Get Help & Answers Now

How can we help?

I'm ready to sign up! I have a few questions I want to refer someone Quiz: is Suboxone for me?

Demerol vs. Morphine | Comparing Opioids & Misuse Potential

Peter Manza, PhD profile image
Reviewed By Peter Manza, PhD • Updated Feb 20, 2024 • 8 cited sources

Demerol and morphine are both opioid pain relievers, though their strengths and effects vary considerably. 

Morphine tends to be a stronger sedative with greater respiratory depression potential. While Demerol is still an opioid that can depress the respiratory system, it may be less likely to trigger the same level of response in the body at the same dose. 

Both drugs have very high misuse potential, so they must be taken with caution and care under medical supervision.

Key Differences Between Demerol & Morphine

Demerol, sold generically as meperidine, and morphine are opioid analgesics that trigger similar side effects to varying degrees when the same or similar doses are taken.[1,2]

Morphine, the stronger of the two drugs, may be characterized by slower breathing, posing a higher risk for respiratory depression compared to Demerol. Additionally, it causes more severe and persistent side effects, such as sedation, constipation and itchy skin.[4] 

Like morphine, Demerol controls pain. It comes with the same kinds of side effects, but it may also have an increased risk of effects related to the nervous system, such as tremors or muscle twitches. 

This chart contains a summary of some of the main differences between Demerol and morphine:[2,5]

Dosage50-150mg0.1-0.2 mg per kilogram of body weight
How long it lastsTypically taken orally every 3-4 hoursTypically provided by injection every 4 hours
Why is it prescribed? Moderate to severe painSevere pain that hasn’t responded to other therapies
Side effectsLightheadedness, dizziness, sedation, nausea and vomitingRespiratory depression, apnea and slow heartbeat

What Is Demerol?

Demerol is a synthetic opioid analgesic medication aimed at easing moderate to severe pain that is available in tablet, syrup and liquid form (for injection use).[1] It may be made directly from opium poppy plants or artificially synthesized in a laboratory.

Demerol acts on the body in a similar manner to morphine. Its most notable actions involve the central nervous system and smooth muscle organs.[1] 

Therapeutically, its value comes primarily from being an analgesia (pain reliever) and sedative. While Demerol is primarily a pain reliever, it has multiple uses in medical practice, including these:[1]

  • Chronic pain management
  • Anesthesia for surgery or after surgery
  • Emergency pain relief
  • Control of shivering

Doctors use Demerol as a short-term therapy for people with moderate to severe pain.[2] Someone might use this medication after surgery or in recovery from a broken bone.

Though Demerol is less potent than morphine by volume, it still has substantial risks and should never be taken without a valid prescription.

Demerol is a highly addictive substance that should only be used on a short-term basis as needed and under a doctor’s care. It can be misused orally, or people can crush, snort or chew their pills. Some dissolve the powder in water and inject the solution. Since Demerol is so closely related to opioid use disorder (OUD), doctors monitor its use carefully.[2]

Any signs of medical emergency, misuse or opioid use disorder can be addressed before they become life threatening.

Side Effects of Demerol

Side effects are common for all opioids, but the exact side effects and the degree to which they are experienced will vary based on a person’s history with opioid use, other medications they are taking, the dose of Demerol and underlying medical issues. 

Some of the commonly reported side effects of Demerol use include the following:[1,2] 

  • Dizziness
  • Sedation
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Sweating
  • Constipation
  • Respiratory depression 

What Is Morphine?

Morphine, a non-synthetic opioid analgesic, has long been recognized as an effective pain management aid.[3] It works by binding to opioid receptors in the brain and spinal cord, alleviating perceived discomfort while inducing euphoria. 

Doctors use morphine to help patients with significant pain that hasn’t responded to non-narcotic pain relievers. Pain like this can stem from cancer, heart attacks or life-threatening medical conditions.[4]

As effective as morphine may be at alleviating pain, it comes with significant risks and potential side effects. Many people report issues like constipation, nausea, vomiting and urinary retention. In severe cases or at high doses, respiratory depression may occur.[4]

Ongoing use of the drug could lead to the development of tolerance and physical dependence. Morphine should only be used under medical supervision, so the professional can prescribe and adjust the dose based on the person’s medical history, pain level and medication response.

Morphine has been closely linked to OUD. Like other opioid narcotics, morphine latches to brain receptors and triggers euphoria. Some people take the drug for its effects on mood, not for pain control.[5]

Morphine Side Effects

As an opioid (and a stronger opioid compared to Demerol), morphine may also trigger side effects, especially when people first start using the drug or when they raise their dose. Some of the most commonly seen side effects of morphine use include the following:[4,5] 

  • Lightheadedness 
  • Faintness
  • Drowsiness
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Constipation
  • Excessive sweating
  • Respiratory depression 

Which Is Stronger: Morphine or Demerol? 

Morphine is widely considered to be stronger and more potent than Demerol, milligram for milligram.[6] Additionally, it is a longer acting analgesic compared to Demerol, which is a short-acting drug.[7]

Is Morphine or Demerol More Addictive?

Morphine is stronger at lower doses compared to Demerol, thus the risks of misuse and therefore OUD are higher for morphine use as well. This may be due to the following reasons:[3]

  • Binding affinity and effect: Morphine’s stronger affinity for opioid receptors combined with its potent analgesic and euphoric effects may contribute to rapid tolerance development and dependence.[3]
  • Euphoric effects of morphine: Morphine’s ability to induce a strong sense of euphoria can make it more attractive for misuse, even when the medicinal dose is kept as low as possible. This increases the risk for an OUD.

Morphine is more commonly prescribed than Demerol, which may increase the rates of misuse of the drug as well. 

Getting Treatment for OUD

If you’ve been misusing either morphine or Demerol, it’s a sign that you need help. OUD is common when either medication is misused. And with OUD, it’s incredibly difficult to stop use on your own. If you attempt to, relapse is likely.

At Bicycle Health, we offer a complete Medication for Addiction Treatment (MAT) program to help you stop misusing opioids for good. We use Suboxone (buprenorphine/naloxone) to manage withdrawal symptoms that occur if you simply stop morphine or Demerol cold turkey. Suboxone also manages cravings for opioids, so you are less likely to relapse.  

Suboxone binds to opioid receptors just like Demerol and morphine does, and this lessens or even eliminates withdrawal symptoms.[8] Additionally, the naloxone in Suboxone blocks the person from being able to get high while on the medication. It serves as a misuse-deterrent ingredient, helping to minimize the risk of relapse. 

When withdrawal symptoms and cravings are managed, you can do more productive work in therapy, and you can begin to build a healthy and balanced life in recovery. 

If you would like to learn more about MAT with Bicycle Health, contact us today for more information. You can get started with our telehealth services and often get a prescription for Suboxone the same day.

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. Yasaei R, Rosani A, & Saadabadi A. Meperidine. StatPearls. Published July 11, 2022. Accessed August 5, 2023.
  2. Demerol. U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Published September 2010. Accessed August 5, 2023.
  3. Drug Fact Sheet. Drug Enforcement Administration. Published April 2020. Accessed August 5, 2023.
  4. Murphy PB, Bechmann S, & Barrett MJ. Morphine. StatPearls. Published May 22, 2023. Accessed August 5, 2023.
  5. Morphine sulfate injection label. U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Published November 2011. Accessed August 5, 2023.
  6. Solhi H, Sanaei Zadeh H, Solhi S, Nadian M, Gharibi M, & Sadeghi B. (2016). Meperidine (pethidine) versus morphine in acute pain management of opioid dependent patients. Open Access Emergency Medicine. 2016;8:57–59.
  7. Morphine-like drugs and synthetic derivatives. ATrain Education. Accessed August 5, 2023.
  8. Velander JR. Suboxone: Rationale, Science, Misconceptions. Ochsner J. 2018;18(1):23-29

Download Our Free Program Guide

Learn about our program, its effectiveness and what to expect

Safe, effective Suboxone treatment from home. Learn More

Imagine what’s possible on the other side of opioid use disorder.

Our science-backed approach boasts 95% of patients reporting no withdrawal symptoms at 7 days. We can help you achieve easier days and a happier future.