Opioid painkillers like morphine carry a variety of side effects, symptoms and risks, including abuse, dependence and addiction.

Nearly 100 million Americans need treatment for severe or chronic pain, but many medications can be addictive. For example, prescription opioids are very effective at treating pain, but they also release feel-good chemicals that produce a euphoric high and can lead to abuse and addiction. Due to the highly addictive nature of these substances, prescription opioid use has become one of the biggest drug-related crises in the United States.

Morphine is one of the most addictive prescription opioids and also one of the most popular. The medication is a key contributor to the 10.1 million Americans aged 12 and older who reported misusing prescription opioids in 2019. Understanding morphine sulfate’s risks and the reasons why people misuse it can prevent you or someone you know from developing an addiction to the drug.

What Is Morphine Sulfate?

Morphine sulfate is a prescription painkiller used for relieving moderate to severe chronic pain. When taken, morphine sulfate binds to opioid receptors in the body. This blocks pain signals from being sent to the nervous system, but it also produces a strong euphoric effect.

Morphine sulfate has the potential for misuse and abuse, even when it is taken as directed by a doctor. However, carefully following instructions lowers the risk of morphine sulfate addiction.

Long-term use of morphine sulfate can lead to dependence. Opioid dependence occurs when the body becomes used to the presence of the opioid and requires it in order to function normally.

Minor side effects of morphine sulfate include:

  • Drowsiness
  • Sweating
  • Constipation
  • Nausea
  • Dizziness
  • Headache
  • Loss of appetite

Although they are uncommon, morphine sulfate has the potential to cause serious side effects. If any of the following side effects occur, contact a doctor immediately:

  • Slowed breathing and heart rate
  • Stiff muscles
  • Convulsions
  • Difficulty swallowing
  • Confusion and trouble focusing
  • Red pinpoint spots on the skin (typically under the eyes)

Morphine Sulfate Addiction

Morphine sulfate has a high risk of addiction. When someone is addicted to morphine sulfate, they may:

  • Experience strong cravings
  • Take the drug in ways that are not recommended, such as crushing the drug and snorting or injecting it, in order to achieve stronger results more quickly
  • Display behavioral changes, such as losing interest in previous hobbies and constantly seeking morphine sulfate even when it is not needed for pain
  • Take increasingly larger amounts of the drug

When someone with a physical dependence stops taking the drug, they will begin experiencing withdrawal symptoms. Morphine sulfate withdrawal symptoms can occur six hours after the last dose, and they may include:

  • Teary eyes
  • Runny nose
  • Chills
  • Insomnia
  • Nightmares
  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Irritability

Morphine Sulfate Long-Term Effects

Some of the biggest concerns related to long-term morphine sulfate use are addiction and dependence. When someone has been taking morphine sulfate for a longer period of time, their brain actually relies on the medication to produce certain chemicals, even when pain is no longer present. One of these chemicals is a neurotransmitter called dopamine, which is responsible for feelings of pleasure and reward. A person’s brain will have a difficult time secreting this chemical on its own after using morphine sulfate, so a person may begin misusing the drug and develop an addiction.

If you or someone you love is struggling with a morphine addiction, The Recovery Village is here to help. We provide professional treatment services that can help you begin the recovery journey in a safe, secure environment. Contact us today to learn more about addiction treatment programs that can work well for your situation.

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Editor – Jonathan Strum
Jonathan Strum graduated from the University of Nebraska Omaha with a Bachelor's in Communication in 2017 and has been writing professionally ever since. Read more
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Medically Reviewed By – Heena Joshi, PharmD
Dr. Joshi earned her Bachelor of Science in Physiology and Neurobiology from the University of Maryland. She went on to earn her Doctorate in Pharmacy from The Ohio State University. Read more

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National Institute on Drug Abuse. “Opioids.” August 3, 2021. Accessed September 11, 2021.

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Nicholson, Bruce. “Morphine sulfate extended-release capsul[…]rate-to-severe pain.” Expert Opinion on Pharmacotherapy, June 2008. Accessed September 10, 2021.

U.S. National Library of Medicine. “Morphine.” MedlinePlus, February 15, 2021. Accessed September 11, 2021.

Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. “Key Substance Use and Mental Health Indi[…]Drug Use and Health.” September 2020. Accessed October 1, 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.