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Demerol Addiction & Misuse: Signs, Dangers & Treatment Help

Peter Manza, PhD profile image
Reviewed By Peter Manza, PhD • Updated Aug 10, 2023 • 5 cited sources

Demerol is a brand-name drug containing the opioid meperidine hydrochloride. Like all opioids, Demerol alters how your brain and nervous system respond to pain signals.[1] 

When used as directed, opioids can relieve discomfort or make it easier to ignore. But opioids come with a dark side, as repeated use causes chemical changes that often lead to dependence, misuse and addiction.

Demerol was once a go-to drug for postoperative pain, making it relatively easy to access from doctors and dealers. But now it’s used rarely and only in people who can’t tolerate other opioids.[2] It’s very hard on critical organs (like the kidneys), so doctors use other substances when they can.

But many medical professionals, including both doctors and nurses, can still access this drug. And research suggests many of them misuse Demerol while on and off shift.

Here’s what you need to know about Demerol misuse and the associated consequences. 

Dangers of Taking Demerol as Prescribed

After a surgery or serious medical procedure, pain control is required. Ongoing discomfort leads to tense muscles, a rapid heartbeat and slow movements. When your pain is treated, your tissues can heal properly. 

If you can’t tolerate other opioids, your doctor might use Demerol. But even if you use it as directed, the drug isn’t entirely safe. 

Common Side Effects

Like most prescription medications, Demerol causes unpleasant side effects. These are common symptoms people experience while on the drug:[3]

  • Agitation
  • Dizziness
  • Euphoria
  • Hallucinations
  • Nausea
  • Sedation
  • Sweating
  • Tremors 
  • Vomiting 
  • Weakness

Some people experience side effects with the first dose, but they fade with time. Others have the opposite experience and feel sicker with each pill. 

Rare Side Effects

Some people have unusual and serious reactions to Demerol, including allergic responses. Fainting, unusual heartbeat, swelling of the throat, and shock are all common allergic reactions to Demerol.[3] 

Opioids like Demerol can trigger histamine reactions, meaning people develop rashes all along the skin. This isn’t an allergic reaction, but it can be uncomfortable and even a little scary. Over-the-counter medications can help, but people who develop histamine reactions to Demerol should stop taking the drug. 

Physical Dependence & Withdrawal

If you take Demerol as prescribed, you’ll use the drug continuously for several days. Your brain cells will release a surge of neurotransmitters like dopamine with each dose. But if you continue to use drugs chronically, your brain cells adapt to these repeated surges and will produce less dopamine than they used to. When your doses wear off, you’ll feel sick and eager for another pill.

If you quit using Demerol abruptly, you can experience opioid withdrawal characterized by the following symptoms:

  • Nausea
  • Diarrhea 
  • Aching muscles 
  • Dehydration

Deep cravings for drugs can increase your relapse risks during withdrawal. And if you relapse to the dose you took before withdrawal, you could experience an overdose.

Dangers of Misusing Demerol

Demerol misuse can lead to euphoria, or a state people call a “high.” But the brain cells adjust to large doses, and over time, people must take more to experience that feeling. Some people take such large doses that they risk overdose. 

An overdose of Demerol is characterized by the following:[3]

  • Coma
  • Cold or clammy skin
  • Flaccid muscles 
  • Low or absent blood pressure
  • Slow or nonexistent respiration

Quick treatment with the medication naloxone can reverse an opioid overdose in minutes. Naloxone removes opioids from their receptors, allowing breathing and heart rates to return to normal. After revival with naloxone, doctors can keep monitoring their patients to ensure they continue to recover. 

People with a longstanding Demerol habit may also experience kidney damage. Within about two days of repeated use, the drug builds up within the body. Common signs of toxicity caused by Demerol include the following:[2]

  • Disorientation
  • High blood pressure 
  • Irritability
  • Shaking 
  • Twitching muscles

Those who misuse Demerol can experience these symptoms even if they don’t overdose. Both of these issues are life-threatening. 

Common Signs & Symptoms of Demerol Misuse

People who start taking drugs like Demerol don’t hope to develop an opioid use disorder (OUD). But this medical condition can develop very quickly in people who use Demerol regularly. Anyone can develop an OUD, including people with no history of medical or psychiatric problems. 

People who misuse Demerol need a constant supply of the drug, and it’s not always easy to get pills. Drug-seeking symptoms can include the following:[3]

  • Emergency calls or visits to doctor’s offices
  • Refusing to undergo medical tests to get drug refills
  • Claiming prescriptions were lost or stolen
  • Tampering with prescriptions 
  • Visiting multiple doctors to get more drugs 

While anyone could misuse Demerol, this drug seems most popular among doctors and nurses. In a study of Quebec physicians, 56% said they preferred Demerol, while only 38% preferred morphine.[4] 

Demerol causes higher elation when compared to morphine, which could make it more appealing to doctors and nurses.[4] They may not need to seek out prescriptions for the drug, as they could get it when they clock in for their shifts.

But since Demerol is so intoxicating, these medical professionals may not handle their tasks with ease. They may seem sedated, slow or uncoordinated. They may also lose their jobs, and they could try to hide this from their families and friends. 

MAT for Demerol Addiction

Opioids cause persistent brain chemical changes that can make quitting difficult. If you try to skip doses or stop taking them altogether, you could feel so sick that it seems impossible to get or stay sober. 

Dealing with repeated episodes of withdrawal and relapse is incredibly difficult on your mind and body. Feelings of despair and isolation are common. These feelings are often why people simply feel like it’s impossible to stop misusing opioids like Demerol.

Medication for Addiction Treatment (MAT) uses prescriptions like Suboxone to address these chemical imbalances. Suboxone’s buprenorphine latches to receptors used by Demerol, triggering very mild reactions that ease withdrawal sickness and overwhelming cravings. 

Withdrawal alone isn’t enough to ease all symptoms of Demerol misuse. Researchers say people who move through withdrawal often relapse without further treatment, and they can die due to overdose.[5]

You won’t feel different when you take Suboxone. It will just manage withdrawal symptoms and cravings, so you feel normal.

MAT programs continue after withdrawal. Suboxone’s buprenorphine continues to ease cravings, so you can learn to handle your drug use triggers. The naloxone in Suboxone works as misuse protection, ensuring the drug won’t work if it’s injected. This makes it more likely that you will avoid relapse.

Bicycle Health uses telemedicine to administer MAT programs. Complete your appointments via phone, computer or tablet, and pick up your prescriptions at a nearby pharmacy. Work with the team as long as needed to ensure you don’t relapse and return to drug misuse. 

Bicycle Health is safe, private and effective. New patients are accepted right now. Contact us to find out if this model is right for you.

Reviewed By Peter Manza, PhD

Peter Manza, PhD received his BA in Psychology and Biology from the University of Rochester and his PhD in Integrative Neuroscience at Stony Brook University. He is currently working as a research scientist in Washington, DC. His research focuses on the role ... Read More

  1. Meperidine. U.S. National Library of Medicine. February 2021. Accessed April 2023.
  2. Where Has All the Meperidine Gone? Nursing. January 2010. Accessed April 2023.
  3. Prescribing Information: Demerol. U.S. Food and Drug Administration. September 2010. Accessed April 2023.
  4. Meperidine: A Continuing Problem. Substance Abuse: Research and Treatment. July 2013. Accessed April 2023.
  5. A Nurse with Pethidine Addiction. European Journal of General Medicine. 2012. Accessed April 2023.

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