Key Points

  • 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

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 When morphine is withdrawn, the brain struggles to adjust its chemical balance and severe physical reactions can occur, known as morphine withdrawal syndrome.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.

Morphine Withdrawal Symptoms

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, chills, insomnia, runny nose, sweating, and yawning.

    Late physical symptoms of withdrawal include abdominal cramping, diarrhea, seizures, dilated pupils, goosebumps, nausea, vomiting, increased blood pressure, and 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 agitation, uneasiness, anxiety, memory loss, hallucinations, delusions, and irritability.

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 typically 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

    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 anxiety, insomnia, diarrhea, tearing eyes, runny nose, sweating, and yawning.

  • Stage Two

    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, nausea/vomiting, fever or chills, dilated pupils, sweating, and cravings.

  • Stage Three

    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 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:

  • Common Withdrawal Factors

    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:

  • 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.

  • 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.

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 opioids 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 may include sleep aids, antidiarrheals, antiemetics (anti-nausea and vomiting), antianxiety medications, and antidepressants.

FAQs About Morphine Withdrawal

  • What is morphine withdrawal?

    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.

  • 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.

  • How is morphine withdrawal diagnosed?

    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

  • 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.

  • How does morphine affect the brain?

    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.

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

Our Drug Detox Center

If you or a loved one struggles with a substance use disorder, contact The Recovery Village Palm Beach at Baptist Health to speak with a representative about how addiction treatment can help. You deserve a healthier future, call today.

The Recovery Village Palm Beach at Baptist Health

4905 Lantana Rd
Lake Worth, FL 33463

561-340-7269

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.