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Morphine Detox And Withdrawal Symptoms And Timeline

Isaac Alexis, M.D., AAMA, AMP-BC

Medically reviewed by

Isaac Alexis, M.D., AAMA, AMP-BC

June 4, 2019

Withdrawing from morphine can be a highly-uncomfortable process. Morphine withdrawal can cause many flu-like symptoms, as well as other symptoms impacting the mind and body. The safest way to withdraw from morphine is medical detox.

Morphine is a common prescription opioid used to treat moderate to severe pain. By binding to opioid receptors in the brain, it can effectively change how a person perceives pain.

Morphine is usually prescribed only for short-term use, as chronic use can lead to drug tolerance and dependence. Morphine can also cause the addicting effect of euphoria. This can cause people to take higher doses than prescribed, or continue taking it after it is no longer needed.

Abuse of morphine can be dangerous and put a person at serious risk for accidental overdose and death. The first step to overcoming morphine abuse or addiction is detoxification, or detox, which can last up to 10 days.

During detox, people may experience several physical and mental withdrawal symptoms that can be challenging to manage without a strong support system. Medical detox programs can be an effective option to help prevent relapse and treat severe withdrawal symptoms.

What Causes Morphine Withdrawal?

Over time, taking regular doses of morphine can cause the body to become dependent on the drug. People who abuse morphine may also take it more frequently than prescribed, which can result in more severe dependence in a shorter time.

Attempting to quit or reduce your use of morphine can cause a reaction in the body known as withdrawal. This can cause a variety of mental and physical symptoms, many of them similar to those of bad flu.

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Symptoms Of Morphine Withdrawal

Morphine withdrawal symptoms can be mild, moderate, or severe in nature. In most cases, these symptoms are uncomfortable but rarely life-threatening. If someone is detoxing from more than one drug, withdrawal symptoms may be more intense and potentially dangerous.

Not all withdrawal symptoms begin at the same time. While a person may notice some of these symptoms within hours of their last dose, other symptoms may not appear until a couple of days later.

Morphine withdrawal symptoms may include:

  • anxiety
  • restlessness
  • muscle cramping
  • teary eyes
  • runny nose
  • diarrhea
  • insomnia
  • sweating or chills
  • nausea and vomiting
  • stomach cramps
  • rapid heart rate
  • fast breathing

How Long Does Withdrawal Last?

The timeline for the morphine withdrawal process can vary for each person, based on several factors.

Factors that can affect the length and severity of withdrawal include:

  • form (i.e. immediate-release (IR) morphine or extended-release (ER))
  • dosage
  • previous history of drug or alcohol abuse
  • polysubstance abuse
  • frequency and duration of use

Withdrawal from a short-acting form of morphine (immediate-release) most often lasts between four to ten days. Withdrawal from a long-acting (extended-release) form of morphine may last longer, between ten and twenty days after last use.

Morphine Withdrawal Timeline

Morphine withdrawal is often split into two stages: early and late withdrawal. The early stage of morphine withdrawal will often begin within six to twelve hours after a person’s last dose. This stage can be uncomfortable but tends to contain milder symptoms.

Withdrawal symptoms are expected to reach their peak after about two days. This is when symptoms can become highly distressing and difficult to manage without medical support. Although opioid withdrawal is rarely fatal on its own, it can be a challenge to attempt at home.

Early withdrawal symptoms may include:

  • runny nose
  • excessive yawning
  • anxiety
  • insomnia
  • muscle aches
  • sweating
  • teary eyes
  • hot and cold flashes

The late stage of acute withdrawal is when most symptoms reach their peak. This occurs between 48 to 72 hours after last use.

Late withdrawal symptoms can include:

  • diarrhea
  • stomach cramping
  • nausea
  • vomiting
  • dilated pupils
  • goosebumps

Protracted Withdrawal Symptoms

After the acute phase of detox (early and late withdrawal) some symptoms may linger for some time. This is sometimes referred to as post-acute withdrawal syndrome (PAWS).

Most protracted withdrawal symptoms are psychological, although there may also still be some physical discomfort. A common symptom of protracted morphine withdrawal is anhedonia, which means experiencing a decreased pleasure.

Other protracted withdrawal symptoms may include:

  • anxiety
  • drug cravings
  • fatigue
  • trouble sleeping
  • irritability
  • decreased ability to focus

These symptoms may continue for weeks or months after a person has stopped using morphine. To ease these symptoms, doctors may prescribe certain medications in addition to behavioral therapy.

Morphine Detox Options

Withdrawing from morphine can be a distressing process, especially without medical support. It can also be dangerous. Most fatal overdoses involving opioids occur among people who have recently detoxed.

Having the right support system in place to detox from morphine is crucial to a person’s health and safety. Lacking a supportive environment for detox may result in relapse and other health complications such as dehydration.

Detoxing From Home

People who have a strong support system may choose to detox at home through outpatient detox. This can be challenging for many people and is unlikely to be recommended for people with severe morphine dependence.

Home detox can also be dangerous if a person is detoxing from other drugs in addition to morphine. This can result in even more intense withdrawal symptoms, and increase the risk of life-threatening symptoms such as seizures and respiratory depression.

Medical Detox

Medical detox, or medically assisted detox, is the safest and most effective way to withdraw from morphine. Medical detox programs within a rehab center or hospital offer a monitored environment where patients can have access to 24-hour care.

Within these programs, medical professionals can monitor a patient’s vitals, symptoms, and provide medicines as needed to soothe discomfort.

Common medications used to treat morphine detox symptoms include:

  • buprenorphine (Subutex)
  • naltrexone
  • methadone
  • clonidine
  • other medicines for sleep or nausea

Medical detox is only the first stage of treatment. Additional treatment for addiction is a common recommendation for people overcoming morphine abuse.

Treatment For Morphine Abuse And Addiction

Treating morphine abuse and addiction requires more than just removing the drug from your system. Addiction is a disease that can have a serious impact on the mind as well as the body.

Formal treatment within an inpatient rehab program can provide people with comprehensive and personalized care to treat all aspects of their addiction. Most often, this involves the combined use of behavioral therapy and medication-assisted treatment (MAT).

Group therapy can also be helpful within a rehab program and after returning home for long-term support. Many communities offer local support groups for substance abuse, such as Narcotics Anonymous (NA) and more.

If you or a loved one is addicted to morphine, don’t wait to seek treatment. Contact one of our treatment specialists today for more information about morphine detox and treatment.

World Health Organization (WHO) - Clinical Guidelines for Withdrawal Management and Treatment of Drug Dependence in Closed Settings

National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) - Understanding Drug Abuse And Addiction: What Science Says

Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) - Protracted Withdrawal

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