Morphine Addiction

America’s history has been plagued by morphine addiction for nearly two centuries.  In fact, because morphine is found directly in the processed sap of the poppy seed, it could be argued that morphine addiction has been a problem - through opium addiction - for two millennia.  Opium, a highly addictive drug used to treat severe or chronic pain, has been in use since the time of the Romans.  Addiction to opium has been a problem for just as long, and quickly stretched to corners of the globe where the opium poppy doesn’t naturally grow.  To demonstrate just how potent opiates can be, morphine was actually used as a treatment for alcohol and opium addiction in the 19th and 20th centuries- not because morphine was less addicting, but because withdrawing from morphine isn’t usually fatal.

Morphine is a chemical compound found in the sap of immature poppy seeds.  First isolated in 1804, it has since maintained its position as one of the most effective and widely used forms of pain management.  Morphine directly influences the central nervous system by inhibiting pain receptors, thereby reducing or eliminating the sensation of pain.  However, morphine also often causes a distinct feeling of euphoria that is so powerful and pleasurable that people will often seek its effects recreationally; even when no pain is present.  This is when morphine addiction becomes a serious threat.

Morphine is used to treat severe or chronic pain caused by surgery, trauma, severe conditions such as cancer or HIV, kidney stones, back and neck pain, and in some cases to treat debilitating migraines.  In addition to these pain-relieving uses, morphine can also prove extremely valuable as an adjunct to general anesthesia, as an anti-tussive or severe cough suppressant, for the relief of pulmonary edema, to treat depression, and to lower or stabilize blood glucose levels in diabetics.  Any of these uses can result in morphine addiction, because most people rapidly develop a tolerance to morphine.

When taken on a prolonged basis, the human body develops a natural tolerance to morphine.  This means that more of the drug is usually required to produce the same effect over time.  Tolerance to morphine occurs very rapidly, with many patients experiencing a decrease in the effective level of the same dose over just a few days.  Tolerance to morphine often leads to physical dependency.

It’s important for health care providers and patients to understand the difference between full-blown addiction and physical dependency.  Physical dependency occurs as the body becomes accustomed to the drug.  As morphine levels in the blood rise and become consistent, the body makes changes in order to adapt.  When the drug is suddenly reduced or stopped altogether, severe withdrawal syndrome symptoms can occur.  While withdrawal from morphine isn’t nearly as dangerous as that from alcohol, barbiturates, or benzodiazepines, it is significantly incapacitating and can be fatal in rare cases.

Signs of Morphine Addiction

True morphine addiction occurs on both the physical and psychological levels.  Addiction is often characterized by patients exhibiting erratic, bizarre, or dangerous behavior in their efforts to obtain and maintain more of the drug.  Addicted patients might request increased dosages or more frequent dose scheduling, use their entire prescription before the next refill is available, or fabricate stories about lost, destroyed, stolen, or misplaced prescriptions.  The following symptoms may be warning signs of morphine adiction:

  • Severe depression
  • Feelings of inadequacy
  • Insecurity
  • Anxiety
  • Paranoia
  • Destructive or criminal behaviors
  • Self-imposed isolation

Morphine addiction is much more prevalent than addiction to other drugs in the United States.  Perhaps the only more addicting drug is heroin, but because both are made from the poppy plant, they are usually interchangeable with many addicts and produce similar effects.  Interestingly, morphine addiction almost never occurs in cases where prescribed and managed as part of a pain treatment plan.  Conversely, morphine that is used illicitly or recreationally is far more likely to result in addiction.

Morphine Detoxification

Once addiction has been established and recognized, there are treatment options available that can help an afflicted person recover.  Treatment for morphine addiction should never be attempted alone, as the detoxification process can be dangerous.  Because of the physical and psychological dependency experienced by morphine addicts, withdrawal symptoms will occur, and most likely will be severe and prolonged.  This in itself can deter many addicts from seeking help, but without detoxification, the process of healing can never begin.  Withdrawal generally occurs in the following six stages and is best managed in a professional drug treatment center:

  1. Anxiety and drug cravings begin in as little as 6 hours after the last dose.
  2. Runny nose, depression, weeping, perspiration, and yawning occur within 14-18 hours of last dose.
  3. Muscle twitches, hot and cold flashes, aches and loss of appetite set in: 18-24 hours after last dose.
  4. 24-36 hours after last dose nausea, vomiting, restlessness, insomnia, severe cramping and other gastrointestinal issues occur, as well as an increase in all of the above symptoms.
  5. Weight loss, increased white blood cells, diarrhea, involuntary urination or ejaculation: 36-72 hours after last dose.
  6. Recovery begins, but patient may still be hyper sensitive to light, pain/pressure, noise, and may begin experiencing severe psychological issues.

Recovery from the psychological aspects of morphine addiction is a long and complicated process.  Patients may experience severe and prolonged depression, anxiety, and difficulties in integrating with normal aspects of daily life.  These symptoms are generally thought to be self-limiting in that the time it takes to recover depends upon the person’s ambition, physical activity, and general frame of mind.

The success of treatment for morphine addiction depends largely on the environment that a person is in while attempting to detoxify and break the addiction cycle.  Professional drug treatment centers, inpatient and outpatient programs, support systems, counseling, medical evaluations and social groups are all vital to help ensure that a recovering morphine addict remains clean.  Addiction must be resolved by removing the patient from the environment and factors that caused the abuse of the drug- this ultimately requires treatment in a drug rehab center, where withdrawal can be treated and monitored and access to drugs can be controlled.

People suffering from morphine addiction should know that they are not alone.  More than 5% of all adult Americans have admitted abusing prescription drugs- that’s nearly 12 million people, and many of those were specifically users of morphine.  The cycle of addiction can destroy lives, careers, and families.  Therefore, treatment of morphine addiction should be a concerted effort of health care professionals, family and friends, and the patient.