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Why Is Morphine Addictive?

By Jon McKenna
Medically Reviewed by Yilang Tang, MD, PhD on June 28, 2021
Even when taken as prescribed, morphine can be highly addictive. Here’s why this drug can be so difficult to quit.

Your doctor may prescribe morphine to treat severe pain, like the kind that occurs after a serious surgery or during cancer treatment. Morphine—available in extended-release capsule and tablet, injectable, and nasal solution forms—does a wonderful job of reducing acute pain. But it’s important to remember that, if used for a long time, morphine can become addictive.

Statistics on morphine indicate that Americans are using the drug less. According to a 2018 article published in theAmerican Journal of Preventive Medicine, the amount of morphine taken in the U.S. went down by nearly 19% from 2011 to 2016. Morphine is also distinct from other drugs used for similar purposes, such as oxycodone. “Use of morphine is more controlled since it is typically reserved for more severe pain management in medical settings,” Brian Wind, MD, chief clinical officer at the JourneyPure rehab centers in Murfreesboro, Tenn., tells WebMD Connect to Care. Still, it’s important to stick to your doctor’s recommended dosage and only take morphine as prescribed.

How Addictive is Morphine?

Morphine in any form can lead to addiction, John Giordano, an addiction specialist in North Miami Beach, Fla., tells WebMd Connect to Care. Injectable morphine solution has become more widely used—and sometimes misused—as drug manufacturers prioritize other opioid pills, like oxycodone.

According to the Mayo Clinic, morphine, like other opioids, travels through your blood and attaches to certain receptors in your brain cells to reduce pain and boost feelings of pleasure. But over time, especially if you have risk factors for an opioid addiction, your body can become used to those feelings of pleasure even after the pain has passed. This can lead to morphine addiction.

“More potent opioids [than morphine] have a stronger effect and may reach the brain more quickly, hence the risk of someone taking more and forming a dependence is higher,” Wind says. “Morphine can be more addictive than less potent opioids, such as codeine. It is less addictive than heroin, oxycodone, heroin and fentanyl. It's about as addictive as hydrocodone.”

A doctor will decide how much morphine you need, but generally, the recommended adult dosages are as follows, according to the Mayo Clinic:

  • One extended-release capsule every 12 to 24 hours
  • One extended-release tablet every 8 to 12 hours
  • 10 to 20 milligrams of morphine solution every 4 hours

Morphine Addiction Symptoms

Giordano says he sees the following symptoms most often with morphine addiction:

  • Short-term physical effects: Nausea, dilated pupils, slowed breathing, sleepiness or lethargy, and sweats and chills
  • Long-term physical effects: Depression, severe constipation, erratic sleep cycles, body tremors, and kidney issues
  • Behavioral changes: Withdrawal from others and activities, sudden lying and stealing, neglecting daily responsibilities, becoming highly irritated or aggressive

Don’t Wait. Get Help Now.

If you or a loved one are struggling with addiction, WebMD Connect to Care Advisors are standing by to help.

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