Morphine Withdrawal: What to Do During Each Step of the Timeline Ambrosia Drug & Alcohol Addiction Treatment Center
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Morphine Withdrawal What to Do During Each Step of the Timeline

You’ve decided to break up with morphine. The drug brings you more pain than pleasure, and you know you can’t let the abuse continue.

But you’re scared about what withdrawal will feel like. You want to prepare for the process.

You’re in the right place.

Morphine withdrawal progresses in a series of predictable steps. There’s something you can do at each phase to ease your discomfort and make sobriety easier to achieve.

Let’s take it stage by stage.

Stage 1: Early Withdrawal

As your addiction strengthens, your doses come closer together. Between them, you start to feel a little sick. That creeping discomfort is the first part of withdrawal, and it often serves to keep people locked in the cycle of addiction. You feel sick, you take more, you feel sick, and so on.

To break that cycle, you must make a commitment not to use. That’s when withdrawal begins.

Early withdrawal can feel like a cold. You’ll develop the following:

  • Aching muscles
  • A runny nose
  • Sweating arms and legs
  • Tearful eyes

You’ll also feel nervous and fidgety. Sitting still seems hard, and although your muscles and bones hurt, you’ll pace and wave your arms. Your heart might feel sped up, and you might feel a desperate need to take morphine.

The critical thing to do at this stage in your recovery is start medication management. Prescription drugs made to treat opioid addictions can soothe symptoms, and they work quickly. As an expert quoted in Annals of Emergency Medicine explains, people can move from pacing and sweating to calm and collected just minutes after the first dose.

Prescription drugs latch onto opioid receptors, and they trigger minor reactions that fool your brain into believing your drug of choice is available. Buprenorphine is often the first medication delivered, as it comes with some abuse protections. But if it’s not strong enough, your doctor might switch you to methadone.

You’ll need to enroll in a detox program to get those medications, and that’s the best thing to do in early withdrawal. The treatment team can assess your health and your addiction, and they can start you on medication right away. Follow their orders to the letter to feel better quickly.

In addition to listening to your treatment team and following their instructions, you can also:

  • Limit your exposure to stimulation. You’ll feel nervous and worried already. Don’t compound the problem with violent movies, loud music, or flashing lights. Stay in a cool, dark, calm room.
  • You probably won’t be able to sleep. But sitting quietly can give your sore muscles a break, and that could ease your pain.
  • Stay cool. Use fans to dry sweat, and dress in layers you can remove if your temperature rises.

cramping and nausea

Stage 2: Middle Withdrawal

Persist in detox, and your symptoms are likely to worsen. It’s a sign that your body is healing, but it can be a little scary and uncomfortable. Your treatment team can help you push through, and there are steps you can take to ease your distress.

If the first stage feels like a cold, the middle phase feels like the flu. You’ll develop:

  • Cramping
  • Diarrhea
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting

If diarrhea and vomiting combine, you can develop life-threatening dehydration. Your team can add the medication clonidine to the mix if that happens. Researchers say that this drug can shorten the length of your withdrawal, and it can ease the most significant symptoms of middle withdrawal.

Your team will use a Clinical Opiate Withdrawal Scale (COWS) to measure your progress in withdrawal. They’ll take some objective measurements, like blood pressure readings and eye checks, but they’ll also ask you questions. You might be asked to describe:

  • Do your bones and joints ache? How bad is the discomfort?
  • Can you hold your arms out straight without seeing your fingertips wobble?
  • Bathroom trips. Have you experienced diarrhea?
  • State of mind. Do you feel irritable or anxious? Are those feelings interfering with the interview?

Be as clear as you can. You won’t get points or admiration for heroism. Your doctors need to know if your treatment plan is working, and if it isn’t, they must make adjustments. Be honest.

You can also help yourself by:

  • Staying hydrated. Keep a cold drink with you at all times, and sip it as often as you can.
  • Eating bland food. Slow down your fast-moving digestive system with absorbent foods like oatmeal.
  • If your strength is returning, perform a few yoga moves or stretch your arms and legs as much as you can.


Stage 3: Late Withdrawal

In time, your symptoms will begin to fade. You’ll start to feel like yourself again. This might seem like a wonderful relief, but you’ve just entered the most dangerous part of early recovery. You’ll need to stay committed and be very careful with your body and your mind.

Experts say that detox is not a treatment for addiction. It helps you to get sober, and your brain cells can begin to take up normal functions. But you’ll need to work on the physical, mental, and environmental triggers that led to your addiction. You’ll do that work in a rehab program.

The best thing you can do for your body, spirit, and soul is to enter rehab at the end of your detox program. Don’t delay by a day or two. Don’t go home to think about it. You are in a vulnerable place in your recovery, and a relapse could be deadly.

During detox, your brain cells heal. They lower their tolerance to opioids. If you take the morphine dose you were accustomed to before detox, you could overdose. That could cost you your life.

Let your detox team find you the right treatment program and take you there. This is the most important thing you can do in late withdrawal.

You can help by:

  • Taking notes. Write down your top reasons for staying sober. If you feel your resolve wobble, read those notes.
  • Eat foods you love. Your body is still healing from drug abuse, and your brain is looking for something to latch onto. Fill your body with delicious, nutritious meals.
  • Steer clear of triggers. Don’t touch the lighter you used to cook your doses. Stay away from needles. Think about what might cause your symptoms to return, and make sure you don’t encounter them.

How Long Will It Take?

Detox is a crucial part of your healing process. It’s also one of the quickest. You’ll measure your time in detox in days, not months.

According to research in U.S. Pharmacist, detox times for morphine last between 7 and 10 days.

Note that this data refers only to physical symptoms. You might have psychological symptoms, like cravings for drugs, for much longer. But the acute part of your withdrawal will be over quickly.

When you’re living through it, the time might slow to a crawl. Detox is almost always at least a bit uncomfortable. Even with medications, expect to have some discomfort and cravings for drugs.

But when you’re done, you’ll be ready to tackle your addiction with strength, persistence, and calm. You can recover. Detox makes that possible.

Opiate and Opioid Withdrawal. (May 2018). U.S. National Library of Medicine.

Opiate and Opioid Withdrawal. (May 2018). University of Florida Health.

Clinical Opiate Withdrawal Scale. (June 2003). Journal of Psychoactive Drugs.

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