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Managing morphine withdrawal symptoms

A person with a physical and psychological dependency to morphine will experience severe withdrawal symptoms when the powerful opiate pain reliever leaves their bloodstream.

It is recommended that someone with a morphine dependency or addiction seeks professional support so that their morphine withdrawal symptoms are managed in a safe and structured way. Following detoxification, a therapeutic programme is also advised to give the person an opportunity to address the impact that the drug abuse and the addiction has had on their body and the mind, and learn strategies for a drug-free life going forward.

What causes morphine withdrawal symptoms?

When morphine enters the bloodstream, the brain becomes flooded with dopamine.

Dopamine is a neurotransmitter that is typically released after we engage in a pleasurable activity such as eating, exercising, or interacting with friends. The ‘feel-good’ brain chemical encourages and motivates us to repeat what caused us to experience this pleasure.

When morphine is abused regularly, the brain becomes used to the drug causing these rushes of dopamine. This can result in certain brain pathways altering slightly, where they start to rely on morphine to experience such feelings. The brain and body start to function differently to how they used to.

Over time, a person abusing morphine will likely need to use more of the drug as their tolerance increases. This can lead to a physical and psychological dependency, where the drug is needed in order for them to be able to function.

Morphine withdrawal symptoms happen when a person with this physical and psychological dependency no longer has the drug in their bloodstream. Their brain and body has become so used to operating with the drug, so morphine withdrawal symptoms occur as they attempt to function in ways they are no longer used to.

Common morphine withdrawal symptoms

Early morphine withdrawal symptoms can start within 6-12 hours of when morphine was last used. These typically include the following:

  • Yawning
  • Sweating
  • Tearing up
  • Runny nose

Morphine withdrawal symptoms will commonly peak between 48 to 72 hours of the last dose. A person may experience the following at this time:

  • Chills
  • Goosebumps
  • Heightened blood pressure and heart rate
  • Insomnia
  • Irritability
  • Restlessness
  • Anxiety
  • Muscle pain
  • Stomach pain
  • Nausea, vomiting, diarrhoea
  • Sneezing
  • Tremors
  • Loss of appetite
  • Depression

The severity and longevity of morphine withdrawal symptoms can differ from person-to-person, and can depend on a number of factors including the amount and duration of their drug use, the method by which they have been abusing the drug, genetic influences, co-occurring mental health disorders and any other substances being consumed.

Managing morphine withdrawal symptoms

Drug detoxification

As morphine withdrawal symptoms can be severe, it is recommended that the detoxification process takes place in a medically assisted environment. This gives a person the opportunity to deal with the physical side of their dependency or addiction in an environment that is safe and well-monitored.

At Priory rehabilitation centres around the UK, our teams are able to provide round-the-clock care and support to make sure that all traces of morphine are removed from the body in a safe and secure manner. Our experts can also make use of appropriately controlled medication to help a person be as comfortable as possible when experiencing physical withdrawal symptoms.

Residential addiction programmes

Following on from detoxification, we recommend entering a residential rehabilitation programme for your morphine addiction. Through workshops, group therapy sessions and individual key working time, a person has the opportunity to learn about the causes and triggers of their drug abuse, discover ways to improve their self-worth and confidence, and develop strategies for life going forward.

All people who undertake a residential addiction treatment programme at Priory then receive a personalised continuing care plan to help them to navigate a life in recovery. Ongoing support, meetings and groups also form part of our free 12-month aftercare service*, so that the people we work with remain well-supported during their first year in recovery.

*The Manor Clinic and Priory Hospital Roehampton offer free aftercare for life to those who undertake an addiction treatment programme with them.

Reviewed by Dr Michael Bristow (MA, MBBS, FRCPsych), Consultant Adult Psychiatrist at Priory Hospital Woking

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