Can I get addicted to a prescribed dose of morphine?

Learn about the addictive potential of prescribed morphine doses and steps to reduce misuse risks. Understand morphine addiction symptoms and how to seek help.

Ophelia team
Prescription morphine
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Fact checked by
Ashley Mazei, NP

Morphine is an opioid that may be prescribed to relieve severe pain that can't be managed through alternative options. Although effective, morphine also has addictive potential and can lead to opioid use disorder (OUD), even when appropriately prescribed by a qualified healthcare professional.

If you've been prescribed a form of morphine after an injury or medical procedure, you may be worried about its addictive properties and the possibility of OUD. Below, we provide essential information about this drug and discuss the steps you can take to reduce the risk of misuse.

What is morphine intended for?

Morphine is not a new substance. Derived from the opium poppy, it has been used to treat pain as far back as the 1800s. As long as opium has been used, it's also posed a risk of misuse. Opiates were widely used to treat pain from battle wounds during the American Civil War, for instance, and addiction issues were seen in veterans after the war. 

Morphine was also available for sale without restrictions into the 20th century and was primarily used to treat pain, severe coughs, and diarrhea. By the 1930s, morphine addiction was a well-known public health issue, and single-use syringes were developed to help cut down on the risk of overdose. The new syringes were used during World War II.

Today, morphine is still prescribed to treat pain in individuals recovering from a serious injury or surgery. It's marketed under a variety of brand names, including Avinza®, MS-Contin®, Oramorph SR®, MSIR®, Roxanol®, Kadian®, and RMS®.

Morphine can be taken orally or as an injection, with the means of administration and dosage depending on the patient and their condition. Various factors, including weight and metabolic rate, determine the appropriate dose. A doctor will decide the appropriate number of milligrams per day to administer according to your unique profile.

Is morphine addictive?

In addition to alleviating pain, morphine can cause feelings of euphoria and produce physical side effects, like decreased appetite and inhibition of the cough reflex. Other side effects may include constipation, difficulty urinating, dizziness, headache, drowsiness, lightheadedness, and mood changes.

Morphine may also cause other more harmful side effects. If any of these effects arise, it's important to seek emergency care as soon as possible:

  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Shortness of breath
  • Slowed breathing
  • Seizures
  • Hives

Unfortunately, morphine also has addictive potential. However, it's important to distinguish between addiction and dependence. Dependence is a physical condition that occurs when the body becomes accustomed to a substance and experiences withdrawal symptoms when that substance is lacking in the system. In contrast, addiction is characterized by a mental component, such as changes in behavior to acquire the substance in question.

It's possible to be dependent on a medicine without being addicted to it. However, dependence can lead to addiction if not properly managed. In this case, a person's behavior will change, as they will begin to compulsively seek out the substance. They may take rash actions to acquire it, such as stealing, with no regard for the consequences.

Morphine addiction symptoms

A person who is prescribed morphine may build a tolerance over time and require increasingly higher doses to achieve the same level of pain relief. This can contribute to dependence and, subsequently, addiction.

How addictive is morphine? It’s considered highly addictive due to the feeling of euphoria it produces. This exacerbates the mental element of addiction as people may chase that euphoric "high." Some morphine addiction symptoms include:

  • Inattention
  • Shallow breathing
  • Slurred speech
  • Nodding off
  • Dilated pupils
  • Irritability or mood swings
  • Neglecting responsibilities
  • Legal issues (for example, engaging in theft in order to pay for the substance)

How to reduce the risk of morphine misuse

Healthcare providers and patients can reduce the likelihood of misuse by educating themselves about the risks and the potential signs of addiction. Beyond this, if you've been prescribed morphine, there are some steps you can take to help protect yourself.

First, if you have any risk factors for OUD, share this with your physician. These risk factors include past or current substance abuse, a family history of substance abuse, stressful environments, unemployment, a history of depression or anxiety, and other untreated mental illness.

In addition to discussing any concerns you may have with your doctor, talk to them about alternatives for pain relief. While morphine can be part of the solution, it doesn't have to be the only solution. Together, come up with a comprehensive pain management plan that includes alternatives to pain relief beyond opioids, such as acupuncture and physical therapy.

When taking morphine to manage pain, make sure to take the medication only as prescribed. Do not take more than the prescribed dosage or take the prescribed dosage more frequently than intended. Further, avoid taking opioids with other substances, like alcohol, and sedating medications, including allergy and sleep medicines. 

Finally, it can also be helpful to keep a pain journal to share with your healthcare provider. Doctors can use this information to adjust your dosages as needed, ideally weaning you off the medication slowly.

Get help + leave opioids behind

Despite their medical uses, opioids can still present a significant risk for many people. If OUD is affecting your life, help is available. Medications for addiction treatment (MAT) is considered the gold standard of care for OUD, combining mental health support with a prescription medication, like Suboxone®, to reduce withdrawal symptoms (important safety information).

Ophelia helps eligible patients access MAT online. We’ll get to know you and determine whether Suboxone is the right approach to care. If it is, we’ll call the prescription into your local pharmacy and make sure it’s available for you to pick up. Our telehealth platform makes it easy to connect with a care team on your schedule, so you get the support you need when you need it.


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