Morphine Sulfate Addiction and Abuse

At the beginning of the 21st century, prescription opioid use became one of the biggest drug-related crises in the United States. Millions of Americans need treatment for severe pain that occurs due to old age or injury, but many medications can be addictive. Opioids attach to receptors in the brain, which then block the transmission of pain messages and release feel-good chemicals that produce a euphoric high.

Morphine is one of the most popular and addictive prescription opioids. The medication is a key contributor to the 3.2 million Americans ages 12 and older who reported misuse of prescription pain-relief drugs in 2017, a statistic that was reported in the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration’s 2017 National Survey on Drug Use and Health. Understanding how morphine sulfate can become addictive and why people misuse the medication can prevent you or someone you know from developing a dependence on the drug.

Morphine is an opioid analgesic, or narcotic, derived from the opium found in opium poppy plants. The drug is used to relieve moderate to severe pain. The Federal Drug Administration approved morphine in 1941 for pain treatment but has since classified morphine sulfate as a Schedule II controlled substance because the drug is highly addictive, extremely potent and frequently misused.

Morphine works by interacting with opioid receptors and blocking pain signals from reaching the nervous system, which alters how the body responds to pain. Morphine does not cure the underlying causes of pain but can temporarily reduce the feelings of pain.

Morphine sulfate is a variation of morphine that is chemically conjugated with sulfuric acid, which helps morphine become water-soluble and easily absorbed for treatment. The medication can be taken orally, in tablet or liquid form, or by injection. Morphine sulfate is prescribed in various brand names, including:

  • Kadian
  • MorphaBond ER
  • Arymo ER
  • Duramorph
  • Infumorph
  • Mitigo
  • MS Contin

The dosage of morphine sulfate that someone will receive varies based on their type of pain, how severe the pain is and their physical attributes, such as height and weight. In immediate-release tablet form, morphine sulfate is available between 15 and 30 mg. In extended-release tablet form (which is often used to treat chronic pain), there are many other tablet strengths available, all the way up to 200 mg.

Taking the drug consistently can result in a psychological dependence forming, because the person using morphine sulfate mentally associates the drug to a pain-free existence. Physical dependence can develop over time as well, which is what leads to withdrawal symptoms upon attempting to stop using the drug. If you or someone you know uses morphine to treat for pain, take the medication only as prescribed by a doctor.

Due to how addictive morphine sulfate can be, the medication is often misused in order to achieve pleasant effects and reduce or eliminate feelings of pain. Exceeding a doctor’s recommendation for dosage and frequency can result in an addiction forming or even an overdose. Symptoms of a morphine sulfate overdose include shallow breathing, a slow heartbeat or coma.

Other side effects of taking morphine sulfate include: mood changes, hallucinations, severe stomach pain, difficulty urinating and a severe loss of appetite. Some people might be allergic to the medication and experience itching, swelling or difficulty breathing. If any of these effects occur, tell your primary physician immediately.

Morphine sulfate addiction usually occurs after someone takes the medication for a consistent length of time. Even if someone uses the drug as prescribed by their doctor, that person can build a dependence on the substance and become addicted.

An addiction to morphine sulfate can occur either from a psychological dependence or a physical one. Morphine sulfate reduces feelings of pain, which can increase a person’s happiness. Taking the drug can cause people to mentally link taking the medication to a pain-free and happy existence, which can create a psychological dependence. Even if that person does not have a physical reliance on the substance yet, they might feel a need to take morphine sulfate to achieve happiness.

Physical dependence can occur if the drug is taken consistently and in a large enough dosage. When a person takes opioids, the drug attaches to receptors in the brain and releases dopamine (feel-good chemicals), some of which reduce the sensation of pain. The release of these chemicals causes the body to become accustomed to the drug’s presence in order to produce enough chemicals to maintain a balance. When someone stops taking morphine sulfate, their body reacts negatively through withdrawal symptoms due to a new chemical imbalance that occurs.

Just as taking morphine sulfate as prescribed by a doctor won’t always protect someone from becoming addicted, not everyone who misuses morphine sulfate will become addicted to the drug. However, misuse of the drug is one of the most common ways in which someone will become addicted to morphine sulfate and one of the most recognizable signs of an addiction.

Other signs of morphine sulfate addiction include changes to a person’s physical appearance. They might have a change in appetite, lose weight and show a lack of hygiene. Personality changes that could indicate a morphine sulfate addiction include increases in irritation, anxiousness, lethargy, and introversion. Some of the physical side effects of morphine sulfate use — such as constipation, nausea or euphoric feelings — can also be signs of addiction.

Nausea and vomiting are two of the most common signs of morphine sulfate use. Medical experts suggest consuming food when taking the medication to reduce the possibility of nausea. Another potential defense against physical illness is laying down immediately after taking the morphine sulfate dosage.

Other common side effects of morphine sulfate use include:

  • Constipation
  • Lightheadedness
  • Dizziness
  • Drowsiness
  • Sweating
If you or someone you know has shown signs of a morphine sulfate addiction, consider contacting a rehabilitation facility. The Recovery Village has treatment locations in most regions of the United States and can provide medical care and emotional support for anyone who struggles with a drug or alcohol addiction. Call a representative to receive more information regarding drug addiction in general or ask questions related specifically to morphine sulfate.
Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. “Key Substance Use and Mental Health Indicators in the United States: Results from the 2017 National Survey on Drug Use and Health.” Published September 2018. Accessed January 2019.

Medical Disclaimer: The Recovery Village aims to improve the quality of life for people struggling with a 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 provider.

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