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What is morphine withdrawal?

Daily users of morphine can develop a physical dependence on morphine after just a couple of weeks of regular dosing. Physical dependence causes withdrawal symptoms to manifest when you significantly lower doses or stop taking morphine completely.

Morphine withdrawal by itself may not be life threatening, but the drug is addictive and can negatively impact all areas of your life. However, treatments for morphine addiction can help you withdraw and abstain. Here, we take a look at the symptoms of morphine withdrawal and offer advice on how to navigate and cope with the difficult phase of withdrawal. Then, we invite your questions about morphine withdrawal or how to help morphine addiction at the end.

What is morphine withdrawal syndrome?

Morphine is an opiate analgesic drug prescribed for acute chronic pain and in some cases may be prescribed for opiate substitution therapy. Morphine can be highly addictive, and physical and psychological dependence are expected outcomes of regular dosing. Users also develop a tolerance for the drug – which means that the longer they use morphine, the more of it they need to produce the same effects.

Morphine withdrawal occurs because the brain adapts to the presence of the drug and becomes used to it. When the user stops using the drug, the brain recognizes its absence and compensates by acting in a way that gives rise to morphine’s withdrawal symptoms.

What is withdrawal from morphine like?

Morphine withdrawal is like having an awful flu. Stopping use of morphine causes classic withdrawal symptoms, also referred to as prototypical opioid withdrawal syndrome. These include physical symptoms such as tremors, cramps, flu like symptoms (sneezing, runny nose, chills etc), diarrhea, vomiting, perspiration, musculoskeletal pain and physical weakness and restlessness. Psychological symptoms of morphine withdrawal include cravings, anxiety, depression, paranoia, insomnia and a general feeling of being unwell.

What does morphine withdrawal feel like?

Typically morphine withdrawal begins about 6 to 14 hours after the last dose. You may feel a craving for the drug, anxiety, irritability and may be sweating. Some hours later, you may feel sleepy and could have intensification of the initial symptoms. Flu like symptoms may follow along with muscle twitches, chills, hot flashes, fever, nausea, abdominal cramping, musculoskeletal pain, and diarrhea. During acute withdrawal, there could be heart beat acceleration, which could contribute to the possibility of heart attack or stroke. There is also greater susceptibility to infection during the withdrawal period.

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The physical withdrawal symptoms of morphine could last for several days. However the psychological symptoms (evidence of addiction) may be longer lasting and more complex. Craving, compulsion, and obesession to use morphine can persist for weeks or months after cessation of use. Severe insomnia, depression, mood swings, memory problems, confusion, paranoia, low self esteem and psychological disorders can also stem from morphine withdrawal.

What helps morphine withdrawal?

A multi faceted approach to morphine withdrawal should encompasses supportive care and medications to help address symptoms during acute detox.

Detox – Voluntary supervised medical withdrawal is recommended for people severely dependent on morphine or when morphine addiction is present. A user can get admitted to a residential (inpatient) facility or can undergo detox as an outpatient at an addiction center. Drugs and counseling may be a part of this phase of treatment.

Home remedies – Self help and home remedies to get through the withdrawal phase will help manage symptoms and may prevent relapse. For example, morphine withdrawal can cause cramping, body ache, musculoskeletal pain and flu like symptoms. Over the counter medications for flu, ibuprofen and Tylenol and steam inhalation can help bring relief. Heating pads and warm baths can also help reduce physical discomfort. Nausea, vomiting and runny stools can be controlled with the help of medications such as Loperamide (Imodium). It is important to take in plenty of fluids to prevent dehydration because sweating is usually a part of morphine withdrawal which can result in significant water loss.

Medications – Morphine withdrawal can be treated with many kinds of medications for opioid withdrawal . Clonidine can help control feelings of anxiety, cramping and flu like symptoms. Buprenorphine (Subutex or Subozone) is effective for easing and shortening the duration of detox. Methadone maintenance treatment may also be used to block the euphoric effects of the opioid.

Social support and psychotherapy – Drug cravings will typically follow cessation of morphine use. This is natural and a part of the recovery process. Joining a support group (in your locality or even online) can help you feel less isolated and helpless. Sharing your problems with a psychologist, psychiatrist, or sober friend or joining self-help groups like Narcotics Anonymous or SMART Recovery can put you on the track to lasting recovery.

Tapering – Structured opioid therapy under the direction of an experienced addiction specialist can help during withdrawal from morphine. Gradual tapering of the drug is recommended as against abrupt cessation because the latter can result in acute withdrawal and may trigger reuse rather than support lasting recovery. Safe and effective tapering could mean that the user doesn’t need methadone or buprenorphine maintenance treatment. In most cases a 2 to 3 week tapering regimen can be quite effective. General guidelines include:

• Reduce the each daily dose by 10%

• Reduce the dose by 20% every 3-5 days

• Reduce the dose by 25% per week

• Avoid reducing the daily dose by more than 50% at any given interval

The tapering should be closely monitored by the attending addiction specialist by way of observation and urine testing for drugs. It is also important to remember that after some weeks of abstinence the body loses its tolerance to the drug so that previously tolerated doses may actually be an overdose for the user.

Questions about morphine withdrawal

Do you still have questions about morphine withdrawak? If you or anyone close to you has become addicted to morphine you may have several questions about morphine addiction, dependence, its withdrawal symptoms and treatment protocols. We encourage you to ask questions and share any of your experiences on the subject and become a part of the dialogue via the comment form below. We will get back to you personally and promptly.

Reference Sources: NCBI: Neurotransmitter mechanisms of morphine withdrawal syndrome
NCBI: Impact on Immune cell function during morphine withdrawal
Medlineplus: Opiate withdrawal
SAMHSA: Detox for substance abuse
WPPNT: Opioid update
NCBI: Opiate withdrawal
CPSO: When and how to taper opioids
SAMHSA: Recommendations for tapering off opioids

Photo credit: redwolf518stock

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22 Responses to “What is morphine withdrawal?
garry schrier
7:44 pm June 21st, 2014

I have been on 100 m pills twice aday fot 15 years or so. What can I do to get off of this drug.

8:47 am June 24th, 2014

Hello Garry. Speak with your prescribing doctor to set up a tapering schedule. Because of the length of use, you may want to ask for an extended taper, of 4-6 weeks, or longer. the idea is that you slowly lower morphine doses to minimize the severity of symptoms, and then stop taking it completely. You can possibly replace morphine with another opioid medication such as buprenorphine or methadone or even tramadol to minimize withdrawal symptoms, but you meed medical supervision and advise during the entire process. Best of luck to you!

Observer in the Field
8:37 am January 5th, 2015

Get sober as follows:
-Acceptance of Past (instead of resentment over past)
-Faith in the Future (instead of fear of future)
-Live in present (instead of dwelling on past or worrying about future) Meditation
-Be grateful for what you have
-Try to alleviate suffering of people worse off than you
-Live simple
-Exercise/Eat decent
-Work on being less self centered. Know Thyself. Judge others and be humbled.
-Ask God/The Force/The Eternal to help you. Or if the idea of “God” does not appeal to you remember this iron logic: Drugs always cause you to be worse off. Therefore, don’t use and you eliminate an action that is guaranteed to make you worse off. You make this Logic into your “higher power.” It’s Iron.
This is a great day to start something new. Winners start anew today. Take your last drugs today (5 Jan 2015) and see your life better off in one year. It’s guaranteed.
1-5-15 will be the end/beginning of a new order for you. a DAy of hoPe

9:43 pm August 13th, 2015

I was taking 160 mg of morphine daily for the past 1 1/2….I stopped, cold turkey, on June 28. After a few days,My symptoms became intolerable.
After the 10th day, I went to the Dr. He prescribed as one Benzodiazepine.

Throughout the entire month of July, I had experienced symptoms, especially fatigue and muscle aches.

Today is August 13th, I finally beginning to feel confident. I can work, somewhat, without fatigue. I’m not 100 percent, I still have issues with the psychological cravings, especially in the morning.

Worst 45 days of my life. A very humbling experience. I was very judgmental towards addicts, not realizing I was a prescription drug addict myself.

Still afraid to totally let go of the crutch, morphine. It was a 5 year companion. Insecurity is scary.

5:37 pm August 20th, 2015

My mom has been on morpine for at least 10 years her meds were stolen and she went without for a month and then got them refilled the following month…she passed away the second of July and death certificate said heart attack. Could this caused her heart attack?

4:50 pm August 24th, 2015

Cherokee, I’m very sorry for your loss. Whatever I say would be only speculations and I believe it’s best to ask medical professionals to get a solid answer to your questions.

8:00 pm August 24th, 2015

Quit cold turkey 20 days ago. how long does it take for the brain to get rewired(?)

1:36 pm August 25th, 2015

Hi Bill. It’s different for everyone and depends greatly on many important factors such as how long you were taking morphine, how often, what doses, what’s your general health state, etc. It will probably take months before you can feel like you used to, because the self-healing process of the brain is not a rapid one.

2:34 am October 1st, 2015

I have been on 800mg morphine a day for 26 years. How long to get out of system and back to normal life? I already have short term memory loss and was wondering will I regain my memory? It is prescription morphine due to being hit by truck would like different ideas for pain.

4:19 pm October 9th, 2015

Hi Bobbi. If you still need morphine for managing pain and it works, and if you only use it as prescribed, I don’t believe there is a problem. Other medications will also raise your tolerance and dependence on them, and every medication has possible side effects. Even if you quit all medications completely, it will take months and years for your brain to completely heal and recover from 26 years of morphine use. By now, your mind and body have gotten accustomed to the presence of morphine and it will take a lot of time for your brain’s chemistry to return to homeostasis.

3:06 am January 31st, 2016

Hi. I was taking liquid morphine for only 3 weeks about 100/110ml a day, i’ve had problems with pain meds, and recently (3 months ago) did a detox for subutex, i was sniffing 2mg a day for a couple of years. It was only a week or so ago i was taking the morphine, since then i have felt like i did comming off the bupe’s. Only more depressed, emotional and mentally unballanced. Surely 3 weeks of use can’t be the reason i feel so bad, can it? I was also taking benzo’s for around 2 months. I stopped taking those the same time as the morphine, i then had to return to work for 4 weeks and i have taken some benzos with me although i can sleep on them all other symptoms remain. Could i really be withdrawing from the morph??? Plz help. Also how long should i feel like this after such a short time taking it? Thanx

Lydia @ Addiction Blog
9:48 pm February 8th, 2016

Hi, Andy. This could be signs of morphine withdrawal. I suggest you consult a pharmacist to recommend home remedies, and teas as well as over-the-counter medications to ease these symptoms.

6:03 pm March 4th, 2016

hello, i quit morphine almost 2 years ago and im still living with side effects

i have very low sex drive and motivation, i also get no euphoria/buzz from alcoholic drinks. it seems my receptors are damaged?

all blood tests are normal. any help?

Lydia @ Addiction Blog
2:16 pm March 7th, 2016

Hi Corey. You may consult your doctor to run some tests on your level of testosterone. According to some experts sometimes the body shuts down the production of testosterone due to the extended opiod use.

4:41 pm April 5th, 2016

I did a stupid thing and smoked marijuana…it was time for my labs at pain management. So it showed positive. Im scared The dr will no longer see me. And terrified of withdrawals. Ive been taking 30 er twice a day and 2 15 mg for break through pain. Im 64 and scared to death

12:02 am February 24th, 2017

I took 60mg of morphine for 3 weeks. I stopped. 48 hours later, the diarrhea was awful, so i took 30 mg at 48 hours after last dose. Is this like starting all over again, too get off of them. Diarrhea was my only withdrawal symptom

Lydia @ Addiction Blog
5:56 pm March 1st, 2017

Hi Jane. I suggest that you speak with your doctor to help you create an individualized tapering schedule. Also, consult with a pharmacist to recommend some over-the-counter aid to ease withdrawal symptoms.

9:24 pm March 13th, 2017

I was on 60mg sr for only 10 days. Stopped on a Friday morning and by Saturday I was hit with flu like symptoms and extreme muscle pain in my back,ect. Just generally felt like crap. Feeling much better today (Monday). I can’t imagine trying to come off that stuff after a year or more of usage. By the way, it did nothing for the pain, I just didn’t care!

8:02 pm March 31st, 2017

I quit 2 weeks ago and I still have a little anxiety and diarrhea. I tried to taper off, but it just prolonged the detox. So, 2 weeks ago I went cold turkey. I had developed a very high tolerance. While I was tapering off and detoxing I had chills, rapid heart beat (at least it felt like it), diarrhea and some insomnia. I am sleeping now, but I have been taking nyquil at night. I don’t get the chills anymore, but I do still have a bit of anxiety and loose bowels. About a week in I felt significantly better. I also started to feel better when I got myself some I’m opium ad, nyquil, drinking juice and eating healthy. I lost my appetite, but I just ate little portions. I usually do not write things online, but I read what someone else wrote while I was detoxing and it really helped me. This was an awful experience, but it does not last too long.

1:14 pm September 7th, 2017



5:38 pm March 29th, 2018

I want to stop taking 140 mg of morphine sulfate per day.

Lydia @ Addiction Blog
10:59 am March 30th, 2018

Hi Mike. I suggest that you consult with your doctor to help you plan an individualized tapering schedule.

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