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Opiate drugs, also known as narcotic drugs, include heroin, opium, morphine, Vicodin, OxyContin, and many others. Opioid drugs come from the poppy plant or are synthesized from substances found in the poppy plant.
All of these drugs have ready-made receptors in the human brain for them because the central nervous system produces natural opioid type neurotransmitters known as endorphins. Endorphins play a key role in the regulation of respiration, controlling the sensation of pain, hormone regulation, and other functions, such as regulating nausea and vomiting. Because the structure of the endorphins and opioid drugs are similar, opioid drugs readily attach to the neurons in the brain that are specialized for endorphins. This makes these drugs useful in the control of acute or chronic pain from surgery and a number of different injuries or diseases as well as useful for suppressing cough.
These drugs also produce a very powerful sense of euphoria and wellbeing, and have a high potential for the development of abuse and physical dependence.
Morphine is a particularly powerful opioid drug with a high potential for abuse and addiction. Readers interested in learning more about opioids like morphine can refer to books like Alcohol and Opioids: Neurochemical and Behavioral Properties or Addiction and Opiates.
Specific figures on the abuse of morphine are difficult to find. National organizations such as the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) or The American Society of Addiction Medicine (ASAM) publish figures on overall prescription medication abuse and narcotic/opioid medication abuse in general. However, figures from these organizations and others indicate that:
It is not as difficult to obtain morphine as one might think. Individuals may be able to get it from friends or family members who have a prescription for it. Even the Internet has become an increasingly popular means of illegally purchasing prescription pain medications such as morphine.
Physical dependence refers to the development of both tolerance and withdrawal to a drug that has been used regularly for a specific time. ASAM has specifically defined the differences between the notions of tolerance, physical dependence, and addiction (a substance use disorder) as follows:
Despite whether or not one has a morphine use disorder, anyone using morphine for any length of time longer than a few weeks will develop physical dependence on the drug. If the person wishes to discontinue the drug, they will inevitably develop withdrawal symptoms unless they use opioid replacement therapy or a tapering process to avoid severe withdrawal symptoms.
While there is a general timeline associated with withdrawal from morphine, specific cases will vary slightly in the length of the symptoms and their severity. Withdrawal from morphine can be affected by the length of time someone used the drug, the amount of the drug someone was using, the method of administration (most individuals either inject or snort morphine which results in more severe withdrawal symptoms than individuals who abuse an opioid drug in pill form), and individual differences in physiology and psychological makeup. In addition, anyone using morphine in conjunction with other drugs of abuse, such as alcohol or other prescription medications, will experience a much more complicated withdrawal process.
A good resource to learn and read about the complications of morphine use disorder and substance abuse disorders involving other opioid drugs is the two-volume set Opioids. A general timeline of withdrawal from morphine follows:
One has the option of attempting to go “cold turkey” and withdraw from morphine alone. In this case, individuals will experience withdrawal syndrome and be at much higher risk for relapse during the withdrawal process. There are a number of self-help sites on the Internet that suggests various different natural methods to withdraw from opioids; however, these have very little empirical evidence to support them.
Instead, individuals should consider discontinuing morphine under the supervision of an addiction medicine physician or psychiatrist trained in addiction medicine. This will allow the individual to detox using medically assisted treatment options, such as opioid replacement medicines (e.g., methadone or Suboxone) in conjunction with a tapering process that will minimize the symptoms of withdrawal. In addition, individuals have the option of using inpatient or outpatient treatment for the medical detox process. In many cases, individuals trying to stop using highly addictive drugs like morphine will need to isolate themselves from potentially damaging environmental conditions in order to focus on the detox and recovery process. Individuals can also receive support and initial therapy during this time that can better prepare them for the long road ahead.
Whatever the option one chooses, the withdrawal process is only the first step in recovery from a morphine use disorder. Individuals will need to engage themselves in a number of treatments, including therapy, social support, family support, and long-term aftercare treatment focused on relapse prevention. For many individuals, recovery from morphine represents a long-term and even lifelong process.
This process involves changing one’s attitudes, outlook, coping strategies, peer relations, and overall approach to life to make them more advantageous to sobriety and overall wellness.