Understanding The Difference Between Heroin & Morphine
Prescription opioids are probably one of the most well-known types of drug abused. While most people think of Oxycontin and its brothers and sisters, heroin and morphine are also commonly abused opiates.
Despite their chemical similarities, one of them is actually a lot more dangerous than the other. Of course, you shouldn’t let that make you think the other one isn’t a serious issue, either. Both drugs can completely ruin a person’s life in a short period of time.
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In this article, we’ll go over what morphine and heroin are, their similarities and differences, and how they’re treated. If you or someone you love is abusing either of these drugs, you should consider getting some kind of detox or therapy.
It is imperative that you receive treatment quickly as the addiction and side effects just get more and more severe as time goes on.
So, what is morphine?
Morphine is a very strong painkiller that is generally used when weaker painkillers are no longer effective. It’s commonly used to numb a patient’s pain after a serious operation or injury. Patients who suffer from cancer or a heart attack are also commonly given Morphine.
Morphine comes in a variety of forms such as an injection, pill, or even a liquid, but can only be acquired through a prescription.
The most common ways to receive morphine is through an injection if you’re taking it illicitly, or through an IV drip in a hospital situation. The morphine is injected directly into the bloodstream and carried through the body where it is then carried to your brain where it will trigger certain neurons.
Depending on which receptors are triggered, you can experience a feeling of euphoria, mild depression, sleepiness, or hallucinations.
Lawyer John B. Murray likens the euphoric feelings of a morphine high to that of “a prefrontal lobotomy.” The feeling of a morphine high is very pleasurable to those who experience it, which is what causes the drug to so often begin to abuse it. The euphoric feelings also cause a large number of addicts to end up overdosing.
Even if someone uses morphine as prescribed, there is a chance they will still develop a dependence on the substance. Dependence is different than an addiction – dependence is when the substance simply becomes something the body is used to and feels like it needs, while addiction is a need that has become compulsive.
Morphine dependency forms when someone has been taking the substance for so long that the brain has been sitting in a huge pool of dopamine. When this happens, it becomes harder to find ways other than morphine to be happy.
Understanding What Heroin Is
Heroin is another form of morphine. It is an opioid that is made from the drug we previously mentioned. Typically, pure heroin appears white although it does sometimes come in brown as well.
When drug addiction comes to mind, you probably immediately think about heroin. Typically, it is injected, although it can also be snorted or smoked as well.
When someone abuses heroin, it acts much like morphine once it enters the body. In fact, the body converts it into morphine, which is then transported to the brain where the user feels the euphoric feelings associated with the drug; however, a chemical called histamine is also released which can cause the user to feel itchy or uncomfortable.
It doesn’t take long for the body to build up quite a strong resistance to heroin as well as withdrawal systems. As such, highs become less satisfying and more frequent. Unfortunately, these factors make overdosing a quite common and often fatal occurrence. A heroin overdose can kill someone even if they’ve only taken the drug once.
How Does Heroin Addiction Occur?
Using heroin just once obviously won’t cause an addiction to the substance; however, some heroin addicts claim that their first hit of heroin was one of the best feelings they’ve ever had. It makes sense that someone who felt so good using that drug would want to try it again. As such, these psychological factors are often what lead to an addiction to heroin.
If someone is addicted to heroin, they often develop withdrawal symptoms similar to having the flu. These symptoms are often very uncomfortable and sometimes painful which leads to a higher incentive to resume using the drug.
But the longer someone continues to use the drug, the more at risk they are. Someone who once took the drug by snorting it might begin injecting it straight into their system to get a stronger high faster. This, unfortunately, leads the user to be at a higher risk for several blood-borne diseases such as HIV and Hepatitis B and C.
If heroin and morphine are so similar, then how are they different from each other?
The Difference Between Heroin & Morphine
Heroin is a much more potent drug than morphine. This potency makes heroin a much more fast-acting drug than morphine and when a drug acts quicker, it often has a higher risk of causing a user to develop an addiction.
Heroin is also more synthetic than morphine. While it definitely is a type of morphine, heroin is often pumped full of unknown chemicals that make it cheaper than morphine, but also a lot riskier. It also doesn’t have any medicinal benefit, unlike morphine.
This means that while morphine is a controlled and heavily monitored substance, dealers of heroin can put just about anything they want into the drug their selling so you never know what you’re actually getting when you take heroin.
Oftentimes, heroin is most commonly injected directly into the bloodstream via a syringe while morphine is taken through pills.
What Are The Side Effects?
Some of the short term side effects of morphine consumption can include nervousness, dizziness, nausea, a loss of your appetite, trouble staying awake, and troubles urinating.
If you abuse morphine for a long period of time, you can begin to experience problems with your GI tract or experience hormonal changes. Some side effects include constipation, problems with stomach pain, bloating, increased blood sugar, problems with your immune system, menstruation issues, and osteoporosis.
Heroin has a lot of the same side effects as morphine; however, extended periods of abuse will actually cause a lot of problems with your dental health such as gum swelling and teeth damage.
In short, both drugs have a lot of severe side effects that you can experience while abusing these drugs.
The Connection Between Opioids and Heroin?
While heroin doesn’t technically have any medical use, it is pretty chemically similar to opioids, but it usually costs less than prescription opioids. For this reason, people addicted to prescription painkillers will sometimes turn to heroin after a while.
Studies have shown that even though about 4-6% of people addicted to prescription opioids end up abusing heroin, over 80% of people who are addicted to heroin first used prescription painkillers.
While there is a low percentage that someone addicted to prescription painkillers will turn to heroin, offering better treatment options for people who are addicted to heroin or painkillers and helping prevent people from getting addicted in the first place, should still be a priority.
Is Heroin and Morphine Detox Different?
Because morphine and heroin are both very chemically similar, detox treatment is overall pretty similar.
People addicted to heroin or morphine should seek out help at a detox center. A physician will oftentimes give the patient some type of medication to help ease the withdrawal symptoms.
The main difference between the two drugs is the rehabilitation process. Depending on the type of drug, you’ll have to develop different skills to prevent relapse and learn how to live a happy, healthy life.
If you or someone you know is trying to overcome their addiction to morphine or heroin, they will commonly experience feelings of depression, anxiety, pain and involuntary twitches in their muscles, diarrhea, fever, and nausea.
These withdrawal symptoms are so severe and debilitating that it is often recommended to check into a detox clinic. Trying to overcome these symptoms will be extremely difficult on your own. While not necessarily impossible, consider going to rehab if the withdrawal symptoms become too much to handle.
If you or someone you love has an addiction to either drug, it is imperative that they go get help. It is likely that they will be resistant to the suggestion so you will most likely have to stage an intervention.
The main thing you should keep in mind is to refrain from getting angry. This will only make your loved one defensive and less receptive to your suggestions. Stay calm and remind your loved one that you’re there for them and you’ll always love and support them no matter what.
Addiction is a difficult beast to overcome so if you go into the intervention understanding how stressed your loved one is, you will be more likely to reason with them.
About the author:
Jon writes for ADT Healthcare and a number of other websites. Jon graduated with a degree in psychology in 1992. Jon has been in recovery for 19 years.