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long term effects of morphine abuse
November 8, 2018

Long Term Effects of Morphine Abuse

Morphine is a powerful synthetic opiate with a lengthy history of medicinal use. The fast-acting, short-lasting narcotic, which is derived from the opium poppy plant, initially appeared in the early 1800s where it was sold without government restrictions and used to treat moderate to severe pain.  By 1914, morphine became classified as a controlled substance by the federal government and, in subsequent decades, its popularity skyrocketed.

Outside of legitimate use in pain management under close medical supervision, morphine is now considered an illicit Schedule 11 Substance responsible for fueling an epidemic of crime, death and physiological and psychological impairment.  No longer a pure derivative of a naturally occurring plant—modern day morphine is frequently sold on the street laced with other illicit, hard-core drugs and unpredictable poisons—a reality that makes chronic use particularly dangerous.  The nightmarish long-term effects of the drug cruelly contradict its mythical name, which originated from the Greek god Morpheus—meaning “god of dreams.” The majority of morphine addicts will suffer severe consequences as a result of their addiction and invariably require professional help in order to stabilize from the debilitating effects of the drug.

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), America’s distribution and consumption of morphine is unparalleled, resulting in 6,345,800 prescriptions in 2016 as well as countless other illicit uses. Morphine is considered a major player in the national opiate crisis and represents a major public health threat and social-economic burden.  


Morphine is legendary for the euphoric high it produces regardless of whether it is taken in tablet, injection, suppository or syrup form.  Although morphine users sometimes smoke or snort crushed powder forms of the drug in order to increase the resulting high, all forms of the drug are equally potent and target key brain receptors responsible for eliciting pleasurable sensations. Dopamine, in particular, is a neurotransmitter related to the brain’s pleasure and reward system that morphine artificially manipulates. By unleashing unnaturally elevated dopamine levels found in the brain and central nervous system (CNS), morphine becomes a highly addictive, physically and psychologically seductive force—even with infrequent recreational use. Once the drug is chronically abused outside the scope of legitimate medical purposes, it inevitably creates dependency and usually full-blown addiction.

The all-consuming addiction that follows morphine dependency produces symptoms that vary widely depending upon numerous factors such as length of use, individual biochemistry and developed tolerance to the drug.  Physical and psychological symptoms of morphine addiction may include:

  • Disorientation
  • Impaired breathing
  • Insomnia
  • Intense stomach pain
  • Dizziness
  • Headache
  • Nausea
  • Stomach pain


Morphine addiction takes a devastating toll on physiological and psychological functions. The human body and brain are delicate and not designed to handle the long-term impact of opiate abuse. The human brain itself can be compared to a factory comprised of a billion mechanical parts and individual functions—each absolutely necessary for the well-being of the whole. Long-term morphine abuse seriously disrupts these functions and progressively alters neurochemistry in the process. Research implicates morphine use in stubborn, sometimes irreversible changes to neural pathways and entire brain structures. Gray matter, for example, a critical component of healthy cognitive function, is diminished with excessive morphine use, and vital brain structures including the prefrontal cortex are simultaneously damaged.   

Beyond the lasting brain changes that accompany morphine addiction lies the physical dangers associated with quitting. Once a user becomes morphine-dependent and experiences a total cessation in use, or even brief lapses, they suffer from physical withdrawal symptoms that may include: uncontrollable cravings, extreme fatigue, dilated pupils, elevated blood pressure, watery eyes, sore muscles, hot and cold flashes, and a lengthy list of others. Morphine withdrawal is also known to trigger debilitating psychological symptoms such as extreme anxiety, dysphoria or suicidal ideation.

In cases where a long-term morphine addiction is stopped “cold turkey,” users risk experiencing precipitated withdrawal, the dangerous onslaught of withdrawal symptoms that may result in a coma or death. On the other hand, morphine overdose may prove equally deadly, especially when it is the result of mixture with other illicit or prescription drugs. For example, when mixed with alcohol—a lethal but common concoction—morphine may trigger cardiovascular dysfunction or total disorientation that leads to dangerously impaired judgment and potentially deadly consequences.  Even overdose that is the result of morphine use without any additional substances can produce the following debilitating effects:

  • Slurred speech
  • Extreme disorientation
  • Severe drowsiness
  • Coma and/or death


Morphine is a life-altering drug that when abused requires professional intervention in order to produce favorable treatment outcomes. And, like other opiates and illicit drugs, the earlier the treatment the quicker that mental and physical health can be stabilized and rehabilitated prior to irreparable damage occurring. Popular morphine treatment options include the following:

  • Intensive inpatient treatment—this premium morphine treatment protocol involves clients living at a designated residential facility, usually for a period of one month but sometimes as long as three (known as long term rehab). During a client’s stay, an evidence-based combination of pharmacological and psychotherapy is utilized. The 24/7 staff monitoring and safe, supportive environment offered by such facilities are considered the industry gold standard and provide optimal social and therapeutic benefit to morphine users in various stages of addiction.
  • Intensive outpatient treatment (IOP)—this less intensive treatment protocol involves clients attending a designated treatment facility on a non-residential basis. During the course of IOP, clients are also administered various pharmacological interventions and participate in group and individual therapy. Although IOP programs boast numerous benefits and are ideal for those with demanding personal or professional schedules, they are not considered optimal when compared to intensive inpatient treatment.
  • Outpatient treatment (OP)—this least intensive protocol involves clients attending a casual once or twice a week schedule of individual and/or group therapy in addition to occasional medical follow-up and consultation. OP treatment is not recommended as a first intervention for morphine users, although it is appropriate as a progressive stage in continuing care upon successful completion of an intensive inpatient or IOP treatment program. Outpatient programs occur in a wide variety of private and public settings including hospitals, doctors’ offices and public health agencies. 

In addition to attending a structured treatment program, clients recovering from morphine addiction benefit from various evidence-based pharmacological interventions. Although a wide

variety of medications are used in the scope of medication-assisted treatment (MAT) depending upon individual tolerance and needs, the following form the nucleus of effective morphine treatment:

  • Clonodine—classified as an “anti-hypersensitive” medication, this popular option helps significantly reduce morphine withdrawal symptoms. Clonidine works by blocking the same brain chemicals that activate the sympathetic nervous system (SNS).
  • Vivitrol—an injectable prescription variety of naltrexone that helps control cravings and psychological and physiological processes. Vivitrol is available in both pill and once-per-month injectable form and works by blocking opiate receptors in the brain, noticeably reducing morphine’s euphoric effects.
  • Suboxone—a combination of buprenorphine and naloxone (an opiate antagonist) frequently used early in symptom onset to help prevent intravenous buprenorphine abuse. This clinically-proven medication for morphine dependence significantly lowers the risk of precipitated withdrawal. Suboxone activates the same neurological receptors as morphine and is generally well-tolerated by the majority of clients.


Morphine addiction doesn’t discriminate on its path to destruction. Some people erroneously believe that addiction is entirely the result of genetics or unresolved trauma that renders users desperate for an escape. Although there is truth to this perspective in certain cases, in reality, morphine addiction can affect anyone, at any time, regardless of age, gender, religion, sexuality, political orientation, or personal/professional status.

If you or a loved one are suffering from morphine addiction—call a substance abuse professional today and begin the process of getting the help you need. Never delay taking action or be ashamed of the fact that you need help. The consequences of delaying treatment can be deadly and, even when they aren’t, lead to less-than-favorable treatment outcomes. Timing is everything!

In the event of a morphine overdose, take immediate action by seeking treatment at your nearest hospital emergency room (ER). 

 For more information about morphine addiction and recovery, check out these related articles:



  • Postgraduate Medical Journal. Alternative Opioids to Morphine in Palliative Care: a review of current practice and evidence. June, 2001.
  • Annals of Emergency Medicine.  Move Over Morphine: Is Ketamine an Effective and Safe Alternative for Treating Acute Pain? Feb, 2016.
  • Scientific Reports. A Comparison of Nalbuphine with Morphine for Analgesic Effects and Safety: Meta-Analysis of Randomized Controlled Trials. June, 2015.
  • American Journal of Nursing (AMJ) Morphine. Now. April, 2015.