control pain after major surgeries, as one of the best pain relievers.
  • Chronic pain. Morphine may be prescribed to patients with chronic pain conditions, such as back pain or neuropathic pain when other treatments have proven ineffective.
  • Cancer pain relief. Patients with advanced-stage cancer often experience severe pain and other types of discomfort. Morphine can alleviate their discomfort and improve their quality of life.
  • Palliative care. In end-of-life care, morphine is used to manage pain and shortness of breath, providing comfort to terminally ill patients.
  • Trauma and injury. Morphine is administered to patients who have suffered severe injuries, such as those from car accidents or gunshot wounds, to help manage acute pain.

Morphine’s medical applications have undoubtedly helped countless patients, but using morphine outside of medical supervision increases the likelihood of abuse and addiction. 

Why is morphine so addictive?

Morphine is highly addictive because of the way it affects the brain. Morphine binds to opioid receptors in the brain, which are responsible for pain relief and feelings of pleasure. The brain responds by releasing dopamine, a neurotransmitter that makes you feel good and reinforces the behavior that leads to the reward.

…the rewarding effect of morphine and other opioids is associated with stimulation of μ opioid receptors localized at the GABAergic terminals of the ventral tegmental area. Such stimulation inhibits GABA release that, in turn, disinhibits dopaminergic neurons and leads to the release of dopamine in the nucleus accumbens that induces feelings of euphoria and promotes the development of drug dependence. (Listos, et. al.)

Over time, the brain adapts to the presence of morphine and starts to depend on it to function normally. This is called physical dependence. As you keep using morphine, your brain will need more and more of the drug to achieve the same effects, which is known as tolerance.

It’s not just the physical dependence that makes morphine so addictive. The drug also has a powerful effect on the brain’s reward system. Listos, et. al. also found that morphine hijacks the brain’s reward circuitry, causing compulsive drug-seeking behavior despite negative consequences. 

They explain that “pharmacological manipulation of these neurotransmitters found in the reward pathway potentially can modify craving for drugs of abuse.” The surge of dopamine caused by morphine can be so intense that it rewires the brain to prioritize drug-seeking behavior over other important aspects of life.

The rewarding effect of morphine associated with stimulation of μ opioid receptors, inhibiting GABA release and disinhibiting dopaminergic neurons in the nucleus accumbens—Why is morphine so addictive? Ardu Recovery Center
Mechanisms of morphine-induced rewarding effect. Source: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6747116/

Korean researchers suggest that morphine increases dopamine levels in key regions such as the nucleus accumbens and ventral tegmental area. This produces intense euphoria that reinforces drug-taking behavior. Repeated morphine use leads to long-lasting neuroadaptations in the reward circuitry, making the brain crave the drug. 

Chinese researchers found that morphine can increase the generation of reactive oxygen, causing oxidative stress in several brain regions and peripheral organs. Oxidative stress is an imbalance between the production of reactive oxygen species (free radicals) and the body’s ability to counteract their harmful effects through neutralization by antioxidants. The researchers highlight the effects of morphine on specific oxidative stress-related proteins, which may contribute to the progression of morphine addiction.

Over time, morphine abuse can change the structure and function of the brain, making it harder for you to experience pleasure from everyday activities and increasing the risk of long-term addiction. When you try to stop using morphine after you’ve developed a dependence, your brain goes into a state of imbalance, causing severe withdrawal symptoms and intense cravings. These uncomfortable symptoms can drive you to seek out morphine again, just to feel better. This is why people addicted to morphine often continue to use the drug despite negative consequences.

Because of the way morphine and other substances impact the brain, addiction is considered to be a brain disease. If you’re struggling with drug or alcohol addiction, Ardu has your back. Our compassionate care and effective drug and alcohol rehab center help you reclaim your life. 

How to recognize morphine addiction

Morphine addiction can manifest in a spectrum of physical, behavioral, and psychological changes. Some signs may be more noticeable, while others can be harder to spot.

Physical signs and symptoms of morphine addiction include:

  • Constricted pupils
  • Drowsiness or excessive sleepiness
  • Slurred speech
  • Slowed breathing or respiratory depression
  • Constipation
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Itching or scratching due to histamine release
  • Tolerance (needing higher doses to achieve the same effect)
  • Withdrawal symptoms when not using morphine

Behavioral and psychological signs and symptoms of morphine addiction are:

  • Obsessive thoughts about obtaining and using morphine
  • Neglecting responsibilities at work, school, or home
  • Isolation from friends and family
  • Loss of interest in previously enjoyed activities
  • Mood swings and irritability
  • Continued use despite the negative consequences
  • Engaging in risky behaviors while under the influence
  • Doctor shopping (visiting multiple doctors to obtain prescriptions)
  • Stealing or borrowing money to fund morphine use
  • Lying about or hiding morphine use from others
  • Failed attempts to quit or reduce morphine use

Not everyone will display the same signs and symptoms of drug abuse. If you recognize any of these signs in yourself or someone you know, seek professional help. 

With Ardu, you can start your journey to health and sobriety in a safe and effective detox. The caring team in our detox center will help you break free from the physical dependence on morphine, manage withdrawal symptoms, and lay the foundation for lasting recovery.

Learn more about our opioid detox services

What are the causes and risk factors for morphine addiction?

Several factors can increase the risk of developing morphine addiction. While some people may be more susceptible due to genetic or environmental influences, morphine’s powerful effects on the brain can make anyone an addict. 

Here are the main risk factors and causes of morphine addiction:

  • People with a family history of addiction may be more vulnerable to developing a substance use disorder, including addiction to morphine.
  • Those who are prescribed morphine for long-term pain management are at a higher risk of developing addiction because their bodies get used to the drug over time.
  • Mental health conditions such as depression, anxiety, and PTSD can drive people to self-medicate with morphine, increasing the risk of addiction.
  • The younger you are when you start using morphine, the more likely you are to develop an addiction later in life.
  • Method of use may also be a risk factor. Injected or snorted morphine delivers a more intense high than other administration routes, increasing the risk of addiction and overdose. 
  • When you see friends or family members using morphine regularly, you might be more likely to try it yourself. Before you know it, casual morphine use can spiral into a full-blown addiction.
  • The widespread availability of prescription opioids has made it easier for people to obtain and abuse morphine.
  • Many people don’t fully grasp how addictive morphine can be or the dangers of misusing prescription opioids. The result is often an unintentional addiction.

It’s no easy feat to beat morphine addiction. It takes a well-rounded approach that includes prevention, education, and personalized treatment programs. Contact Ardu Recovery Center and take the first step towards sobriety. 

The negative health effects of morphine addiction

Despite the medical benefits, morphine can have devastating effects on your health when abused. Let’s walk you through some of the harmful effects of morphine addiction.

Morphine addiction increases the risk of respiratory depression

In sufficient amounts, morphine slows down breathing by depressing the respiratory system. Potent opioids such as morphine can lead to so-called respiratory depression, where breathing becomes shallow or even stops completely. 

A 2021 study revealed that morphine activates mu-opioid receptors, which decreases the levels of the signaling molecule cAMP inside neurons that control breathing in the brainstem. Lower cAMP makes these breathing neurons less active, resulting in slowed or depressed respiration.

The more frequently you use, the more your body becomes tolerant and requires higher doses to achieve the same effects, which significantly increases the risk of dangerously slowed breathing rates. The lack of oxygen causes serious brain damage and can be fatal. 

Morphine addiction leads to gastrointestinal complications

Gastrointestinal issues such as nausea, vomiting, abdominal cramps, and constipation are among the most common side effects of morphine. With long-term abuse and addiction, these symptoms—especially constipation—can become severe. 

Morphine binds to mu-opioid receptors in the gut, decreasing motility and slowing down the movement of the intestines. This leads to severe constipation, causing painful complications such as bowel obstructions, hemorrhoids, and stercoral colitis (where hardened stool puts pressure on the colon walls). Kaushal, et. al. revealed that, in extreme cases, the increased pressure can cause ulceration, perforation, or even pneumoperitoneum where air leaks into the abdominal cavity.

Morphine can impair cognition and mental capacities

Morphine’s effects on the brain’s opioid receptors can impair cognitive functions such as memory, attention, and decision-making abilities. Addicts may experience mental cloudiness, confusion, and difficulty concentrating. 

Long-term morphine abuse can also lead to structural changes in the brain, further impairing cognitive performance. A group of scientists found that chronic morphine addiction seems to shrink the amygdala area of the brain that handles emotions and addictive behaviors. It also damages the brain’s white matter wiring and disrupts communication between key regions crucial for reward processing, self-awareness, and cognitive control. 

Rapeli, et. al. discovered that even during abstinence from morphine, people showed impairments in the prefrontal cortex, affecting working memory, executive function, and fluid intelligence. 

Addiction to morphine compromises immunity

Morphine and other opioids suppress the immune system, making addicts more susceptible to infections and illnesses. According to Shaheed, et. al., morphine addiction suppresses key cells and functions of the innate and adaptive immune systems. It decreases the activity of natural killer cells, macrophages, T cells, and neutrophils, impairing the body’s ability to fight off infections. That’s why many people addicted to morphine are at higher risk of contracting HIV, hepatitis C, and tuberculosis, especially if they engage in risky behaviors such as sharing needles.

Morphine addiction damages organs

Prolonged morphine abuse can take a toll on vital organs. Heavy, long-term use can damage the liver, potentially leading to liver disease or liver failure. Those who inject morphine are at higher risk of organ damage due to the toxic effects of the drug and contaminants being injected directly into the bloodstream. 

A 2005 study found that chronic morphine abuse significantly increased liver enzymes such as ALT and AST indicating liver damage, while also raising kidney markers, signaling kidney injury. Morphine caused congestion, necrosis in the liver, and vacuolization in the kidney tubular cells under the microscope.

Morphine addiction has also been linked to an increased risk of heart disease and lung disorders.

Morphine addiction wrecks your mental health

Morphine addiction takes a severe toll on mental health. Because it damages cognition, it makes clear thinking difficult. Emotional dysregulation from morphine addiction causes drastic mood swings. 

Iranian researchers concluded that “opioid addiction causes disturbances in mood and promotes anxiety, depression, and cognitive impairments.” Chronic morphine administration in rats caused anxiety-like and depression-like behaviors.

Withdrawal from morphine is extraordinarily taxing psychologically, leading to irritability, fatigue, and intense drug cravings. Trying to go cold turkey on your own is extremely dangerous. That’s why you need professional medical supervision at a facility like Ardu’s morphine detox center

Our compassionate staff provides around-the-clock care with medication-assisted treatment to ease withdrawal symptoms and cravings. Don’t risk your life; kick your morphine habit and reclaim your well-being with Ardu.

Is morphine addiction life-threatening?

Morphine addiction can be life-threatening. This powerful opioid drug depresses the respiratory system, so overdosing can slow down breathing or even stop it completely. Here are some more warning signs of morphine overdose:

  1. Pinpoint pupils
  2. Nausea and vomiting
  3. Extreme drowsiness
  4. Dangerously slowed or stopped breathing
  5. Pale, clammy skin
  6. Limp body
  7. Loss of consciousness
  8. Choking or gurgling sounds
  9. Bluish tint to lips and nails (from lack of oxygen)
  10. Slow, erratic pulse
  11. Cold, clammy skin

If you notice someone exhibiting these signs after taking morphine, call 911 right away. 

To start your healing process, find a trusted morphine addiction treatment program—such as Ardu Recovery Center. Our reputable recovery programs in Provo, Utah help people who are addicted to morphine get back on their feet. If you are ready to put in the work, our team of highly trained and experienced professionals will help you ease into a life of health and sobriety.

Morphine detox center at Ardu

The first step to getting clean is detox. Our comprehensive detox services help you safely and comfortably rid your system of morphine. Our experienced medical staff will develop an individualized treatment plan tailored to your unique situation.  

Our medical detox program provides 24/7 care and effective medications that alleviate the withdrawal symptoms that come with abstinence. We use prescription medications as needed to make the morphine detox process as comfortable as possible.

As for our holistic detox, we offer different therapies to help relax the nervous system and restore balance. These include:

With personalized medical oversight and holistic therapies tailored to your needs, our program helps you transition into addiction treatment with the best chance of success after kicking the morphine habit.

Morphine rehab center at Ardu

At our morphine rehab center, we provide compassionate care to help you reclaim your health, happiness, and purpose. We offer comprehensive inpatient and outpatient treatments tailored to your unique needs. 

Inpatient and outpatient treatment

Inpatient treatment provides round-the-clock structured support and intensive therapy daily. The benefits of our residential addiction treatment program are:

  • A safe, trigger-free environment to focus completely on your recovery
  • Constant access to medical care and counseling
  • A tightly structured daily schedule centered on healing
  • Building a recovery community with peers for motivation

Outpatient treatment allows you to maintain your personal life while getting help every week, on a bi-weekly basis, and even daily if needed. You can choose our intensive outpatient programs or partial hospitalization programs, and work with us to find an outpatient program that works best for you.

The advantages of our outpatient treatment include:

  • More flexibility to continue working or caregiving
  • Lower costs than inpatient programs
  • Applying skills learned in your natural environment
  • Options range from intensive outpatient programs to more simple therapy sessions

Our team will thoughtfully assess your needs and insurance coverage to determine if residential care or outpatient care will give you the best chance of success given your current situation. Successful recovery is possible—we’re here to guide you.

Types of therapies we offer

As a part of our comprehensive morphine rehab center, we offer:

  • Motivational interviewing: we help you explore ambivalence about change, enhancing motivation and readiness for recovery.
  • Experiential therapy: through engaging experiences, you’ll address underlying emotions and behaviors related to morphine use, gaining deeper insight and promoting healing.
  • Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT): helps you identify and change negative thought patterns and behaviors associated with morphine addiction, empowering you with effective coping strategies and tools for managing cravings.
  • Dialectical-behavioral therapy (DBT): combines cognitive strategies with mindfulness techniques to help you regulate emotions, tolerate distress, and improve interpersonal relationships, crucial skills for navigating the challenges of morphine addiction recovery.
  • Family therapy: we involve your loved ones in therapy sessions to help rebuild relationships strained by morphine addiction, fostering understanding, communication, and support.
  • Group counseling: connect with others who face similar challenges in a supportive environment for sharing experiences, gaining perspective, and learning from one another. This can strengthen your resolve and sense of community in overcoming morphine addiction.

If you want to verify your health insurance coverage, gather more payment information, and pursue the Medicaid redetermination process in Utah, visit our insurance verification page.

Get help with Ardu Recovery Center

Our recovery center welcomes anyone seeking help to overcome their morphine addiction. Our dedicated team of professionals is here to guide and support you in your addiction treatment process, laying the foundation for long-term sobriety and relapse prevention.

To enroll in an Ardu opioid treatment program, contact Ardu Recovery Center online or via phone (801-872-8480). We will work with you to find a recovery path that works for you during the detox process and beyond. 

Read our admissions process page for more information.

Drew Redd

Drew Redd is the executive director of Ardu Recovery Center and is dedicated to empowering people on their journey to sobriety.

Morphine addiction FAQ

Why are opioids addictive?

Opioids are addictive because they bind to specific receptors in the brain called opioid receptors, which are involved in regulating pain, pleasure, and reward. When opioids attach to these receptors, they activate the brain’s reward system, leading to feelings of euphoria and pleasure. Over time, the brain may become dependent on opioids to produce these feelings, leading to addiction.

What is stronger than morphine?

Several opioids are stronger than morphine in terms of potency and analgesic effect. Some examples include fentanyl, hydromorphone (Dilaudid), and oxycodone (OxyContin). Fentanyl, in particular, is significantly more potent than morphine and is often used in medical settings for severe pain management. It has also gained popularity as a recreational drug, though its potency drastically increases the risk of overdose and death.

Does morphine make you sleepy?

Drowsiness and sedation are common side effects of morphine. This drowsiness is desirable in medical settings for managing severe pain or providing comfort to patients with terminal illnesses. Use morphine under medical supervision because if you take a high dose, you can experience respiratory depression and other adverse effects, especially when you combine it with other central nervous system depressants such as alcohol or benzodiazepines.

When did the opioid epidemic begin?

The opioid epidemic in the United States can be traced back to the late 1990s when pharmaceutical companies aggressively marketed prescription opioids as safe and effective for managing chronic pain. This led to widespread overprescribing and misuse of opioids, contributing to a sharp increase in opioid addiction, overdoses, and deaths over the following decades.

When was morphine invented?

Morphine was first isolated from opium in 1804 by Friedrich Sertürner, a German pharmacist. Sertürner’s discovery marked a significant milestone in the history of pharmacology, as morphine became the first isolated active ingredient from a plant source. Morphine’s potent analgesic properties revolutionized pain management and made it one of the most widely used opioids in medicine.


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