Table of Contents
Morphine Addiction, Abuse, and Symptoms


The Basics

This guide explains the effects, trends, and dangers of morphine use, as well as an unbiased analysis of the medicinal and behavioral treatment methods for morphine addiction based on current research and publically available statistics. In some cases, usage statistics are derived from general prescription opioid use, which includes hydromorphone, codeine, oxycodone, and hydrocodone.

Primary Morphine Dangers

  • Addictiveness: In a study to determine the addictive potential of drugs, Nutt et al. assessed heroin, cocaine, ecstasy, cannabis, and 16 other substances. They didn’t test morphine specifically, but they did test an illicit opioid: heroin. At the end of the study, Nutt and his colleagues reported that heroin had the highest addiction potential of any of the 20 substances tested. This illustrates the high addictive potential of opioids like morphine.
  • Risk of overdose: As users become tolerant to morphine, they must take higher doses to experience the same amount of pain relief. Non-medical users of morphine need to take more of the substance to experience the “high” they crave. Taking higher doses of morphine increases the risk of overdose. In 2017, more than 47,000 Americans died as the result of an opioid overdose, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
  • Unintended side effects: Glare et al. conducted a study on the side effects of morphine use in people with chronic pain related to cancer. They determined that morphine causes myoclonus, or involuntary muscle jerks, in some users. In addition to nausea, vomiting, constipation, and drowsiness, morphine can also cause seizures, difficulty breathing, and changes in a person’s heart rate, all of which can be serious.
  • Legal risks: Due to its high potential for abuse, morphine is classified as a Schedule II drug by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA). In the United States, possession of morphine without a prescription is considered a crime. It is usually charged as a misdemeanor if it is the individual’s first offense, with potential penalties ranging from monetary fines to up to one year in jail.
Morphine Background Information
Derived From Organic synthesis using the poppy plant
Ways Used Ingesting, injecting, chewing, snorting, inhalation, rectal
Scientific Name Morphine
Slang/Street Names for Morphine White Stuff, Emma, Miss Emma, M
How Long in Bodily System Half-life: 2 to 3 hours

Elimination in approximately 72 hours but may take up to a week in long-term users

Punitive Legal Measures: Using/Possession Morphine is a Schedule II controlled substance, which means it is against the law to possess it without a prescription issued by a licensed medical professional. Each state has different laws regarding charging guidelines and penalties, but a first offense is usually considered a misdemeanor. The penalties for a misdemeanor conviction of drug possession may include monetary fines and up to one year in jail. If an individual with a previous possession conviction is convicted of a subsequent offense, the penalties are usually more severe.
Punitive Legal Measures: Selling/Distributing Selling morphine is a more serious offense than possessing morphine. If charged with selling or attempting to sell morphine, an individual may be sentenced to up to 20 years in prison. The penalties vary from state to state, and they also depend on the individual’s criminal history and other factors. If an individual is convicted of selling morphine near a school, the penalties may be enhanced.
DEA Drug Rating Schedule II

Signs of Abuse

Behavioral Symptoms of Morphine Usage and Abuse

How morphine affects the brain

Like other opioids, morphine affects the amount of dopamine released in the brain. Leone et al. studied the effects of morphine administration on dopamine levels in a region of the brain known as the nucleus accumbens, which plays a role in the brain’s reward circuit. They found that morphine caused a 50% to 150% increase in the amount of dopamine in this region. This increase in dopamine is responsible for some of the pleasant effects of morphine.

When individuals engage in activities that trigger a release of dopamine, they experience pleasing sensations. These sensations serve as a “reward” for certain behaviors. Thus, the individual is motivated to repeat the behavior that led to the reward. The reward system is essential for survival, as it prompts people to eat regularly and engage in other behaviors that ensure the continuation of the human species. Unfortunately, this reward circuit also plays a role in morphine addiction, as it prompts the individual to keep taking morphine even when it is harmful to do so.

Behavioral signs of morphine usage and abuse

Morphine is associated with sudden mood changes and increased levels of nervousness. In severe cases, morphine can even cause hallucinations. Therefore, people who use morphine may hear voices that are not real, prompting them to become agitated. Some users have visual hallucinations, which means they see things that are not really there. Hallucinations can cause morphine users to feel disconnected from reality, which may interfere with personal relationships and make it difficult to maintain steady employment.

The side effects of morphine make it difficult to perform at work or excel in an academic environment. As a result, people who use morphine may suddenly lose their jobs or start failing classes when they used to be successfully in these areas. One reason for this decline in performance is the effect that morphine has on cognitive ability. In one study, Kamboj et al. found that morphine affects memory as well as the ability to perform complex tasks, leaving some users unable to function normally in their everyday lives.

In adolescents, sudden lifestyle changes may indicate a problem with substance use. For example, an adolescent who is using morphine may suddenly start spending time with a new peer group, sleeping more or less than usual, or adjusting his or her eating habits. Other signs of morphine use in adolescents include difficulty with personal hygiene, problems maintaining friendships and relationships with family members, skipping school, and a loss of interest in activities that used to be enjoyable.

Physical Symptoms of Morphine Abuse

How morphine affects the body

The human body has opiate receptors in the brain, spinal cord, and other areas. Morphine binds to these receptors, relieving pain caused by cancer, surgical procedures, and serious injuries. When morphine binds to opiate receptors, it slows down the central nervous system, which relaxes the body and reduces the individual’s heart and respiratory rates. The user typically experiences a heightened sense of well-being due to these physical effects.

Early physical effects of morphine

Shortly after taking morphine, the individual may experience a feeling of warmth that spreads throughout the body. Drowsiness is also an early physical effect of morphine. Within 20 minutes, an individual typically experiences a reduction in pain. Although morphine is an effective pain reliever, it does produce some serious side effects, especially at high doses.

This table illustrates the possible short-term physical effects associated with morphine.
Short-term Physical Symptoms
Initial (direct effects of drug, 20 – 60 min.) Drowsiness
Feeling of warmth
Pain relief
Lingering (within an hour of taking the drug) Dry mouth
Small pupils
Post-Use (several hours to days after use) Drowsiness
Tolerance or dependence

Severe and long-term physical effects of morphine

Non-medical users often take larger-than-recommended doses of the drug to achieve the same high they experienced when they first started taking morphine. High doses of morphine can cause life-threatening side effects, especially in users who have a history of chronic medical conditions such as high blood pressure, heart disease, or respiratory diseases. In some cases, morphine can even trigger seizures or cause a person to stop breathing.

Morphine is particularly dangerous when combined with alcohol. Both substances slow down the central nervous system, which can have a life-threatening effect on respiratory function. Combining morphine with alcohol can even lead to coma or sudden death in some individuals. Although cocaine is a stimulant, not a depressant, it can also be dangerous to combine morphine with cocaine. In a study to determine the effects of combining oral cocaine with morphine administered via an injection in one of the large muscles, Kaiko et al. found that combining the two substances can worsen cardiovascular side effects in people taking morphine for chronic pain.

This table illustrates the possible long-term physical effects associated with morphine.
Long-term Physical Symptoms
Casual Drowsiness
Dry mouth
Chronic (Including all of the above effects for casual use) Changes in pupil size
Painful urination
Trouble urinating
Appetite changes
Lack of sexual desire
Menstrual changes
Withdrawal Agitation
Difficulty sleeping
Runny nose
Increased tear production
Abdominal pain

Further Resources

Both the National Institute of Drug Abuse (NIDA) and the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) offer in-depth information about both the symptoms and the treatment of prescription opioid addiction.

Morphine Usage

Opioid usage, including morphine usage, has increased significantly throughout the world

In 2017, drug-enforcement officials seized approximately 87 tons of morphine, according to the World Drug Report produced by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime. This is more than eight times the amount of sedatives seized by drug-enforcement personnel, indicating that morphine abuse is a serious global problem. The amount of morphine seized in 2017 increased by 33% from the previous year.

Opioid abuse is a serious problem in the United States

Although morphine is misused by people all over the world, the problem is especially pronounced in the United States. One of the reasons morphine use is so high in the United States is because the opioid supply has increased drastically over the last two decades. North America has a supply of more than 30,000 daily doses of opioids. In contrast, Africa, Asia, Central America, and South America all have a supply of fewer than 1,000 daily doses. Thus, opioids are much more accessible in North America than they are on other continents.

In Africa, opioid misuse is increasing among adolescents

Adolescent use of morphine and other opioids is increasingly common in Africa. According to the World Drug Report, there is a high prevalence of morphine use among Egyptian secondary students between the ages of 15 and 19. These students report using tramadol and opium in addition to morphine, which shows the extent of the opioid epidemic. In Nigeria, opioids are commonly misused. In fact, they are ranked second only to cannabis use.

Southern and Eastern Europeans use opioids at a lower rate than Northern and Western Europeans

Opioid usage has increased in many regions of Europe, but it is more common in the countries of Northern and Western Europe than it is in countries located in Southern and Eastern Europe. Despite increased usage in some areas, opioid usage has declined in the European Union.

Prescription Opioid Use Throughout the World
Highest Second Third
Regions with the Highest Number of Prescription Opioid Users North America Oceania Southern Asia/Middle East
Continents with the Largest Supplies of Opioids North America Oceania Europe

Morphine Usage Demographics in the U.S.

Misuse of prescription pain relievers is on the rise, especially among individuals between the ages of 25 and 34

The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration reports that 11.5 million people — approximately 4.4% of the U.S. population — misused a prescription pain reliever like morphine in 2016. Misuse of prescription pain relievers is especially common among adults ranging in age from 25 to 34, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Men are more likely than women to misuse prescription pain relievers.

Data from the Monitoring the Future Study indicate that adolescents may be misusing narcotics like morphine at lower rates than they were previously. In 2018, only 3.4% of the 12th graders surveyed reported that they had misused a narcotic within the past year, down from 4.2% in 2017 and 4.8% in 2016. Only 6% of the 12th graders reported that they had misused a narcotic at any point in their lives, down from 6.8% in 2017 and 7.8% in 2016.

Demographics of Prescription Usage
Past Year (2018) Lifetime
8th grade (14-15 yo) No data collected No data collected
10th grade (15-16 yo) No data collected No data collected
12th grade (17-18 yo) 3.4% 6%

How to Find Help

Long-term use of morphine increases the risk of tolerance and dependence, both of which increase the risk of addiction. Once a user develops a tolerance, higher doses of morphine are needed to produce the same effects. It is difficult to stop using morphine due to the effects it has on the brain’s reward center, which prompts the user to continue taking morphine even when doing so is physically or psychologically harmful.

Morphine treatment is a multi-step process that starts with a supervised detoxification period. During this period, the user slowly tapers off morphine instead of stopping it suddenly, which can prevent serious withdrawal complications. Once morphine is out of the body, the individual receives therapy and social support, reducing the risk of relapse. To learn more about this process, read our Morphine Rehabilitation Guide, which offers an overview of the detoxification process and a description of the methods used to help morphine users stay sober.

Staging an Intervention

If you have a loved one who’s struggling with addiction, staging an intervention is often the first necessary step towards sobriety, but it’s important to be strategic and loving in your approach. Even the most well-meaning of interventions can have a negative effect if they aren’t handled correctly.

5 Tips for Staging an Intervention

1. Don’t Do It Alone. A professional interventionist is always the most qualified to guide a successful intervention. Also, rely on non-addict family and friends – especially those who have a close relationship with you or the addict.
2. Research Ahead of Time. It’s best to do plenty of research ahead of time to gather insight on the addiction and how it affects the addict. Also, be prepared with local resources for getting help.
3. Write Out Your Statement. During the actual intervention, emotions will likely be running high, so it’s best to have a statement of how the person’s addiction has impacted you and your relationship with him or her. These statements should be honest, yet written from a place of love – no personal attacks.
4. Offer Help. It’s important for everyone attending the intervention to offer tangible help and support as the person works through detox and rehabilitation.
5. Set Boundaries. If the person refuses to seek help and take the next steps outlined, it’s important that they understand that everyone present will end codependence and enabling behaviors.