Morphine and Alcohol: Is It Safe To Drink On Morphine?

Morphine is potent painkiller used for treating severe pain. It is natural to wonder whether this powerful opioid can be mixed with alcohol. It turns out that mixing morphine and alcohol is not recommended. The combination of alcohol and morphine is unsafe, because of potentially dangerous side effects such as respiratory depression. Therefore, it is generally advised to avoid alcohol while taking morphine. In this blog post, we take a closer look on the combination of alcohol and morphine, and analyze the scientific studies on this topic.
Klara Hatinova

Klara Hatinova

Klara is postgraduate researcher in experimental psychology at the
University of Oxford.

A blue image with text saying "Morphine and Alcohol"

What is Morphine?

Morphine is a potent opioid analgesic (pain relief medication) used for treating chronic and severe pain [1]. Similarly to other opioids like codeine or thebaine, morphine is made from the opium poppy plant. Morphine works by binding to opioid receptors throughout the body to reduce pain signalling. In the spinal cord, morphine minimises the ascending pain signalling and in the brain, it increases top-down modulation of pain perception [2].

Morphine can be administered through several routes: oral, rectal, injected under the skin, into the vein or directly into the spinal cord [2]. Despite morphine's pain-relieving benefits, it is highly addictive and has a depressive effect on the respiratory and cardiovascular systems at high doses [3]

In fact, excessive morphine use may cause morphine overdose, which can cause dangerous side effects, and even be lethal. Signs of a morphine overdose include slowed or shallow breathing, extreme fatigue, and unresponsiveness. Other symptoms can include cold, clammy skin, slow heartbeat, and fainting. In severe cases, an overdose can lead to a coma or even death. [4]

Similarly to other opioids like fentantyl, oxycodone or hydrocodone, morphine is also very addictive. Even though the aforementioned opioids are mainly responsible for the opioid crisis, morphine abuse and morphine addiction are still a big problem. The mechanism behind morphine addiction is complex, but one explanation as to why morphine is addictive is that morphine can trigger a rush of dopamine in the brain, causing a euphoric high, which can lead to dependence [5].

Morphine is a drug that has a high potential of being abused, and should be taken with caution. If you are suffering pain which is less severe, consider taking non-opioid pain medications.

Side effects of Morphine

Alongside morphine's analgesic properties, it also has several side effects. 

Mild side effects of morphine

  • lightheadedness
  • drowsiness
  • difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep
  • Gastronitestinal side effects: constipation, stomach pain, dry mouth or vomiting
  • headache
  • vision problems
  • decreased urination
  • flushing

Moderate to severe side effects of morphine

Moderate to severe side effects after being administered morphine are less likely to occur than mild side effects. They can include breathing disruption, changes in heartbeat, agitation, hallucinations, fever, sweating, confusion, fast heartbeat, shivering, severe muscle stiffness or twitching, loss of coordination, change of skin tone, fainting, hives, rash, itching, and swelling of the arms, hands, feet, ankles, or lower legs [6].

It is vital to have medical supervision when taking morphine and only take the recommended dose to minimise the risks of experiencing side effects.

Can I drink alcohol while taking morphine?

Both alcohol and morphine depress activity within the central nervous system, which is essential to consider when drinking alcohol while taking morphine. For example, alcohol reduces an individual's sensitivity to notice breathing disruption, leading to potential respiratory problems [7].

That being said, the interaction between morphine and alcohol is complex. For example, and perhaps surprisingly, alcohol may reduce the analgesic properties of morphine. In a study on mice, alcohol was found to reduce the analgesic properties of morphine [8].

However, in a study involving healthy men, concurrent administration of morphine and ethanol did not affect the safety, pharmacodynamics, or pharmacokinetics of morphine or ethanol compared to when the drugs were administered alone. However, the alcohol and morphine administered together increased the frequency of adverse events such as dizziness, headache, nausea, and vomiting [9].

Morphine may also influence the absorption of alcohol and alcohol cravings, demonstrating the complex interaction between these addictive drugs [10, 11, 12].

What will happen if I drink alcohol while taking morphine?

Drinking alcohol while taking morphine increases the frequency of specific side effects, increases the risk of respiratory depression and reduces the analgesic effects of morphine [7, 9, 8]. Therefore, it is generally advised to avoid alcohol while taking morphine.

What should I do if I drank alcohol while taking morphine?

If you have consumed alcohol while taking morphine, it is vital to monitor your symptoms closely. Seek immediate medical attention if you notice unusual dizziness, extreme sleepiness, slowed, shallow or difficult breathing, or disorientation [6].

In the future, avoid drinking alcohol while taking morphine. Healthcare authorities advise against drinking alcohol, taking medications that contain alcohol, or using street drugs during morphine treatment due to the risk of severe and life-threatening side effects, particularly in the initial stages of morphine treatment [6].

Interactions of Morphine

Morphine is a psychoactive drug which is administered orally or into the blood and can thereby interact with numerous pharmacological substances: 

  • Nicotine [13]
  • Benzodiazepines
  • Histamine targeting medication (e.g. allergy pills) [14]
  • Antidepressants
  • Other opioids [15]

To summarise, it is not recommended to drink alcohol while taking morphine due to the increased risk of side effects and reduced analgesia.

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Klara Hatinova

Klara Hatinova

Klara is a postgraduate researcher in experimental psychology at the University of Oxford. She has worked across a spectrum of hot topics in neuroscience, including her current project measuring reinforcement learning strategies in Parkinson’s disease. Previously, she studied the efficacy of psilocybin as a therapy for critical mental health conditions and examined molecular circadian rhythms of migraine disorders. She completed her undergraduate degree in Neuroscience at the University of Glasgow and participated in a year abroad at the University of California, where she worked on a clinical trial for spinal cord injury.