Morphine is a natural opiate that is isolated from the opium poppy and purified for medical and recreational use. Morphine is a powerful pain reliever and anesthetic that has proven to be a valuable medical tool, but it is also the source of the illicit drug heroin. Morphine, heroin and other opioids are highly addictive and are associated with unique challenges that can complicate detox and acute withdrawal.
Morphine addiction is rapidly established with regular use and can be very difficult to overcome without professional help. Opioids are among the most powerfully addictive substances known to man, and morphine and heroin have similar addictive properties. Unfortunately, because morphine is a prescribed drug while heroin is not, there is a common misperception that morphine is safer than heroin.
Deaths associated with prescription opioid deaths have skyrocketed in recent decades. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) estimates that opioid deaths in 2017 were five times higher than they were in 1999.
How Long Does Morphine Stay In Your System?
A drug’s half-life indicates the amount of time it takes for half of the drug to be metabolized. Consequently, it takes about five half-lives for a drug to be eliminated from the system. The half-life of morphine is typically 2-4 hours, meaning that within 10-20 hours nearly all morphine will have been metabolized. Interestingly, some studies have found morphine to have a substantially longer half-life of up to 15 hours.
Morphine Withdrawal Symptoms
Some of the most common side effects of morphine withdrawal include:
- Morphine Withdrawal Side Effects
Increased heart rate
Tearing eyes/runny nose
Morphine Withdrawal Timeline
Morphine withdrawal is profoundly uncomfortable but it follows a relatively predictable timeline and has consistent symptoms, although there are individual variations. In addition, symptom severity and duration are correlated with the degree of morphine dependence.
It is important to note that abrupt cessation of morphine use can be very dangerous, even lethal in cases of extreme dependence and addiction. Symptoms of dangerous withdrawal include hallucinations and seizures.
Morphine withdrawal generally occurs over the course of about one week, although in some cases symptoms may persist for weeks or even months. There are three overall stages of morphine withdrawal:
The earliest symptoms of withdrawal can set in as early as 6 hours after the last dose, reflecting the half-life of morphine. As the drug is metabolized, less is available to maintain the chemical changes that the brain has become dependent on.
The most common signs and symptoms of early morphine withdrawal include:
- Tearing eyes
- Runny nose
Symptoms associated with the second stage of morphine withdrawal reflect the absence of morphine in the body. Stage one symptoms will progressively worsen over the course of the first day of withdrawal, and during days 2-3 of withdrawal new symptoms will appear. Stage two symptoms will generally begin to resolve by day 4 of withdrawal.
The most common signs and symptoms of mid-stage morphine withdrawal include:
- Muscle cramps
- Fever or chills
- Dilated pupils
In most cases, symptoms of morphine withdrawal will gradually abate 5-7 days after the last use. However, there are cases where symptoms persist for weeks, even months. Post-acute withdrawal syndrome is relatively common and includes fluctuating withdrawal symptoms that persist for far longer than acute withdrawal is expected to last.
Factors Impacting Morphine Withdrawal
There are a number of factors that affect withdrawal severity and duration, including:
- Morphine dosage
- Duration of use
- Route of administration
- Co-use of other drugs or alcohol
- Co-occurring disorders
- Physical health
- Mental health
- Presence of an external support network
How to Cope with Morphine Withdrawals
Unfortunately, there are no short-cuts or home remedies for withdrawals from morphine. When people have developed severe dependence or addiction to morphine, the detox and acute withdrawal period can be incredibly challenging and relapse is common. Making matters worse, there are cases where detoxing at home can be very dangerous, even lethal.
The most effective way to overcome early withdrawal is to participate in a comprehensive rehab program that provides medical detox and residential care. Opioids (including morphine) pose unique challenges that are best addressed by professionals.
The Dangers of Withdrawing from Morphine Alone
People who have developed substantial physical dependence on morphine are urged to seek a medical consultation before they attempt to quit on their own. Even mild morphine dependence is associated with extremely uncomfortable withdrawal symptoms that can make successful detoxes challenging, but people with serious dependence face very real dangers if they attempt to quit cold turkey without assistance.
When people take opioids, they interfere with the “endogenous opioid system” in the brain. Under normal circumstances, people have endogenous (naturally occurring in the body) opioids that influence pain perception and other sensory experiences. Exogenous opioids (those that are administered rather than being naturally produced) can influence the opioid system so much that other signaling pathways in the brain are significantly changed. When morphine is consistently present, the brain becomes accustomed to the new chemical environment.
If someone who has become physically accustomed to this new brain state abruptly stops administering morphine, their brain will rapidly revert to the normal state of activity. Unfortunately, this will cause substantial chemical changes that can cause hyperexcitation in the brain, which can cause seizures, hallucinations and even death.
Detoxing Off Morphine
Detoxing from morphine is incredibly uncomfortable. Many people find that working with a professional who can design a regimen to taper you off of morphine is the best way to minimize withdrawal symptoms. Medical detox is a rehab program that provides around-the-clock care and medical supervision. In some cases, pharmacological interventions may be able to mitigate the severity of the withdrawal symptoms.
When to Find Help: Morphine Rehab in Florida
There are many facilities that offer opioid addiction treatment in Florida, but they vary quite a bit in quality and access to amenities. When you are evaluating rehab programs, make sure that the facility is equipped to provide comprehensive care throughout the course of your rehab, from the initial evaluation and medical detox to inpatient rehab and subsequent outpatient and aftercare programs.
Multidisciplinary teams that can evaluate whether a co-occurring mental health disorder may be present in conjunction with a morphine use disorder can be incredibly valuable. Many people use morphine or other substances to mask emotions associated with anxiety, depression or trauma. In these cases, professional diagnosis and treatment can not only help someone overcome substance use but also address the underlying driver for substance use.
Morphine and other opioids are associated with unique challenges that are best addressed in a professional rehab setting. If you or a loved one live with a morphine use disorder, contact The Recovery Village Palm Beach at Baptist Health to learn how our experts can help you begin your journey to recovery.
Medical Disclaimer: The Recovery Village Palm Beach at Baptist Health aims to improve the quality of life for people struggling with a substance use or mental health disorder with fact-based content about the nature of behavioral health conditions, treatment options and their related outcomes. We publish material that is researched, cited, edited and reviewed by licensed medical professionals. The information we provide is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It should not be used in place of the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare provider.