Morphine Withdrawal Timeline and Symptoms

Last Updated: February 12, 2021

Authored by Olivier George, Ph.D.

Reviewed by Michael Espelin APRN

Morphine is an opiate analgesic with a high addiction potential, which may lead to withdrawal symptoms upon cessation of the drug. Withdrawal symptoms are unpleasant mental and psychological changes that occur when an individual stops using a particular psychoactive substance after prolonged use. Let’s look at some information regarding the causes of morphine withdrawal, its symptoms, the morphine withdrawal timeline, and how professional therapy can help with a morphine addiction.

Causes Of Morphine Withdrawal

Morphine withdrawal symptoms are a combination of physical and mental symptoms that a person notices when they stop taking morphine or reduce their drug intake. Morphine withdrawal symptoms are varied and are due to complex interactions between the brain, body, and the substance of abuse. The brain works in a constant state of balance known as homeostasis. When the drug is used over an extended period, it adjusts the natural balance of neurotransmitters within the brain until a new balance is found with the drug.

Woman suffering from morphine withdrawal.

This occurs both in drug abusers and those who have prescribed the substance for health reasons such as to treat severe pain, with national statistics from a study posted by the National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI) stating that about 1.8 million Americans became addicted to opioids through prescription painkillers. Subsequent abrupt withdrawal from morphine leads to the neurotransmitters within the brain being thrown into chaos, which leads to the widespread and varied symptoms of opiate withdrawal. This eventually leads to a component of addiction known as dependence, which means a situation where one must take the drug of abuse to avoid the withdrawal symptoms. Many individuals lack information on the seriousness of opiate withdrawal and therefore do not seek professional therapy.

Morphine Withdrawal Symptoms

Morphine withdrawal symptoms are extremely unpleasant and can have dangerous health implications. They are caused by the brain and body adjusting to the absence of the drug. These symptoms are one of the primary causes of dependence, which is a situation in which an individual must take the medication to avoid unpleasant withdrawal symptoms. Several factors affect the severity of morphine withdrawal symptoms.

Some Of Them Include:

  • How long the user has been taking the drug
  • The dosage of the drug regularly consumed
  • Whether the drug was abruptly discontinued or gradually withdrawn
  • The stage of withdrawal the individual is currently in
  • The presence of another mental health disorder
  • Concurrent or past use of other substances of abuse
  • Lack of necessary support such as medical or family support may make symptoms seem worse
  • Other health challenges such as chronic pain
Woman lying in bed coping with morphine withdrawal.

Withdrawal symptoms from morphine have physical and psychological, or emotional components.

Some Of the Physical Symptoms Of Withdrawal Include:

  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Joint pain
  • Insomnia
  • Sweating
  • Flu-like symptoms

The Emotional Symptoms of Withdrawal From Morphine Include:

  • Anxiety
  • Dysphoria
  • Agitation
  • Irritability
  • General inability to enjoy life

Morphine Withdrawal Timeline

Withdrawal symptoms start to be seen as soon as morphine leaves the body. Depending on how long one has been using and how much, the general rule is that one starts to feel a little better after day 5. At this point, a person will have experienced so much of the physical withdrawal symptoms from morphine, and they will start to subside a little. The symptoms are still there, but they won’t be as severe as they once were. However, at this point, one might find that they’re not getting any sleep and are about to break down, but an individual will eventually overcome this if they stay strong. After this stage, one starts to feel somewhat better physically and psychologically, and the motivation levels go up. As the brain tries to stabilize the already existing chemical imbalance, a patient will feel better and better as the days go on. However, don’t get discouraged when it feels like they’re relapsing, as this is normal.

The morphine withdrawal timeline can be broken down into three phases, each with its specific characteristics.

Phase One

This is the phase right after an individual comes off the drug, say about 12 to 30 hours after the last use, and one can experience any of the following symptoms; depression, nausea, cramps, diarrhea, insomnia, and a general feeling of poor health. At this point of the morphine withdrawal timeline, the body reacts to the immediate absence of the drug it has become used to. It is the physical phase where one will go through most of the physical pain. However, this is not necessarily the most challenging phase. This phase will last about 5 days to a week. An individual comes out of it feeling a little bit better once one gets to phase two.

Phase Two

At this point, the body will start working out most of the toxins built up throughout the usage or abuse, as the case may be. The less time one has been on the drug and the less quantity they have consumed, the easier this stage will be. It’s easier for the body to get rid of chemicals and for the brain to reset to normal. This is the phase where it becomes essential to start paying attention to their overall health. Supplement their food intake and start taking vitamins, changing the diet, exercise more often, and things like that.

Young man doing exercises.

Phase two will last for about two weeks. As the body works to get rid of all the toxins, it also works to balance the endorphin levels that were depleted during the opiate addiction. Endorphins are depleted because as tolerance and dosage increases, the body ceases to produce its own natural endorphins. Symptoms that might be experienced at this phase include chills, sweating, goosebumps, dilated pupils, leg cramps, and restless leg syndrome.

Phase Three

This is a tough phase, and this is where a lot of people run into problems without medically supervised therapy. The symptoms here can be more psychological than physical, but there will still be some physical pain and discomfort. Symptoms here include anxiety, restlessness, and insomnia. At this stage, a person has to be very careful because having gone through phases one and two, the urge to use becomes stronger than ever, and one risks losing all the progress one has made. This stage is critical as it determines whether they will withdraw/detox from morphine completely.

Sad gloomy man holding his forehead.

The withdrawal symptoms from morphine involve physical and emotional changes. It will take anywhere from 2 to 3 weeks for the physical symptoms to completely disappear and 1 to 3 months for the emotional and psychological symptoms to do the same. The duration depends primarily on how long an individual has been using and at what levels. Most people continue to use it because they are so scared of going through a detoxification. But with the right attitude, supervised therapy, and habits geared towards improving overall health, it becomes more comfortable to live without morphine, and one eventually won’t need it anymore.

Morphine Detox

Detoxification is a process during which a chronic drug user will be “weaned” off the drug of abuse, either abruptly or by gradually reducing the dose of the drug. Morphine detox is best done under medical supervision at a qualified rehabilitation center due to the availability of expert care, support, and various drugs and treatment techniques that help you deal with the unpleasant symptoms of withdrawal. A medically supervised detoxification is safer and has a higher chance of success than just quitting “cold turkey” (which means abruptly discontinuing the opioid use).a

If one relapses, risks of morphine overdose become even higher, as the one can accidentally take too much of the drug. Even after the detox, there are other steps on the road to recovery. Support groups, dealing with some of the health effects of long-term opioid abuse, and picking up the pieces of their lives are all important parts of life after rehab. However, you don’t have to do it alone, and you certainly won’t have to do it without professional guidance and information.

A morphine detox can be managed by using some drugs and treatment techniques that help reduce the morphine withdrawal effects.

Some Of These Drugs and Their Mode Of Operation Include:

  • Methadone: This drug’s effects are similar to morphine effects and they work almost the same way. However, it is considerably lower in intensity. However, it is much easier to kick, and the idea is to gradually reduce the dosage over a long period until the user can easily make the switch to cold turkey. Some people stay on methadone medication for many months before finally giving it up. It remains the most common withdrawal drug.
  • Buprenorphine: This drug works faster and can help detoxify much more quickly than methadone, but it is also suitable for long-term use. It can be used with Naloxone without any problems.
  • Clonidine: This drug, instead of relieving the cravings, helps reduce the physical manifestations from the morphine detoxification. Physical effects like aggressiveness, sweating, muscle aches, and flu-like symptoms. It can be effective because it’s these physical symptoms that make detoxification very difficult.
  • Naltrexone: For people who fail their detoxification process at the third stage will benefit from this drug. It is meant to assist people from relapsing and giving in to the drug’s pull.

Addiction Recovery

Recovering from the effects of opiate addiction is a long and potentially unpleasant journey. However, you don’t have to take this road alone. There are various medical treatments, as well as behavioral and drug rehabilitation center options available for opioid abusers. Most of them offer a controlled weaning process. Undergoing a medically supervised detoxification at a trained center has several advantages over just quitting “cold-turkey”. A center that provides expert medical care, structured detoxification, and recovery process, as well as strong support for recovering opioid addicts, offers a much smoother path towards recovery and a higher chance of treatment success. They can provide you with the right information on how to function independently in the real world without substance abuse.

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Page Sources

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  7. SA Health, Opioid withdrawal management. https://www.sahealth.sa.gov.au/wps/wcm/connect/public+content/sa+health+internet/clinical+resources/clinical+programs+and+practice+guidelines/substance+misuse+and+dependence/substance+withdrawal+management/opioid+withdrawal+management
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Published on: August 3rd, 2016

Updated on: February 12th, 2021

About Author

Olivier George, Ph.D.

Olivier George is a medical writer and head manager of the rehab center in California. He spends a lot of time in collecting and analyzing the traditional approaches for substance abuse treatment and assessing their efficiency.

Medically Reviewed by

Michael Espelin APRN

8 years of nursing experience in wide variety of behavioral and addition settings that include adult inpatient and outpatient mental health services with substance use disorders, and geriatric long-term care and hospice care.  He has a particular interest in psychopharmacology, nutritional psychiatry, and alternative treatment options involving particular vitamins, dietary supplements, and administering auricular acupuncture.