Morphine withdrawal can be extremely uncomfortable, but a medical detox can soothe symptoms and make the withdrawal process easier to overcome.

Article at a Glance:

  • With prolonged use, morphine can lead to dependence and addiction.
  • A person can go through withdrawal if they develop morphine dependence and then suddenly stop using the drug.
  • Withdrawal symptoms, such as anxiety, sweating, insomnia, diarrhea and vomiting, often cause people to continue using morphine.
  • A structured addiction treatment program can help a person get through the worst of their withdrawal symptoms.

Morphine is a prescription pain reliever that comes in a number of different formulations. The most common forms include morphine sulfate immediate-release and morphine sulfate extended-release (MS Contin). All forms of morphine belong to a class of medications called opioids.

Opioids are prescription pain medications that can be extremely addictive. Even when used as prescribed, morphine can lead to withdrawal symptoms. This happens because opioids stimulate the brain’s reward system, which eventually causes tolerance and dependence to develop.

Once morphine dependence has developed, a person will likely feel the need to keep taking it to feel normal. If they abruptly stop taking the drug instead of tapering off slowly, they may experience morphine withdrawal symptoms.

What Is Morphine Withdrawal?

Dependence and physical tolerance to opioids like morphine can begin after just a few weeks of regular use.

Morphine dependence occurs when a person’s central nervous system (CNS) has adjusted to regular morphine use. When the person stops taking the substance, their central nervous system struggles to readjust its chemical balance. This struggle is manifested in the form of physical and psychological withdrawal symptoms.

Morphine Withdrawal Symptoms

Physical and psychological morphine withdrawal symptoms begin as soon as the substance is flushed out of the bloodstream.

Physical side effects of morphine withdrawal are usually compared to an extreme case of the flu. Early physical symptoms may include:

  • Extreme sweating
  • Runny nose
  • Yawning
  • Muscle aches
  • Headaches
  • Teary eyes (lacrimation)

More severe physical symptoms may include: 

  • Increased blood pressure
  • Elevated heart rate
  • Chills
  • Insomnia
  • Irritability
  • Cravings
  • Abdominal cramping
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Tremors

Psychological morphine withdrawal symptoms can include: 

  • Agitation
  • Dysphoria
  • Anxiety
  • Memory loss
  • Depression
  • Irritability

How Long Do Morphine Withdrawal Symptoms Last?

Withdrawal symptoms can begin as early as eight hours after the last dose of morphine. Flu-like symptoms normally last for three to five days, but each person’s detox experience varies. The psychological symptoms can last longer and may not disappear for several weeks.

Symptoms can also vary in intensity due to a number of different factors. These include:

  • Metabolism
  • Overall health
  • Level of tolerance
  • Dosage
  • Frequency of use
  • Duration of use
  • Individual physiology
  • Social support

Generally, those who take higher doses of morphine and have used it for an extended period have more severe withdrawal symptoms.

Morphine Withdrawal Timeline

Typically, withdrawal symptoms begin to appear within eight to 24 hours after the last use. Many of the worst symptoms occur about two to four days after the last use of morphine. Depending on the dosage and length of use, the withdrawal period typically lasts for four to ten days.

Morphine withdrawal can be divided into three broad stages, and each phase has a number of unique symptoms involved. These stages include:

Stage one:

This is the period right after an individual comes off morphine, beginning eight to 24 hours after the last use. The body starts trying to adjust to the sudden and immediate absence of morphine. This is the period when people experience most of the physical pain. Common withdrawal symptoms during this stage include insomnia, cramps, nausea, diarrhea and depression.

Stage two:

The less a person has used morphine, the easier it is to get through this stage. It’s easier for the body to eliminate smaller amounts of chemicals, so a person who uses morphine infrequently and at lower amounts may find that their body resets to its normal operation more quickly. During this period, people may start supplementing with vitamins to help their body maintain optimal levels of endorphins (which can get depleted by the presence of morphine). The most notable withdrawal symptoms at this phase include goosebumps, leg cramps, sweating and dilated pupils.

Stage three:

During this stage, the physical symptoms begin to subside and are mostly replaced by psychological symptoms. However, a person can still experience some physical discomfort and pain. Symptoms in this phase may include restlessness, anxiety, insomnia, agitation, irritation and overwhelmingly strong morphine cravings.

How Is Morphine Withdrawal Treated?

In a medical setting, doctors can help people reduce or avoid severe withdrawal symptoms through opioid replacement therapy. This process involves using medications to wean the body off of opioids and help manage morphine withdrawal symptoms.

Medication-assisted treatment (MAT) should only be conducted under the guidance of a trained medical professional. Commonly prescribed medications for opioid detoxification include:

  • MethadoneLessens the severity of all symptoms
  • Buprenorphine: Lessens the severity of all symptoms
  • Clonidine: Assists in managing physical and mental symptoms of withdrawal
  • Naltrexone: Helps reduce cravings and future use once sobriety is obtained

Detox at Home or Under Medical Supervision

For people who have developed morphine dependence or addiction, withdrawal symptoms are inevitable. Withdrawal can be a painful and dangerous process, but addiction professionals can help reduce the severity and duration of any symptoms that emerge.

Professional Detoxification

Morphine withdrawal is best managed through a medical detox program offered by a specialized facility. The process takes place under the watchful eye of qualified medical professionals. The goal of detox is to help people become psychologically and physically stable and then introduce them to treatment that addresses dependence, addiction and the emotional aspects of morphine use.

The Dangers of Quitting Morphine Cold Turkey

Trying to quit “cold turkey” has a higher likelihood of relapse. This is because withdrawal symptoms are extremely uncomfortable, and taking more morphine reduces them immediately. As a result, cravings for continued morphine use are often overwhelming. Opioid withdrawal can also be dangerous, as it can cause life-threatening dehydration due to nausea and diarrhea.

There is no one-size-fits-all approach to detox, so finding a program you trust will help you get the care you need. The Recovery Village offers medical detox in a safe, secure facility staffed by a team of addiction experts. We also provide opioid treatment programs that can help you recover from your addiction after the initial detox period ends. If you or someone you love is struggling with opioid use, contact us today to find a treatment program that works well for your situation.

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Editor – Jonathan Strum
Jonathan Strum graduated from the University of Nebraska Omaha with a Bachelor's in Communication in 2017 and has been writing professionally ever since. Read more
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Medically Reviewed By – Dr. Conor Sheehy, PharmD, BCPS, CACP
Dr. Sheehy completed his BS in Molecular Biology at the University of Idaho and went on to complete his Doctor of Pharmacy (PharmD) at the University of Washington in Seattle. Read more
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Darke, Shane; et al. “Yes, People Can Die From Opiate Withdrawal.” Addiction, August 2016. Accessed September 7, 2021.

U.S. National Library of Medicine. “Buprenorphine Sublingual and Buccal (Opioid Dependence).” MedlinePlus, December 2020. Accessed September 7, 2021.

U.S. National Library of Medicine. “Opiate and Opioid Withdrawal.” MedlinePlus, December 2020. Accessed September 7, 2021.

National Institute on Drug Abuse. “Effective Treatments for Opioid Addiction.” November 2016. Accessed September 7, 2021.

StatPearls. “Opioid Withdrawal.” May 2021. Accessed September 7, 2021.

World Health Organization. “Clinical Guidelines for Withdrawal Manag[…] in Closed Settings.” 2009. Accessed September 7, 2021.

Medical Disclaimer

The Recovery Village aims to improve the quality of life for people struggling with substance use or mental health disorder with fact-based content about the nature of behavioral health conditions, treatment options and their related outcomes. We publish material that is researched, cited, edited and reviewed by licensed medical professionals. The information we provide is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It should not be used in place of the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare providers.