Morphine is a powerful pain reliever from the opium poppy plant. Although morphine is effective at treating moderate to severe pain caused by surgery or chronic medical conditions, it is highly addictive. Prolonged morphine use, with or without a prescription, leads to physical and psychological dependence. When an individual develops a physical dependence and stops using morphine, withdrawal symptoms may occur. Morphine withdrawal symptoms can be severe and may lead individuals to return to morphine misuse. With the proper treatment to deal with morphine withdrawal, including a suitable morphine detox program, a full recovery from morphine addiction can be achieved.
What Causes Morphine Withdrawal?
Once in the body, morphine rapidly travels to the brain where morphine binds to opioid receptors and triggers the release of chemicals responsible for pain relief and euphoria. The repeated use of morphine can lead to the development of physical dependence.
Dependence develops when the brain adapts to continued morphine exposure and only functions correctly when morphine is present. When morphine is withdrawn, the brain struggles to adjust its chemical balance and severe physical reactions can occur, known as morphine withdrawal syndrome.
How long it takes to become physically dependent on morphine varies from person to person. Morphine withdrawal can occur whenever morphine use is significantly decreased or stopped. It is important to note that dependence can occur in people who are not addicted to morphine, as dependence and addiction involve different brain pathways. Dependence without addiction can quickly arise when people are using morphine for an extended period to treat a chronic medical condition.
Diagnosing Morphine Withdrawal
A healthcare professional can diagnose morphine withdrawal through a variety of questions, exams and tests. Proper diagnosis is critical to ensure the appropriate medical support is provided to the patient. Diagnosing morphine withdrawal can include:
- A physical examination
- Questions about medical history and drug use
- Blood or urine tests to screen for morphine use
- Blood chemistry and liver function tests, such as CHEM-20
- CBC (complete blood count) which measures the number of different cells in the blood)
- A chest x-ray
- ECG (electrocardiogram, or heart tracing)
- Testing for infectious diseases such as hepatitis C, HIV and tuberculosis (TB), as these diseases are common in people who misuse morphine
What are the Symptoms of Morphine Withdrawal?
Morphine addiction withdrawal symptoms begin as soon as morphine levels in the bloodstream drop — often within 12 hours after the last dose. Morphine withdrawal occurs through several phases, with less severe symptoms occurring early on and more severe symptoms occurring after a few days. Morphine withdrawal symptoms can range from uncomfortable to severe and include both physical and psychological signs. Many people compare morphine withdrawal to having the flu.
Physical Symptoms of Withdrawal
Physical symptoms of morphine withdrawal can be divided into two stages: early withdrawal symptoms and late withdrawal symptoms. Early physical symptoms of withdrawal include:
- Muscle aches
- Increased tearing
- Runny nose
Late physical symptoms of withdrawal include:
- Abdominal cramping
- Dilated pupils
- Increased blood pressure
- Elevated heart rate
Psychological Symptoms of Withdrawal
In addition to physical symptoms, there may be several psychological symptoms of morphine withdrawal. Common psychological symptoms of morphine withdrawal include:
- Memory loss
Morphine Withdrawal Timeline
The morphine withdrawal timeline varies from person to person, depending on physical factors along with the dosage taken and duration of morphine use. Morphine withdrawal typical occurs in three distinct stages. Symptoms typically begin within 12 hours after the last dose and decrease in severity within five to seven days. Morphine withdrawal stages include:
Stage One: Early withdrawal symptoms can start as early as six hours after the last dose, as the body first experiences the absence of morphine. Unpleasant and painful symptoms during this period include tearing, runny nose, sweating, anxiety and insomnia.
Stage Two: During the next few days, as the body adjusts to a complete lack of morphine within the bloodstream, symptoms can worsen. Symptoms during this period often include cramping, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, dilated pupils, fever and chills. Although uncomfortable, these symptoms are temporary.
Stage Three: During the next several days, symptoms slowly decrease as the body rebalances itself. For some people, symptoms can ease after a week, while others may experience symptoms for a more extended period.
Factors Affecting Withdrawal Duration
Individuals preparing for detox may wonder, “How long does morphine withdrawal last?” Morphine withdrawal symptom duration is generally five to seven days but varies from person to person. Several factors impact the duration of morphine withdrawal, including:
- Age: Younger people generally clear morphine faster than older people due to how their organs process the drug.
- Size: Weight, height and body fat percentage impact how quickly morphine is processed and eliminated from the body.
- Genetics: Several genetic factors impact how long morphine stays in the body.
- Kidney and liver function: Morphine is mainly processed in the liver and its metabolites are excreted through the kidneys, so the function of these organs impacts how quickly the drug is processed.
- Metabolism: The speed at which a person’s body metabolizes drugs impacts morphine’s clearance and the duration and severity of withdrawal symptoms.
- Frequency and duration of use: Higher dosages or prolonged use is associated with more severe withdrawal symptoms.
- Use of other substances: Use of other drugs or alcohol can worsen withdrawal symptoms.
- Co-occurring mental health conditions: Conditions such as depression or anxiety may impact the psychological symptoms of morphine withdrawal.
- Social support: Individuals with more support from loved ones and a professional detox program are likely to experience fewer withdrawal symptoms.
Morphine Detox for Treatment of Withdrawal
Morphine detox treatment is the first stage in recovery and is often the most challenging. Morphine withdrawal can be difficult to go through without the assistance of a professional treatment facility. Treatment for morphine withdrawal includes medical supervision, counseling and professional support groups. Morphine detox treatment can occur under different settings, including:
Morphine Addiction Detox Treatment
- Medical Detox
Medical detox is recommended for morphine withdrawal, as it provides full support from trained medical staff, ensures the patients’ safety and increases the chance of successful recovery. Inpatient medical detox can occur at a hospital, detox center or rehab facility. During medical detox, a medical team first evaluates the patient to determine what treatment plan will work best for them. This evaluation process can include a physical exam, medical tests, a thorough interview and mental health screening. Next, the patient undergoes medical morphine withdrawal. During this stage, medical staff closely monitors the patient 24-7 and administers medications or other supportive therapies to ease the withdrawal symptoms.
- Outpatient Detox
Medical detox can also occur on an outpatient basis at a rehab facility, doctor’s office, medical center or clinic. Rather than undergoing detox while living in a professional treatment facility, patients can undergo the morphine withdrawal process and then return home. Regular clinic visits and ongoing therapy and support groups are recommended after outpatient detox to prevent setbacks from occurring.
- Detoxing at Home
Some people may try detoxing from morphine at home. However, without the support and continuous monitoring available at a professional detox center, detoxing at home can be dangerous and less effective. Withdrawal symptoms will be more severe without the medications that can be administered by trained medical staff. Home detox kits are sometimes available through retailers and contain vitamins and herbs that are intended for morphine withdrawal home treatment. However, these kits are not a replacement for the extensive medical and psychological support provided by a professional detox center.
Dangers of Quitting Cold Turkey
Cold turkey detox from opiates, such as morphine, is not advised as it can cause severe withdrawal symptoms. Some of those symptoms are dangerous and include convulsions, hallucinations and seizures. During medical detox, medical professionals gradually decrease the dose of morphine so the body can slowly adjust to functioning without morphine present. This strategy eases withdrawal symptoms and increases the likelihood of successful recovery.
Can You Die from Morphine Withdrawal?
Although morphine withdrawal is difficult and can include severe symptoms, it is not usually life-threatening. Complications such as vomiting can rarely lead to aspiration. Aspiration occurs when stomach contents are accidentally breathed into the lungs. Although aspiration is dangerous, it can be successfully treated by medical professionals.
Finding a Detox Center
Finding the right detox center for morphine withdrawal treatment can be challenging but it is important as it impacts the success of the detox process and long-term recovery. It is critical to find a detox center that:
- Meets individual treatment needs
- Includes supportive care such as individual therapy, support groups and exercise and wellness programs
- Is accredited and licensed
- Utilizes evidence-based practices for recovery treatment
- Included care for co-occurring disorders such as mental health conditions
- Involves loved ones, when appropriate, in the recovery process
- Provides follow-up and aftercare to support long-term recovery
- Includes well-trained, experienced staff
How Long Does Detox Take?
How long it takes to detox from morphine varies from person to person, but detox generally lasts from five to seven days. Professional medical staff trained in detox procedures can tailor a detox program for each person depending on their prior morphine use and medical history. Someone who has used high doses of morphine for an extended period may need a longer detox process, as medical staff will slowly taper the dosage to limit withdrawal symptoms. It is important to remember that morphine detox is an individual experience, so each person should not compare their detox experience to others’ experiences.
Medications Used in Morphine Detox
Medications are sometimes used during morphine detox to ease withdrawal symptoms and limit medical complications. Often the best recovery outcomes occur with long-term maintenance of drugs accompanied by therapy. Commonly used morphine detox medications include:
- Methadone: An opioid with similar pain-relieving effects to morphine but without the high. Methadone decreases the intensity of withdrawal symptoms and is also used as a long-term maintenance medication to treat opioid dependence.
- Suboxone: The brand name for a combination of buprenorphine and naloxone. Suboxone is a medication used to treat morphine dependence by partially mimicking the effects of the drug. Suboxone decreases withdrawal symptoms and cravings.
- Clonidine: A high blood pressure medication that calms the central nervous system, thereby reducing withdrawal symptoms such as anxiety, irritability, muscle cramping, runny nose, muscle aches and sweating.
- Naltrexone: A drug that competes with opioid within the body and helps prevent setbacks. Naltrexone is available in pill form or as an injection. It can cause severe withdrawal if taken while opioids are still present in the body.
Other medicines used to treat symptoms of morphine withdrawal include:
- Sleep aids
- Antiemetics (anti-nausea and vomiting)
- Antianxiety medications
Benefits of Professional Detox
Morphine detox can be challenging to accomplish without the assistance of a professional treatment facility. Attempting home detox can result in severe withdrawal side effects and an increased risk of relapse into morphine use. A licensed substance abuse medical detox center has an experienced medical staff to supervise and manage a safe, successful detox process. Professional detox centers also manage co-occurring medical and substance use conditions, offer counseling and support groups and tailor a detox program to meet each person’s individual needs.
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Key Points: Understanding Morphine Withdrawal and Detox
Keep the following key points in mind when considering morphine withdrawal and detox:
- When an individual with physical dependence to morphine stops using morphine, severe withdrawal symptoms may occur
- Morphine withdrawal includes physical and psychological symptoms
- Professional medical detox is recommended for morphine withdrawal, as it provides full support from trained medical professionals
- Morphine detox occurs in several stages and generally takes five to seven days
- Medications used in morphine detox include methadone, Suboxone, clonidine and naltrexone
- With the proper treatment to deal with morphine withdrawal, including a suitable morphine detox program, full recovery can be achieved
If you or a loved one struggle with a substance use disorder, contact The Recovery Village Palm Beach at Baptist Health today to speak with a representative about how addiction treatment can help. You deserve a healthier future, call today.
Drug Enforcement Administration. “Morphine.” February 10, 2019. Accessed July 13, 2019.
National Institute on Drug Abuse. “The Neurobiology of Drug Addiction.” January 2007. Accessed July 11, 2019.
MedlinePlus. “Opiate and opioid withdrawal.” July 10, 2019. Accessed July 13, 2019.
Kleber, Herbert. “Pharmacologic treatments for opioid dependence: detoxification and maintenance options.” Dialogues in Clinical Neuroscience, December 2007. Accessed July 13, 2019.
Medical Disclaimer: The Recovery Village 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.