Understanding how to tell if someone is using morphine as prescribed or abusing it is vital: it can be the first step to getting them help for a morphine addiction.

Morphine is an opiate drug used as a prescription pain relief treatment, but it’s also misused recreationally. Even when people are prescribed morphine and follow their prescription’s instructions, it does carry a potential for addiction and physical dependence. Understanding how to tell if someone is on morphine or abusing it is vital: it can be the first step to getting them the help they need.

What Is Morphine?

Morphine misuse is dangerous and prevalent. Research shows that opioid prescription drug abuse is on the rise throughout the U.S. In many places, it’s being described as an epidemic.

Morphine is derived from the poppy plant and is used clinically for moderate to severe pain as needed. The extended-release version is used clinically for severe, around-the-clock pain. Situations that may merit morphine use are decided by your doctor and can include:

  • Post-surgery recovery
  • Terminal cancer
  • Short-term pain management
  • Pain management in those with a terminal disease
  • Significant trauma or injury

The brand names of morphine include MSiR, MS Contin, and Roxanol, among others. Morphine is classified as a Schedule II drug in the U.S, meaning that it can only be used when prescribed by a doctor.

This narcotic drug can be taken as an extended-release medication or on an as-needed basis, depending on the situation. Morphine can be taken by mouth in the form of a tablet or syrup, but the most common way it’s given is by injection, normally in a hospital setting.

When someone takes morphine, they may feel a euphoric rush, tightness in their chest and an overall feeling of disorientation. They may also move in and out of being awake and then experience drowsiness or periods of nodding off.

Common Signs Someone Is on Morphine

Regardless of whether someone is on morphine because of a prescription or misuse, there are some potential side effects. Common signs someone is on morphine can include:

  • Extreme drowsiness
  • Constipation
  • Abdominal pain
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Dry mouth
  • Headache
  • Dizziness
  • Fatigue
  • Itching
  • Difficulty urinating
  • Sexual dysfunction
  • Slowed heart rate or breathing

Other common signs that may be good initial indicators that someone is using morphine can be:

  • Small pupils
  • Nodding off at strange times
  • Slurred speech
  • Inability to concentrate or focus
  • Breathing that’s more shallow than normal

When someone is dependent on morphine and suddenly stops using it, they may go through withdrawal symptoms. Some of the signs someone is on morphine but going through withdrawal include:

  • Sweating
  • Chills
  • Teary eyes and a runny nose
  • Muscle aches and pains
  • Fast heartbeat or breathing
  • Problems sleeping
  • Irritability and anxiety
  • Vomiting and nausea
  • Diarrhea and stomach cramps

Signs of Morphine Tolerance

One danger of being on morphine, including if you take it as instructed by a doctor, is the potential for tolerance to build quickly. People who take morphine are warned that tolerance can develop within just a few doses of starting the drug, and it’s something to be very cautious of for people on morphine.

Signs someone is on morphine and has developed a tolerance include taking higher and higher doses or taking it more often to achieve the same initial effect.

If someone is using morphine recreationally, they will have to take higher doses to achieve the same euphoric rush or high that can come with using this prescription painkiller.

The Long-Term Side Effects of Being on Morphine

Most of the above signs someone is on morphine are related to short-term effects, but for people who are long-term or chronic users of morphine, other symptoms and side effects can occur.

Some of the signs someone has been on morphine for a longer period include depression, a suppressed immune system, extreme constipation, restlessness, and possible collapsed veins if the person injects morphine. In a recent study by The Recovery Village of current and former opioid users (including morphine):

  • 42.3% reported having depression
  • 38.4% reported having a weakened immune system
  • 19% reported having vein collapse

How Do You Know if Someone Is Abusing Morphine?

It can be difficult to spot some of the physical symptoms of morphine use if the person has become adept at hiding them. Finding pill bottles, even if they’re not labeled as morphine, or finding pills themselves or syringes can be helpful but inconclusive. There are many different physical characteristics of brand-name morphine, ranging from white capsules to light blue and almost every other conceivable color.

Figuring out if someone has a morphine addiction or is simply using it for pain management can be challenging, particularly because it is so commonly abused.

Some of the general signs of addiction to a drug, including morphine, can include:

  • Having a problem controlling how much morphine is taken or how often
  • Taking the substance longer than is prescribed
  • Wanting to stop using morphine or cut back but not being able to
  • Spending large amounts of time trying to get morphine
  • Having intense cravings for morphine
  • Losing a sense of responsibility because morphine use becomes the user’s top priority
  • Interpersonal relationships suffer as a result of drug use
  • Loss of interest in other activities
  • Continuing to use morphine despite adverse outcomes or dangerous results

If you want to know if someone is on morphine and has a problem with it, people with addictions or substance use disorders usually have at least two or three of the criteria named above.

If you’re worried they’re abusing this prescription drug, it’s important to monitor their behavior. People who abuse morphine will often become secretive, absent for unexplained reasons, lack motivation and display personality changes such as mood swings.

If any of the things named above are red flags that you see, it’s important to contact an addiction professional or rehab treatment facility to learn the best course of action. The Recovery Village offers evidence-based, compassionate care from addiction specialists. Our helpful representatives can answer your questions about treatment for morphine addiction and get your loved one on the path to lifelong recovery.

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Editor – Melissa Carmona
Melissa Carmona puts years of writing and editing experience to work helping people understand substance abuse, addiction and mental health disorders. Read more
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Medically Reviewed By – Benjamin Caleb Williams, RN
Benjamin Caleb Williams is a board-certified Emergency Nurse with several years of clinical experience, including supervisory roles within the ICU and ER settings. Read more

National Institute on Drug Abuse. “Opioid Overdose Crisis.” March 11, 2021. Accessed August 13, 2021.

U.S. National Library of Medicine. “Morphine.” MedlinePlus, February 15, 2021. Accessed August 13, 2021.

Baldin, AnGee; Korff, Michael Von; & Lin, Elizabeth H. B. “A Review of Potential Adverse Effects of[…]actitioner’s Guide.” Primary Care Companion for CNS Disorders, June 14, 2012. Accessed August 13, 2021.

Drugs.com. “Pill Identifier.” 2021. Accessed August 13, 2021.

Drug Enforcement Administration. “Controlled Substances.” July 20, 2021. Accessed August 13, 2021.

Medical Disclaimer

The Recovery Village aims to improve the quality of life for people struggling with substance use or mental health disorder with fact-based content about the nature of behavioral health conditions, treatment options and their related outcomes. We publish material that is researched, cited, edited and reviewed by licensed medical professionals. The information we provide is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It should not be used in place of the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare providers.