Detoxing from Morphine:  Timelines and Symptoms

3 min read · 3 sections

A nonsynthetic prescription opioid drug that many other narcotics are modeled off or made from, morphine is marketed in oral form, injectable formulations, and tablet form.

It is sold under several brand names, including  Kadian, RMS, MSIR, Oramorph SR, Roxanol, and MS-Contin, in addition to being marketed and dispensed in its generic form, the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) publishes. A powerful painkiller that can produce a euphoric “high” when abused, morphine may be commonly used recreationally. On the street, it may be referred to as dreamer, MS, God’s drug, hows, Mr. Blue, first line, Emsel, Emma, China white, unkie, morpho, and morf.

Prevalence of Abuse

morphine detox According to the Global Information Network about Drugs (GINAD), 10 percent of all people in the United States have abused an opiate drug like morphine at least once. Morphine, as with other opioid drugs, can cause drug tolerance when a person takes it regularly for a period of time, either recreationally or through a prescription for pain relief. In fact, morphine is often prescribed for people who have become tolerant to other opioid narcotics to manage pain, Mayo Clinic reports. Once someone has developed a tolerance to a drug like morphine, it may not be long before the brain and body become dependent on it. The DEA classifies morphine on the highest level of controlled substances that have medical value, Schedule II, as it has a high probably of being abused, and users can develop a physical and psychological dependence on it.

The manner in which morphine is taken (e.g., swallowed, smoked, snorted, or injected) influences how quickly the drug takes effect. Smoking, snorting, or injecting it will send the drug rapidly into the bloodstream, more so than taking it orally, for example. The National Highway Traffic Safety Association (NHTSA) reports that morphine generally starts working within 15 minutes to an hour, and its effects last 4-6 hours.

When someone becomes dependent on morphine, it is because the brain’s circuitry has been altered by the drug’s interactions and disruption of the natural chemistry. When morphine enters the bloodstream, it fills up opioid receptors in the brain and throughout the central nervous system. Dopamine, a neurotransmitter that influences pleasure, then floods the brain, causing heart rate, respiration levels, blood pressure, and body temperature to lower. Someone taking morphine likely feels mellow and relaxed as well as pain-free. Over time, the brain gets used to feeling this way, and some of the pathways in the brain are physically altered. This means that the brain may rely on morphine to feel happy, making a person want to take more of the drug, bypassing the natural reward pathway and creating a new shortcut pathway to feeling good. It may be harder then for the brain to keep producing dopamine and other neurotransmitters at its normal rate without the influence of morphine.

Detox is the removal of morphine from the body. When a dependence has formed, morphine withdrawal is often best managed through medical detox provided in a specialized facility with the aid of medical, mental health, and substance abuse treatment providers. The main goal of detox is to help individuals become physically stable and then follow up with treatment that focuses on the emotional aspects of drug abuse, dependence, and addiction.

Symptoms of Morphine Withdrawal

Withdrawal symptoms can start as soon as morphine stops being effective in the bloodstream. Since it is considered a fast-onset drug, this means that morphine withdrawal may begin within 6-12 hours of the last dose, NHTSA publishes. Symptoms usually progress through two stages, with early withdrawal including side effects like  tearing up, yawning, sweating, and a runny nose. The more serious symptoms peak during later withdrawal, within 48-72 hours, and include chills, goosebumps, heightened blood pressure and heart rate, insomnia, irritability, inability to feel pleasure, restlessness, anxiety, muscle pain, stomach pain, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, sneezing, tremors, loss of appetite, depression, and drug cravings. The physical side effects of morphine withdrawal are often compared to a really bad case of the flu.

Emotional withdrawal symptoms can also be significant. Medical detox in a specialized facility under the watchful eye of trained professionals can help to ensure the safety and security of all involved.

Factors Influencing Withdrawal and Detox

Detox in general lasts 5-7 days. Withdrawal severity and duration can be influenced by many contributing factors, such as:

  • Amount and duration of drug use: The longer and more morphine someone uses on a regular basis, the more likely the person is to be more heavily dependent on the drug.
  • Biological or genetic influences: Personal or family history of addiction and other biological factors can contribute to a person’s level of drug dependence.
  • Co-occurring disorders: Underlying medical or mental health conditions may impact drug dependence, treatment, and withdrawal.
  • Polydrug abuse: Abusing more than one drug, or alcohol, with morphine can increase the odds for developing a more significant dependence more rapidly and will need to be addressed during detox.
  • Environmental factors: Stress, peer pressure, and a person’s external environment can also contribute to drug abuse and dependence.

Detox is an individual experience. As a result, withdrawal symptoms and the detox timeline may vary somewhat from person to person.

It is important that treatment providers prescribing medications and supplements are aware of any and all drugs in a person’s system upon entering detox so they can properly manage potential interactions between medications. It is also vital that detox is followed with a comprehensive substance abuse treatment program for the best chances of sustained recovery.

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