Even though morphine is a very old drug, it is still just as addictive as it was to the British and people of Southeast Asia during the 19th century. For this reason, many people still struggle with morphine addiction every year. In fact, a study conducted in 2008 has found that over 12 million people in the United States (over 12 years old) have abused painkillers at some point or another, including morphine. Alongside heroin, morphine is one of the number one culprits when looking at accidental deaths in the United States.
Part of the reason for this is because many heroin addicts will use morphine when they are unable to get ahold of heroin, since heroin is so much more potent than morphine. But morphine on its own is also very dangerous. Addiction itself is a disease that has many components, including physical and biological, psychological, and even environmental causes. Much like being at risk for other illnesses, people can be at risk for substance abuse if they are not careful. Environmental factors that contribute to an addiction culture include poverty, lack of adequate housing, lack of healthy relationships, and more.
Some people may be addicted to morphine because of underlying psychological problems, like depression and anxiety. Already these two mental illnesses have been linked to chemical imbalances in the brain, so a drug that produces euphoria by creating an excess of dopamine in the brain is very likely to be addictive to those who already have a chemical imbalance causing a mental illness. If someone has previously been traumatized, either physically or mentally, they are also more likely to become dependent on morphine as an escape.
Though morphine is a Schedule II drug, it can still be found on the streets in pill form versus syringe form, so today it remains a health problem internationally despite its age. This is exacerbated by the fact that most addicts very quickly develop a tolerance to the drug, requiring more and more of it to get to the high they desire. People who use it for chronic pain are more likely to become addicted to the drug because of their ability to access it more easily.
Overdose symptoms of morphine are similar to other opiates – users may slur their speech, lose concentration, become very sleepy, and even stop breathing. Addiction symptoms are also similar. Many people who are addicted morphine will go to extreme lengths to obtain the drug, even going so far as to bounce from doctor to doctor in an effort to get a new prescription of the drug. This is often at the expense of other important things in the user’s life, including jobs, children, and other family members.
Because the addiction is so similar to that of heroin, it is unfortunately one of the hardest addictions to treat. Morphine addiction treatment will usually include a detox, since it is such a dangerous drug, and therapy is also needed. There is a great deal of success in treating morphine addiction through 12-step programs, though there are still many cases of relapse if patients do not fully commit to the programs.