Morphine Withdrawal and Detox

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Morphine is a naturally derived opiate often used to treat acute post-surgical pain. It is commonly called an opioid, which can be either from the opium poppy, like morphine, codeine, and heroin) or a synthetic opioid, such as oxycodone, hydrocodone, and methadone.

Morphine is a potent opioid and is beneficial for those in pain. However, it can cause a person to develop dependency and addiction. If an individual taking morphine has been on it for a while and then suddenly stops taking it, they will feel withdrawal symptoms.

When individuals detox from morphine, the withdrawal symptoms will feel like a bad case of the flu. If they are undergoing medically supervised detox, their symptoms will be eased by experienced medical staff.

What Is Morphine Withdrawal?

Morphine withdrawal is the process the body goes through when it is ridding itself of a foreign substance, such as morphine.

Opioid or morphine withdrawal is what occurs when a person stops taking opioid drugs once the body has come to depend on them to feel OK. It affects people in many ways.

Opioids attach to the opioid receptors on nerve cells in your brain and spinal cord, and other places that block pain messages that the body sends to the brain. They also trigger the brain to release dopamine, a chemical that makes you feel good. When some people take morphine, it can cause them to feel euphoria.

When the body becomes dependent on morphine and an individual stops taking it, the body will start to feel the physical and psychological effects of not having the drug to function. These effects are called withdrawal symptoms.

Morphine Withdrawal Symptoms

Withdrawal symptoms are the “abnormal physical and psychological features that follow the abrupt discontinuation of a drug that has the capability of producing physical dependence, as published by RxList.

Morphine, as an opioid, produces withdrawal symptoms. These may be felt within the first 24 hours after use stops:

  • Restlessness
  • Anxiety
  • Muscle aches
  • Runny nose
  • Tearing eyes
  • Excessive sweating
  • Inability to sleep
  • Yawning often

After the first day when use is stopped, these symptoms may be felt:

  • Abdominal cramping
  • Diarrhea
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Goosebumps
  • Rapid heartbeat
  • High blood pressure
  • Dilated pupils and blurry vision
  • Itchiness
  • Strong cravings for the drug

Morphine Withdrawal Timeline

Several factors may determine how long someone will be in morphine or opioid withdrawal, such as the overall health of a person, how severe their addiction is, how often they used the drug, and the type of opioid used.

As mentioned above, the early stages of withdrawal begin between six to 30 hours after morphine use has stopped. After this time, around 72 hours, symptoms may become worse.

The first week of withdrawal is usually the worst. However, some symptoms last longer, and possibly for a month or more. Prolonged withdrawal of a month or longer is possible for the very heavy morphine user.

morphine-withdrawal

Morphine Detox: Timeline and Symptoms

Detox refers to the process your body goes through to get rid of morphine and any other toxins in the body.

At the time of around seven to 10 days, some physical symptoms may begin to subside. Nonetheless, insomnia, depression, and mood swings are still felt as the body begins to acclimate to its new state of being morphine-free.

The mental and emotional withdrawal symptoms are experienced and might be worse and last longer than the physical ones. These effects are sometimes referred to as post-acute withdrawal syndrome or PAWS.

PAWS can last anywhere from one to six months after ending morphine use, or drug use with other substances, like alcohol. Professional medical and psychological support can help people through this stage.

Easing Morphine Detox with Medications

There are medications that can be taken or prescribed to ease symptoms of morphine detox. Depending on what and how severe the symptoms are, there are options.

Mild symptoms can be eased with acetaminophen (Tylenol), aspirin, and NSAIDs, like ibuprofen. Sports drinks and other fluids are good for those with diarrhea, and those who are vomiting, to help rehydrate the body. Rest is necessary and valuable. Also, anti-diarrheal medication, like Imodium and Atarax to ease nausea, are beneficial.

If symptoms are more intense, hospitalization might be needed. Clonidine is a medication given to inpatients in hospital settings that can help reduce the severity of symptoms by 50 to 70 percent, as noted by the American Medical Association Journal of Ethics. Clonidine is most effective in reducing anxiety, sweating, cramping, tears, runny nose, and restlessness.

Suboxone is a combination of buprenorphine (a milder opioid) and naloxone (an opioid blocker). It is not known to produce the addictive traits of other opioids. Opioids are notorious for causing stubborn constipation. Naloxone, as the opioid blocker, works in the stomach to prevent constipation. If injected, it causes immediate withdrawal, and when taken by mouth, it may shorten the length and intensity of detox.

For the individual who has abused morphine and morphine-related drugs for an extended time, methadone might be prescribed for long-term maintenance therapy. It is given in a controlled setting and is usually not likely to cause intense withdrawal symptoms.

Frequently Asked Questions

Perhaps all of the above information still leaves questions in your mind about what you might experience if you think you are in withdrawal from morphine. We’ve compiled a few frequently asked questions to help answer them.

At first, morphine withdrawal feels like you have a very bad head cold or the flu.  People who are dosed between 5 mg and 20 mg for less than two weeks should find it easy to taper off the drug. Tapering is a lowering of the dosage slowly until you are no longer taking the drug. If you were to abruptly stop taking it, you could feel cold and shaky. 

You may have stomach cramps and have diarrhea. You may also feel anxious at this time, find yourself a bit sweaty, feel hot and cold on and off, and could have really bad dreams and mood swings. When you are going through all of these physical symptoms, you will also have cravings to take morphine to alleviate how you are feeling. 

It is very dangerous to take the drug at this point as it could possibly lead to an accidental overdose. It takes time to go through withdrawal, and it is best to go through it with professional medical personnel rather than alone. It can be debilitating if the physical symptoms are not eased.

Hydrocodone is a synthetic opioid, and morphine is a naturally-derived opioid. Theoretically, you would be taking a very potent opioid to ease withdrawals from a synthetic one. Once you think you are through hydrocodone withdrawals, you will have morphine withdrawals. Due to morphine being the stronger of the two drugs, your withdrawal symptoms could be more intense. 

The most effective way to ease withdrawals from hydrocodone is to seek professional, medically supervised detoxification. When your withdrawal symptoms are monitored by medical personnel, they have the correct medications, fluids, and other resources to safely get you through this tough process.

When you are using morphine, either as a prescription or illicitly, and drink alcohol or take other drugs with it, you are at greater risk for overdose. Alcohol can intensify the effects of morphine, some of which are slower heart rate and slower respiratory rate. Other drugs, particularly benzodiazepines, can also cause the same effects as alcohol. It is possible to become extremely drowsy and black out if you use other substances with morphine. Needless to say, you should never operate a motor vehicle of any kind if you mix morphine with alcohol or other drugs.

Morphine Withdrawal Help and Treatment

Morphine withdrawal and detox can be relatively mild for a short length of time, or it can be physically and mentally excruciating.  People who have been misusing morphine to get high should seek professional addiction treatment because it entails medically monitored detox and inpatient therapies that focus on finding the root of the person’s addiction. 

Treatment programs are developed with the individual’s input. Addiction programs that last 90 days or longer as considered to be most effective, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse.

Sources

Healthline. (2019, July 12) Withdrawing from Opiates and Opioids. Case-Lo, C. from https://www.healthline.com/health/opiate-withdrawal

US National Library of Medicine. (2020, May 10) MedlinePlus. Opiate and opioid withdrawal. from https://medlineplus.gov/ency/article/000949.htm

RxList. Definition of Withdrawal Symptoms. Shiel, W. MD, FACP, FACR from https://www.rxlist.com/withdrawal_symptoms/definition.htm

Healthline. (2020, July 21) Opiate Withdrawal: What It Is and How to Cope with It. Cherney, K. from https://www.healthline.com/health/coping-opiate-withdrawal#withdrawal-treatment

Semel Institute for Neuroscience and Human Behavior. Dual Diagnosis Program. Post-Acute Withdrawal Syndrome (PAWS) from https://www.semel.ucla.edu/dual-diagnosis-program/News_and_Resources/PAWS

American Medical Association (2004 January) Journal of Ethics. Miller, N. from https://journalofethics.ama-assn.org/article/treatment-dependence-opiate-medications/2004-01

NIDA. (2020, June 3). How long does drug addiction treatment usually last?. from https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/principles-drug-addiction-treatment-research-based-guide-third-edition/frequently-asked-questions/how-long-does-drug-addiction-treatment-usually-last

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