Morphine Withdrawal Timeline, Symptoms and Treatment

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Morphine Withdrawal Timeline, Symptoms and Treatment

Morphine is an opioid pain medicine with a high risk of dependence and addiction, which is true of other similar pain medicines from this drug class. If you become dependent on an opioid like morphine and try to stop using it suddenly, you can experience withdrawal symptoms. Whether you’re personally trying to quit morphine or support someone you love during this time, it’s important to understand the withdrawal process and its risks.

Going through morphine withdrawal can be uncomfortable, but it’s possible to effectively navigate it with the right support. In this article, you will learn:

  • How morphine dependence develops
  • The symptoms of morphine withdrawal
  • How long morphine withdrawal lasts
  • How to manage withdrawal

The Effects of Morphine

Morphine is derived from the opium plant, and medically, it’s for managing severe pain, like from serious injuries, chronic conditions like cancer or surgeries. Morphine works like other opioids by binding to certain brain and spinal cord receptors, and it helps to reduce the perception of pain.[1,2]

The receptors morphine binds to are part of the pain control system in the central nervous system.

Aside from pain relief, morphine can induce feelings of euphoria because the same opioid receptor sites release dopamine when they’re activated. Dopamine is associated with our pleasurable and rewarding feelings.

Other effects of morphine can include drowsiness, sedation, and respiratory depression. This is one of the most dangerous effects of morphine, as well as other opioids because it can slow down or potentially even stop breathing.

Physical effects of morphine can include:

  • A slow down of bowel movement causes constipation.
  • Nausea and vomiting.
  • Tolerance where you need higher doses to get the same effects, whether that’s pain relief or euphoria.

Morphine can be an important tool to manage severe pain, but there are also major risks associated with its effects on the brain and body.

The Development of Morphine Dependence

Morphine dependence is a term that refers to your body having adapted to the presence of the drug to the point it requires it to function normally. Dependence develops through consistent, prolonged morphine use. Your body then starts relying on the presence of morphine to maintain a baseline of function.

If you’re dependent and you stop morphine, your body can struggle to adjust to the drug’s absence, contributing to withdrawal symptoms.

Several factors are considered mechanisms of morphine dependence.

One is neuroadaptation, where the brain and nerve system change in function and chemistry over time.[3]

Morphine also affects neurotransmitter levels, and over time, your brain’s ability to regulate them without morphine is reduced, contributing to dependence.

Why Does Morphine Withdrawal Happen?

Withdrawal is a term that refers to psychological and physical symptoms occurring when you’re dependent on morphine and you stop taking it or reduce your dosage significantly. Your body is struggling to function normally without it at this point.

Your body is trying to restore homeostasis as you’re going through withdrawal.

Some of the factors that contribute to the symptoms and their severity include:

  • The length of time you use morphine and the doses you take impact how severe withdrawal symptoms are.
  • If you abruptly stop versus gradually tapering off the drug, your symptoms may be more intense.
  • Everyone has individual differences that impact their withdrawal experience.

Common physical morphine withdrawal symptoms include:[4]

  • Sweating, chills and goosebumps
  • Muscle aches and pains
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Diarrhea and abdominal cramps
  • Elevated blood pressure
  • Rapid heartbeat
  • Yawning
  • Dilated pupils

Psychological and emotional symptoms of morphine withdrawal might include:

  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Restlessness
  • Irritability
  • Insomnia
  • Drug cravings

Morphine Withdrawal Timeline

While it varies, the general expectation for the morphine withdrawal timeline can look something like the following:

  • Early withdrawal is when symptoms start to appear. This is usually from 6 to 12 hours after the last dose of opioids. Beginning symptoms include muscle aches, sweating and anxiety.
  • Peak withdrawal symptoms usually occur 24 to 72 hours after the last dose. These symptoms are nausea, vomiting and diarrhea, severe muscle cramps and intense cravings.
  • Late withdrawal symptoms are 4 to 10 days after the last dose. Symptoms may start getting better around this time, but lingering issues like irritability, problems sleeping and anxiety can occur.
  • Protracted withdrawal doesn’t affect everyone, but some people will have symptoms for weeks to months after the last dose, like sleep problems, cravings and mood swings.

Managing Morphine Withdrawal Symptoms

It can be challenging to deal with the symptoms of opioid withdrawal, but some strategies can help minimize them and support your recovery.

Going through withdrawal with the supervision of a healthcare professional can help make sure you’re safe and provide you with access to medicines to ease symptoms.

Medication-assisted treatment using methadone, naltrexone or buprenorphine can help manage withdrawal symptoms and mitigate cravings as part of a comprehensive addiction treatment program.[5,6]

  • Methadone is a long-acting opioid agnostic. It can lower cravings and other withdrawal symptoms without the same high as morphine.
  • Buprenorphine is a partial opioid agonist to reduce symptoms of withdrawal and opioid cravings.
  • Naltrexone is an opioid antagonist that works to block opioid effects and can help prevent relapse. It’s usually given after acute withdrawal.

If you’re receiving medical care during the withdrawal process, there are also symptomatic treatments like anti-nausea medicine and anti-diarrhea medicine. Non-opioid pain medicines can help with muscle aches, and sleep aids can be beneficial for insomnia. There’s also a medicine called clonidine that can reduce many withdrawal symptoms like anxiety, agitation, sweating and cramping.

Non-medical treatments that can help with opioid withdrawal include making sure you get adequate hydration and eat a balanced diet and holistic approaches like yoga, meditation and mindfulness.

Along with treating withdrawal symptoms, a full approach to treating opioid addiction should also include behavioral therapy like individual counseling and group therapy and participating in support groups.

Find a Morphine Detox Program Today

If you’d like to learn more about the morphine withdrawal timeline and how you can manage symptoms safely and comfortably, reach out to us at any time. Our opioid detox program in Florida offers a safe and supportive environment in which clients can detox safely and take the first steps toward recovery. Call now to learn more!

References:

  1. U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA): Morphine
  2. National Institute of Health: Morphine
  3. American Physiological Society: The Neuroscience of Drug Reward and Addiction
  4. National Institute of Health: Opioid Withdrawal
  5. National Institute of Health: Newer approaches to opioid detoxification
  6. U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA): Information about Medications for Opioid Use Disorder (MOUD)