Morphine is a highly addictive and dangerous opioid painkiller. The drug, like other opioids, is derived from opium, which is extracted from the poppy plant. Morphine produces euphoric effects as it attaches to the opioid receptors in the brain, causing intense feelings of pleasure.
By acting on the central nervous system, morphine decreases the sensations of pain. It has a long, rich history as well. Friedrich Serturner initially isolated the drug in the early 1800s, but Merck marketed it in 1827.
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Today, it is used to make various other opioids such as hydromorphone (Dilaudid), oxymorphone (Opana), and even illegal drug heroin.
The influx of dopamine in the body aids in how quickly you can become dependent on morphine. Much like other opioids, the presence of morphine changes the brain’s chemistry and causes physical and psychological dependence. Since the drug is highly addictive, tolerance and dependence will develop quickly—ultimately leading users to experience morphine withdrawal when the drug is no longer in the body.
Although morphine addiction isn’t as widespread today in terms of the opioid epidemic, morphine use is actually a large factor in the volume of people who are succumbing to opioid addiction. Morphine is one of the purest and potent opioids available. However, it is extremely dangerous while actively using, and morphine withdrawal can be severe and highly unpleasant.
What Are the Symptoms of Morphine Withdrawal?
The severity of morphine withdrawal symptoms relies solely on factors that are unique to individuals who use the drug. Those include:
- How long they have been using
- If they are using other drugs in conjunction with morphine
- The method in which they are using the drug (orally, intravenously, etc.)
- The amount they are using
Typically, an individual who uses smaller amounts versus someone doing larger ones will experience less severe withdrawal symptoms. However, the symptoms will be the same. Morphine is such a strong substance that the withdrawal process can be daunting, feared, and distasteful.
The morphine withdrawal symptoms that users may experience after building a tolerance and dependence to the drug consist of:
- Lack of concentration
- Restless leg syndrome
- Intense emotional instability
- Mood swings
- Cold sweats
- Joint and muscle pain or spasms
- Watery eyes
- Excessive yawning
- A runny nose and other flu-like symptoms
- Itchiness throughout the body
- Sweating and gooseflesh skin
- Pupil dilation
Although morphine withdrawal alone does not pose life-threatening consequences, withdrawal from other drugs as well as morphine can cause serious complications. Other substances that might lead to fatal or near-fatal consequences are alcohol or benzodiazepines. These substances are equally as harsh as morphine, but when the body becomes dependent on multiple substances, coming off them can lead to seizures and other dangerous health complications.
Another aspect of morphine withdrawal to keep in mind is the propensity of aggravating pre-existing medical conditions. While the actual withdrawal process itself only presents uncomfortable symptoms in lieu of life-threatening symptoms, if you suffer from a medical condition, the stress the withdrawals put on your body can cause unforeseen health complications.
What Are the Stages of the Morphine Withdrawal Timeline?
The severity of the symptoms associated with morphine withdrawal gradually increases after taking the last dose. Although your chances of fatalities are slim, depending on the substances you are using, the withdrawal process will make you feel incredibly ill even though it may not be life-threatening.
At times, withdrawal can be so severe that you might not be able to get out of bed, eat, or sleep for a few weeks. Unfortunately, this is the reality of morphine addiction, which can be treated by professionals to ease the symptoms and help transition you from active addiction to recovery.
Since morphine is considered a fast-acting substance, the symptoms of withdrawal will begin to set in fairly quickly after the last dose. Although withdrawal symptoms vary from person to person, typically, you will begin to feel acute symptoms between the first three to 12 hours after the last dose. Early morphine withdrawal symptoms consist of:
- Teary eyes
- A runny nose
These initial symptoms may seem mild and may even go unnoticed at first. However, as the withdrawal process gains momentum, it becomes clear that you are experiencing morphine withdrawal as opposed to the basic common cold or flu-like symptoms.
Throughout the withdrawal process and the next few days following the final dose of morphine, these symptoms will increase and worsen as new and more severe symptoms begin to appear. Morphine withdrawal symptoms will typically peak 48 to 72 hours after the last dose. The physical effects of morphine withdrawal during the peak hours are:
- Heightened blood pressure and heart rate
- Stomach pains
- Muscle and joint pain
- Loss of appetite
- Excessive sneezing
- Intense cravings
Because morphine has such a tight grip on its users, you might feel that it is impossible to continue without the drug, especially when experiencing the unpleasant effects of withdrawal.
During the peak of morphine withdrawal is when most people with heroin addiction succumb to relapse. To stop the symptoms of withdrawal, users may feel they have no other option than to return to the drug to feel better. This is what makes morphine withdrawal so dangerous; it is extremely difficult, if not impossible, for people addicted to morphine to stop taking the substance on their own without medical intervention.
After about seven to 10 days, physical symptoms should subside, excluding a few symptoms that can linger such as insomnia, depression, and mood swings. Emotional and mental morphine withdrawal symptoms will appear, and they can even be worse than the physical withdrawal symptoms and last a significantly larger amount of time.
Emotional aspects of morphine withdrawal and the lingering physical effects are most commonly referred to as Post-Acute Withdrawal Syndrome, or PAWS.
PAWS can last anywhere from one to six months after quitting morphine or other substances you might have used in conjunction with morphine. Generally, PAWS is almost unavoidable, and the emotional effect it has on you can be challenging to overcome unless you have professional support and guidance.
Throughout the remaining morphine withdrawal process, it’s important to continually seek treatment for addiction to prevent returning to using morphine once more. The lingering anxiety and depression can be the catalyst for relapse.
Why Should I Detox?
Morphine withdrawal symptoms can be overwhelming and difficult to overcome alone. The detoxification process, without the help of medical staff, can be painful and unsuccessful because of the vulnerability and instability you will experience during these times. Detox facilities, such as The Palm Beach Institute, ensure your safety and comfort throughout the entire process.
Addiction to opioids has such a powerful grip on individuals that they become weak and afraid of living life without their “help.” Detoxing in a medical facility under the guidance of addiction health care specialists can help you overcome the hardships of addiction while also making the withdrawal symptoms easier to manage. It is common for detox programs to administer medications used specifically to aid in the alleviation of intense withdrawal symptoms.
Quitting morphine cold turkey is one of the most difficult obstacles to overcome, which is why it is imperative to seek medical attention and follow up with continuous care.
Fighting Addiction Yourself is Difficult. Let Our Experts Help!
Fighting Addiction Yourself is Difficult. Let Our Experts Help!
What Is the Next Treatment Step?
After you have entered a professional detox facility, it is recommended that you continue care by attending a long-term program. Long-term programs consist of inpatient, residential, and outpatient programs, which you should attend after detox. Inpatient programs are crucial in the beginning stages of recovery because of the psychological and physical effects of addiction. The benefits of attending a program, which generally lasts around 45 days, is the accessibility of services such as:
- Cognitive behavioral therapy
- Relapse prevention
- Addiction education
- Intensive therapy
- Group or individual therapy
- Constant support
- Safe environment to begin your recovery journey
Although the length of these programs seems long, the success rates for completing the continuum of care is high. Quitting morphine cold-turkey can lead you down the same road you are initially trying to escape.
After completing an inpatient program, you will be eased back into living in society as well as suggested to attend an outpatient program to further your treatment. Outpatient programs are designed to help you adjust to living life without the use of drugs or alcohol and keep you accountable and still provide you will the therapy you need in early recovery.
It is imperative to complete the entire process of recovery, especially in the early stages. Transitioning from the chaos of active addiction can be difficult and unsuccessful without having taken the preventive, proven, and effective methods to treating drug addiction.
Morphine Withdrawal FAQ
Technically, morphine withdrawal can kill you, but it’s not likely to. Morphine can cause fairly intense flu-like symptoms during withdrawal, depending on the dose you were used to and other factors. Withdrawal will be about as dangerous as an intense case of the flu. If you are an otherwise healthy person, it may not be life-threatening, but medical complications are possible. It’s possible for opioid withdrawal to become dangerous if vomiting, diarrhea, and sweating cause you to dehydrate. If you don’t have access to water or fluids, it can cause life-threatening complications. Still, the best way to manage opioid withdrawal is with medical help.
Yes. If you go through medical detox, or if you go through detox in a hospital, you may be treated with a variety of medications. If your goal is to abstain from opioids and break your chemical dependence, you are likely to only take medicine to help control your symptoms. Ibuprofen can ease fever and body aches. Other medicines may help your nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea. If you have other medical conditions or complications, health care professionals may prescribe specific medicines to treat issues you may have while in treatment.
Your acute withdrawal symptoms will last between seven to 10 days. After that, most of your physical symptoms will be gone, but you may have some lingering psychological symptoms like anxiety or depression. You may also have drug cravings for a long time after completing detox. Addiction treatment can help to address psychological symptoms and their underlying issues. You can also learn to recognize triggers that lead to cravings and develop strategies to avoid and deal with them.
As soon as possible. If you’ve been using morphine and are worried that you might be chemically dependent or addicted, your doctor can help you decide what your next move should be. Withdrawal isn’t always dangerous, but it can be unpleasant. Plus, it’s difficult to get through without using.
Some medications are used to help wean people off opioids like morphine. Buprenorphine and Suboxone are medications that contain a weak opioid that can help stop withdrawal symptoms. However, these medications prolong the time it takes to achieve abstinence. Still, they may be a good option for someone who’s tried detox and failed to make it through in the past.
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National Institute on Drug Abuse. (n.d.). Opioids. Retrieved from from https://www.drugabuse.gov/drugs-abuse/opioids
National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2016, February). 8: Medical detoxification. Retrieved from from https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/teaching-packets/understanding-drug-abuse-addiction/section-iii/7-medical-detoxification
Pétursson, H. (1994, November). The benzodiazepine withdrawal syndrome. Retrieved from from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/7841856