Breaking Down Morphine Addiction
On a normal morning, James wakes up and stumbles into his bathroom feeling nauseous and dizzy. He begins his daily routine. As he looks at his face in the mirror, he realizes that today is the 5-year anniversary of the day he injured his back on the job, and his doctor prescribed morphine pills. At first, morphine was a great pain reliever – but after years of using morphine, James was still in pain, and he was also experiencing powerful cravings for more morphine. Now, he starts every day with the same routine. He reaches into his medicine cabinet and begins to prepare his morning injection of morphine.
James does not realize he is addicted to morphine. He believes he needs it to control his pain, and nothing else matters. He keeps a supply hidden to make sure he never runs out. Later today, he has an appointment with a new doctor to get another prescription.
He believes morphine is helping him live a normal life. Without it, he quickly begins to experience the symptoms of withdrawal. He can’t stop using morphine, even though his “normal” life now includes financial troubles, broken relationships, difficulty working a steady job, and an obsession with using morphine despite the consequences.
James is a typical morphine addict. His story, unfortunately, is all too common.
What is Morphine?
Morphine is a powerful opiate painkiller that is used medically for the treatment of moderate-to-severe pain, such as the pain associated with cancer. Hospitals typically administer morphine intravenously to patients for pain relief. In past decades, the injectable form of morphine was the most common way it was abused. Today, it is more common for people to abuse morphine in pills, liquids, patches, or suppositories. Morphine is considered to be one of the most highly addictive substances in existence. From a chemical standpoint, morphine and heroin are very similar.
Heroin is simply diacetyl-morphine, which is a morphine molecule that crosses the blood-brain barrier more quickly. Heroin produces a faster “high” of euphoria compared to morphine because it hits the brain quicker, which is why heroin is considered more addictive. However, morphine is also extremely addictive, even when it is prescribed by a doctor or administered in a hospital for legitimate medical reasons, such as for the treatment of severe cancer pain.
It is vital to know the facts about morphine addiction to prevent an unhealthy addiction from developing. Morphine is addictive because it activates opiate receptors in the brain. These receptors are the same ones used by the brain’s feel-good neurotransmitters, such as dopamine and endorphins, as well as the “reward system” in the brain that reinforces pleasurable behaviors.
Morphine is far more powerful than dopamine or endorphins, so it triggers a rush of pleasurable effects. In addition to deadening pain, morphine causes extreme relaxation, a general sense of well-being, and euphoric feelings of intense excitement and overall happiness. Drug abusers seek out these pleasurable effects. They may attempt to intensify the effects by taking more morphine pills than their doctor prescribed, or crushing up the pills for smoking, snorting, or injection. Morphine abuse carries a high risk of overdose, addiction, and death.
The Dangers of Morphine
The pleasurable effects of morphine come at a price. Within days, the brain starts adapting to the drug. Tolerance levels increase, and the brain requires higher doses of morphine to produce the same effects. The brain also responds to an imbalance of “feel-good” chemicals by reducing levels of dopamine and endorphins. Morphine can also cause dependence and withdrawal as well as Morphine long-term side effects.
When the body adapts so that it relies on morphine to function normally, it is called physical dependence or physical addiction. It takes several weeks for the body to restart the normal production of dopamine and endorphins when they stop using morphine. If a person who is dependent on morphine quits suddenly or reduces their dose, they will experience unpleasant physical withdrawal symptoms.
Once a person is addicted to morphine, they need it to feel normal. Without morphine, they will experience the first symptoms of withdrawal within 6-12 hours of their last dose. The symptoms of morphine withdrawal feel a lot like withdrawal from heroin, such as:
- Pain sensitivity
- Flu-like sickness
- Depression and anxiety
- Abdominal pain
- Muscle spasms
- Nausea and vomiting
Morphine Withdrawal can be Severe
Morphine withdrawal is not usually considered to be life-threatening, but it can increase inflammation and potentially cause damage to healthy brain cells. A morphine addict may feel like they are suffering as they go through withdrawal. It can be so severe that a person is unable to quit morphine without the help of a treatment program.
Dependence can Lead to Morphine Addiction
Addiction to morphine is not the same as tolerance or dependence. Addiction is a psychological side effect that involves uncontrollable urges to use more morphine, despite the harm it is doing. Addiction is not a normal side effect of morphine. In comparison, tolerance and dependence are the body’s normal physical response to morphine.
A person who is dependent on morphine will crave higher doses to experience positive effects and avoid withdrawal. The person is at risk of becoming addicted because they crave morphine — but unless they become obsessive, or continuously take higher doses to feed those cravings, it is unlikely that cravings will turn into an addiction.
Nearly everyone who uses morphine will become tolerant to it over time, but addiction is far less common. A person who is addicted to morphine experiences a complete loss of control over their drug use. They will do whatever it takes to get more morphine regardless of the consequences that morphine is obviously causing.
The consequences of addiction may not be obvious to the person who is using morphine, especially if they are suffering from chronic pain. They may be obsessed with using morphine, believing that the drug is the only thing that is preventing them from feeling pain. Nothing else matters to a person who is addicted to morphine except obtaining morphine and using it. They can’t feel normal without using morphine.
They may even believe that morphine is having a positive effect on their life, despite obvious evidence of negative effects. Some drug abusers are very good at hiding the symptoms of addiction, but friends and family usually notice that something does not seem quite right. A person who is addicted to morphine will usually prioritize their drug-use over work, school, finances, relationships, and health.
Addiction is Difficult to Break
The characteristic symptom of addiction is that a person continues to use morphine despite negative impacts on their life. Instead of quitting morphine and dealing with the consequences, they devote an increasing amount of time, energy, and money on using morphine.
For example, they might miss work assignments, or give faulty excuses for missing social obligations because they were using morphine. They might fake injuries to get prescriptions or exaggerate the severity of real injuries to justify the continued use of morphine. They may also make appointments and go “doctor shopping” to get multiple prescriptions to satisfy their addiction.
Overdosing is the most dangerous risk of being addicted to morphine. A person who is addicted is usually aware of the risk of overdose, but they do not believe that it will ever happen to them. They are not as frightened of overdosing as they are of not having morphine anymore.
Overdosing becomes more likely when an addict gets multiple prescriptions to take a higher dose. Overdosing is also more likely in people who mix morphine with alcohol, anti-anxiety drugs, sleeping pills, or other medications that depress the central nervous system. People who are addicted to morphine may be so focused on seeking pleasurable effects that they do not realize when they have taken too much. This is why a person should never use morphine without a prescription or use more morphine than what a doctor prescribes.
An overdose of morphine slows down breathing and heart-rate. Blood pressure drops and the person will become mentally confused and extremely drowsy, lethargic, sedated, or even comatose. Their skin may feel cool and clammy. The pupils of their eyes may be pinpoints. Morphine overdoses can cause permanent brain damage if breathing gets too slow. Breathing may also stop completely and cause death.
Treating Morphine Addiction
Doctors do not recommend quitting morphine “cold turkey.” Instead, they will gradually lower a patient’s dose of morphine to control pain, while avoiding the most severe symptoms of morphine withdrawal. If a person is addicted to morphine, they may not be able to stop using it without experiencing severe withdrawal. Addicts usually need the help of medications and a specialized inpatient detoxification program.
Typically, the first stage of a morphine addiction treatment program is a medically supervised detoxification. Doctor-assisted detoxification programs involve gradually tapering down the dose of morphine to slowly get the person off of the drug. This may also be accomplished with a similar drug to morphine: methadone. Methadone is a medication that fills opioid receptors in the brain, essentially fooling the brain into feeling like it is still using morphine.
Doctors may also prescribe another substitute drug with similar effects. For example, buprenorphine is a mild narcotic that activates the same opioid receptors in the brain as morphine which can help shorten withdrawal. Another common detoxification medication is Suboxone®, a medication that combines buprenorphine and naloxone, which is a drug that blocks any ability to feel “high.”
Medication alone is not enough to recover from morphine addiction, although medications do help a lot during the withdrawal period. After morphine detox has occurred, behavioral therapy is usually necessary to address the thoughts, beliefs, and patterns related to morphine use.
Treatment centers can provide detoxification and therapy to help a person who was addicted to morphine live a drug-free life. Inpatient treatment centers often require 28-plus days of residential treatment. Outpatient treatment centers may require daily or weekly therapy.
Morphine addiction treatment programs usually incorporate one-on-one therapy with a doctor in their approach toward recovery. Therapy sessions are a great way to help a person understand why they became addicted to morphine which can help them avoid relapsing.
Morphine Cravings May Persist for Years
Cravings are most intense during withdrawal, but people who were addicted to morphine may continue to feel cravings for years after detoxification. This is because morphine makes significant changes to brain circuitry and it takes a long time to unlearn old habits. It is not impossible to quit morphine, but it is easy to relapse if a former addict does not learn how to avoid giving in to their cravings – especially when they experience “triggers” like boredom, depression, or anxiety.
Morphine and Mental Health
Treatment for a painkiller addiction may also involve treatment for co-occurring mental health issues, such as depression and anxiety. It is very common for people to use an opiate drug to alleviate the symptoms of depression or anxiety – but instead of fixing mental health issues, morphine addiction can make these problems significantly worse.
Morphine robs the brain of its natural feel-good chemicals and causes a person to forget how to cope with their problems without drugs. Furthermore, patients have a much better chance of avoiding relapsing back into an addiction when their underlying mental health issues are addressed.
Recovery is a Lifelong Process
The most important thing to remember is that recovery from morphine addiction is a lifelong process. Addiction is a chronic disease, so a person can’t just stop using morphine for a few days and be cured forever. Most patients need years of therapy sessions and counseling.
The best treatment programs will provide a combination of services that help addicts stop using morphine and stay drug-free for a lifetime. If someone in your life is addicted to morphine – or you suspect that they are – you must convince them to begin treatment to get off of the drug. The earlier you begin treatment, the better the results will be. Remember that morphine is a very dangerous drug that should only be taken by order of a doctor and under strict guidelines.
At Luminance Recovery, a Rehab center in Orange County, they can help you or your loved one beat morphine addiction and provide the one-on-one attention and care that is essential for recovery. Contact Luminance today to find out how to turn you or your loved one’s life back around.
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