Morphine is categorized as an opiate. It is obtained from opium in its raw form from the poppy plant. Since it is a powerful analgesic drug, it is prescribed for treating moderate to acute pain. Morphine is also often used to relieve pain prior to, during and following operations.
As long as morphine is taken according to the dosage prescribed by the doctor for treating pain, it is safe with low chances of addiction. However, if the individual starts taking it in doses that exceed the prescribed limits, or if it is used for other purposes than medical use, it can rapidly result in addiction.
The reward systems of the brain are activated by the addictive characteristics of morphine. The anticipation of the reward becomes very intense, which causes the individual to want the drug continuously, which in turn results in him/her making morphine the focus of his/her life. This capacity of morphine to chemically alter the brain from functioning normally by activating its reward mechanisms is what causes addiction to the drug. Besides, morphine also impairs the consciousness level of an individual, hampering his/her capability of being fully cognizant of his/her surroundings and to think properly.
Once the body gets used to morphine, it requires increased amounts of the drug to produce the same pleasurable effects. This is when an individual develops tolerance to it. While tolerance to morphine usually develops in a few weeks, sometimes it can happen in just a few days. Once an individual develops tolerance to the opiate, he/she will undergo withdrawal symptoms if the amount of the drug is reduced by a certain level. The withdrawal symptom’s severity usually depends on the length of time the drug has been used and the amounts taken. The withdrawal symptoms of morphine generally include a whole range of physical sensations such as: uneasiness; abdominal cramps; diarrhea; nausea; vomiting; insomnia; chills; coryza; rhinorrhea; severe bouts of sneezing; lacrimination; perspiration; muscular spasms and twitching; involuntary kicking; acute aches in the abdomen, back and legs; cold and hot flashes; restless sleep; goose flesh; mydriasis; increases in blood pressure, heart rate, respiratory rate, and the temperature of the body.
The intensity of the withdrawal symptoms of morphine reaches its highest peak within 36 to 72 hours. If left untreated, the withdrawal symptoms can last up to five to seven days and then subside. However, the cravings for the drug can persist for months, even years.
This is because when an addict attempts quitting, his/her brain cells, which have grown used to huge amounts of the metabolites of the drug, are forced to do with diminished amounts. The brain then demands that it be given the amounts of the drug it is used to. This is what causes the craving of the drug, which can be a very potent urge, which causes the individual to think of all sorts of reasons for using the drug again. If untreated, the addict then gets trapped in a ceaseless cycle of attempting to quit, experiencing withdrawal symptoms, the craving urge, and relapsing. And even if the addict refrains from relapsing, the metabolites of the drug which remain for many years in the fatty tissues get released into the blood, which increases the chances of craving and relapsing continuing for a long time. If left untreated, even microscopic amounts of metabolites can make the individual feel as if he/she has actually had the drug, setting off the feelings of craving and relapsing, even after years of being off the drug.
However, with newer drugs for treating morphine addiction such as buprenorphine (Suboxone) and better therapy to address the root causes of addiction, addiction to morphine and its resultant effects, like withdrawal symptoms, are being treated more effectively.
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Information on this page last updated on 06/10/2007