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Morphine Addiction, Withdrawal, Side Effects, Alternatives, Tapering

Last Updated on August 22, 2022 by Carol Gillette

Alternative to Meds Editorial Team
Medically Reviewed by Dr Michael Loes MD

Morphine is an opiate primarily sourced from the straw of opium poppy plants and has been used for pain relief since the early 1800s. Roughly 70 percent of the morphine produced today is used to make synthetic opiates such as Oxycodone. As a Schedule II drug, there is a high risk for morphine addiction. Use with other opiates or CNS depressants presents risk for overdose.

Over 50 percent of the world’s morphine supply is consumed by Americans.1 Globally, the use of morphine has increased sixfold between 1991 and 2010. The opiate crisis has not yet been brought under control, and we see that many people continue to struggle with addiction to opiates such as morphine.

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Morphine Withdrawal Symptoms

Morphine has similar withdrawal symptoms compared to other opiates and these can range from moderate to intense, sometimes, unfortunately, leading to relapse.

Morphine Withdrawal Symptoms:
  • Flu-like symptoms, i.e., headache, tearing eyes, runny nose, chills, fever, sweating, aches
  • Nausea, vomiting
  • Tachycardia*
  • Diarrhea
  • Stomach cramps, constipation
  • Anxiety
  • Irritability, agitation
  • Depression
  • Disoriented or confused

*Tachycardia means racing heartbeat (over 100 bpm) even when the person is resting. According to the American Heart Association, an irregular or fast heartbeat 7 can mean something is wrong with the way electrical impulses and signals are firing.

How Is Morphine Used?

In general, morphine and similar drugs are used not only as aids for physical pain, but those who are drawn to long-term opiate use often suffer from emotional pain or hypersensitivity. Morphine acts as a buffer on both pain and emotions, and can quickly lead to dependence.

Morphine is a prescription drug but also has a high potential for abuse due to the euphoria and relaxation effects that it causes.

It is highly recommended that one research a drug as thoroughly as possible before starting or stopping to avoid any serious health risks. One can plan for the safest navigation possible through withdrawal side effects that may result if tolerance, dependence or addiction has developed.

While injections of morphine are not uncommonly used in a hospital setting for chronic and severe pain, it is sometimes given in a form that can be used at home. Patients should become as knowledgeable as possible about any medication that is being used regularly to ensure that any health risks can be avoided.

Morphine Side Effects

Morphine induces a euphoric effect that a person may develop cravings for, hence morphine has a high risk for addiction.

Morphine Side Effects
  • Slowed respiration, shallow breathing*
  • Lowered heart rate
  • Seizures
  • Cravings, addiction
  • Drowsiness
  • Changes in mood
  • Insomnia
  • Disturbed sleep

*FDA warns that more severe side effects6 may signal an overdose or other serious issues may have occurred, requiring immediate medical intervention.

Signs of morphine overdose:
  • Coma, loss of consciousness, inability to awaken*
  • Severe agitation
  • Painful urination
  • Hallucinations both visual and auditory
  • Stiff or rigid muscles
  • Fainting
  • High or sudden fever
  • Twitching muscles, uncontrolled movements
  • Severe stomach cramps
  • Severely slowed breathing, gasping
  • Cold, clammy skin

* If you or someone else begin to experience these symptoms get medical attention immediately, including Naloxone treatment if available, or by ambulance if needed, to avert potential death.

What Is Morphine Used For?

Morphine has been in use as a pain reliever since its discovery in the early 1880s. When the hypodermic needle was invented, injectable morphine became more frequently used.

Today, morphine is used medicinally as an analgesic narcotic pain medication for moderate to severe pain. The U.S. DEA has classified the drug as a Schedule II narcotic. However, significant numbers of people use the drug recreationally for its euphoric effects.

Today, nearly three-quarters of all morphine is imported to be used in the pharmaceutical synthetic opiate industry, in the production of drugs such as Oxycodone, Oxycontin, and similar synthetic opioid drugs that are licensed for use by the FDA in the US.

Many countries produce the opium poppies from which morphine and other opium alkaloids are made, including Japan, Turkey, Yugoslavia, Indochina, Afghanistan, and Greece.

Business in the opium poppy fields is booming.2

Morphine Alternative Names and Slang

Drugs often develop a vocabulary of code words or slang to avoid detection or suspicion, especially where they are being illegally bought and sold. Morphine is not legal when bought or sold without a prescription in the US.

Some of the slang or street terms for morphine include these:
  • Mister Blue
  • Morpho
  • Dreamer
  • God’s Drug
  • M
  • Miss Emma
  • White Lady
  • Salt & Sugar
  • Monkey
  • White Stuff

Brand names for pharmaceutical morphine products include Morphabond, Oramorph, Roxanol-T, Morphine Sulfate, AVINza, Kadian, Kadian ER, MS Contin, MSIR, and Roxanol. The drug comes in tablets, capsules, dissolving powders for injection, and a liquid syrup form.

Discontinuing/Quitting Morphine

Quitting morphine can be difficult to do without preparation, precise guidance, and help. Done on one’s own, the withdrawals can be severe and may be too difficult to bear, resulting in relapse. It is recommended that morphine be gradually reduced to mitigate the severity of withdrawals, and an inpatient program designed to provide adequate support and comfort through the process may be the best choice for successful cessation.

Specific factors will determine how intense morphine withdrawals may be, such as dosage, length of time on the drug, how often it has been used, and also the person’s general health, certain genetic factors, and metabolism rates.

In general, the longer a drug is used the more severe the withdrawals and the longer they can be expected to last. More information on safely withdrawing from morphine is contained further on this page.

Morphine Withdrawal FAQs

Morphine is a natural substance that is used extensively in the creation of pharmaceutical products.

Morphine is a powerful CNS depressant. Taking too much can lead to the collapse of the respiratory system and, as a special cautionary note, it is important to keep medications like morphine out of the reach of children as their CNS depressant effects can result in a lethal overdose.4 Special care should be taken especially around children to ensure this medication is not accessible. Even if one has stored extended-release versions of the medication, remember that a small child who comes upon them is apt to chew the pill(s) which will release too much morphine all at once. Keep morphine and all medications securely locked away.3

Below, additional information has been provided on some of the most frequently asked questions about morphine, morphine addiction, treatment, and recovery.

Is Morphine (Controlled Release) a Long-acting Opioid?

Yes. Morphine controlled-release is a long-acting opioid used for chronic pain. There are many forms of morphine, such as tablets, capsules, liquid for oral consumption, injectable, dissolvable granules, patches, and anal suppositories.5,8

Is Morphine Used in Manufacturing Other Opioid Drugs?

A large portion of all morphine legally imported into the US is used by pharmaceutical manufacturers to make other opioid drugs such as hydrocodone, oxycodone, and thousands of other derivative and compound synthetic and semi-synthetic opioid drugs including codeine-based medications.8

Is Morphine the Same as Opium?

Opium is imported into the US legally to produce pharmaceutical products such as morphine.9

Is Morphine Addiction Physical or Psychological?

The effects of morphine affect both the body and mind, and make changes to gene expression in the body, resulting in both physical and psychological addiction after chronic use.10

How Much Water do you Need During Morphine Withdrawal?

It is recommended to drink 2 to 3 liters of water daily during morphine withdrawal to avoid the risk of dehydration due to nausea and diarrhea.11

Does Melatonin Help Neuroinflammation in Morphine Addiction and Recovery?

Clinical studies have shown that melatonin can reverse the effects of neuroinflammation often observed in chronic morphine use, and provides useful health benefits during opioid addiction treatment.12

Holistic Treatment for Opioid Abuse & Addiction

Alternative to Meds Center in Sedona, Arizona provides safe, effective, inpatient treatment for opiate recovery. Morphine cessation can be a difficult experience to endure without strong support and guidance.

morphine addictionOpiates in general have significant encroaching effects on the neurotransmitter transport system which can make withdrawal very difficult without support. Along with the gentle and gradual reduction in dose, morphine withdrawal effects can be significantly eased and neurochemistry once again normalized through the selection of correct diet, supplementation, and other orthomolecular strategies throughout the process of tapering. Providing the precursors that the body needs to replenish endorphin production can be extremely beneficial.

For patients prescribed morphine because of a pain diagnosis, understanding more about how morphine may have affected the natural endorphins of the body can help in planning the best strategies to overcome these challenges in recovery.

The stress of long-term pain tends to deplete the reserves of endorphins and enkephalins, and in the presence of an opiate such as morphine, the body shuts down the production of its own endorphins; these are the body’s natural pain-relieving chemicals.

In addition to shutting down endorphin production, the body may react to the presence of morphine by creating new pain receptors. This means that coming off morphine may be accompanied by the return of original symptoms, and perhaps even magnified levels of pain until these additional pain receptors atrophy or die off. All of these factors can make withdrawing from morphine quite a formidable challenge.

getting off morphineHowever, there are many therapies that Alternative to Meds Center offers to provide comfort and soften the pain of withdrawal from opioids and other medications. One example is using a short course of non-opioid analgesics or other bridge medications which may make the withdrawal surprisingly mild and as comfortable as possible.

Other comforts that are provided include therapeutic massage, IV and NAD treatments, infra-red sauna, Reiki, neurotoxin removal, neurotransmitter rehabilitation, nebulized glutathione treatments, yoga, Qi Gong, holistic pain management, as well as addiction counseling, art therapy, music therapy, Equine therapy, and other personal goal-oriented sessions delivered in a one-on-one setting such as trauma release, Life Coaching, orthomolecular medicine, environmental medicine, and many more services. Contact us at Alternative to Meds Center for more information, and learn how our effective morphine addiction treatment program might be the best choice for you or your loved one. Recovery from morphine addiction and withdrawals does not have to be torturous. In fact, learning more about neurotransmitter repair and sustainable mental health therapies in the luxurious comfort of Alternative to Meds Center may make morphine withdrawal and recovery one of the very best experiences of your or your loved one’s life.

1. Mikulic M “Distribution of morphine consumption globally by region in 2018” Statista, 2020 Feb 18 [cited 2022 Aug 14]

2. “The Opium Alkaloids” United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime [cited 2022 Aug 14]

3. Morphine Tablets RXlist 2018 Sep 21 [cited 2022 Aug 14]

4. “FDA Prescribing Information, Morphine Sulfate Oral Solution.” Revision 2018 Sep [cited 2022 Aug 14]

5. “Morphine: strong painkiller to treat severe pain“. NHS UK patient information [Internet] [cited 2022 Aug 14]

6. Manufacturer drug label [cited 2022 Aug 14]

7. “Tachycardia: Fast Heart Rate” American Heart Association [cited 2022 Aug 14]

8. Vallerand AH. The use of long-acting opioids in chronic pain management. Nurs Clin North Am. 2003 Sep;38(3):435-45. doi: 10.1016/s0029-6465(02)00094-4. PMID: 14567201. [cited 2022 Aug 14]

9. DEA Fact Sheet Morphine (published online April 2020] [cited 2022 Aug 14]

10. Kim J, Ham S, Hong H, Moon C, Im HI. Brain Reward Circuits in Morphine Addiction. Mol Cells. 2016 Sep;39(9):645-53. doi: 10.14348/molcells.2016.0137. Epub 2016 Aug 9. PMID: 27506251; PMCID: PMC5050528. [cited 2022 Aug 14]

11. Clinical Guidelines for Withdrawal Management and Treatment of Drug Dependence in Closed Settings. Geneva: World Health Organization; 2009. 4, Withdrawal Management. Available from: [cited 2022 Aug 14]

12. Su LY, Liu Q, Jiao L, Yao YG. Molecular Mechanism of Neuroprotective Effect of Melatonin on Morphine Addiction and Analgesic Tolerance: an Update. Mol Neurobiol. 2021 Sep;58(9):4628-4638. doi: 10.1007/s12035-021-02448-0. Epub 2021 Jun 19. PMID: 34148215. [cited 2022 Aug 14]

Originally Published Sep 13, 2018 by Diane Ridaeus

This content has been reviewed and approved by a licensed physician.

Dr. Michael Loes, M.D.


Dr. Michael Loes is board-certified in Internal Medicine, Pain Management and Addiction Medicine. He holds a dual license in Homeopathic and Integrative Medicine. He obtained his medical doctorate at the University of Minnesota, Minneapolis, MN, 1978. Dr. Loes performed an externship at the National Institute of Health for Psychopharmacology. Additionally, he is a well-published author including Arthritis: The Doctor’s Cure, The Aspirin Alternative, The Healing Response, and Spirit Driven Health: The Psalmist’s Guide for Recovery. He has been awarded the Minnesota Medical Foundation’s “Excellence in Research” Award.

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