Opiate withdrawal is a common occurrence in human opiate addicts that is no life threatening but is hypothesized to be a significant factor which may contribute to drug taking behavior in these opiate dependent individuals. The purpose of this study was to compare the time course for the development of tolerance, dependence and abstinence using a rat model. Rats were made dependent by implantation of 2 morphine pellets s.c. (75 mg morphine base). Morphine implanted rats exhibited analgesia as measured in a tail-dip assay, for up to 12 h post-implant after which the development of tolerance resulted in tail-flick latencies returning to the level of control rats. Withdrawal was evaluated by injection of the opiate antagonist, naloxone (1 mg/kg s.c.). Rating of the abstinence syndrome revealed significant withdrawal signs by 3 h post-implant which became increasingly intense up to 24 h post-implant. Withdrawal could be precipitated for at least 13 days post-implant, while by 18 days post-implant almost no abstinence signs were observed. Plasma morphine levels following implantation of 2 pellets remained relatively stable from 3-12 days post-implantation. These results further extend the characterization of opiate abstinence following subcutaneous pellet implantation. These results also suggest that opiate abstinence develops within the first 24 h and follows the time course of the development of tolerance. The characterization of the evolution of opiate tolerance, physical dependence and abstinence under similar experimental conditions is critical to the design of future studies to examine the neural bases for these phenomena.