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Demerol: Uses, Side Effects, Addiction & Treatment

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Medically Reviewed By: Diana Vo, LMFT

November 28, 2023

Table of Contents

Demerol is a potent opioid pain medicine that has limited medical utility and the potential for abuse and addiction.

Today’s guide highlights the uses, dangers, and side effects of Demerol. We also show you how to fight back if you develop an addiction to Demerol.

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What is Demerol?

Demerol is an opioid medication and a branded form of meperidine, otherwise known as pethidine. Classified as a narcotic opioid analgesic, these prescription drugs and other medications that are similar are seldom administered in a non-clinical setting.

What is Demerol used for, then?

Demerol Uses

Typically prescribed to treat moderate to severe pain, Demerol delivers effects similar to those of oxycodone or morphine. If this drug is indicated for the treatment of acute pain, it should not be used for longer than two days. The medication is unsuitable for the treatment of chronic pain due to its habit-forming potential and the availability of superior pain medications.

You can find this drug in the following variants:

  • Syrup
  • Injectable solution
  • Tablets (50mg and 100mg strengths)

Demerol syrup and tablets can both be taken orally as directed by the prescribing physician. A medical professional needs to administer this opioid in injectable form.

If prescribed Demerol, you can take the syrup or tablet form orally as prescribed. Those prescribed the injectable version of this drug will need the injection administered by a medical professional.

Although this drug is less potent than morphine, this short-acting opioid still has the potential for misuse, abuse, or addiction. However, there are a few things you can do to help avoid an opioid addiction problem, only take the prescribed amount, skip any missed dose if you are near to your next dose, and don’t drink alcohol while taking Demerol.

Demerol is a schedule II controlled substance. Like all medications under this schedule, there are some medical applications for this drug and the potential for abuse. Possessing this opioid in the United States without a prescription for the medication is illegal.

What Do You Take Demerol For?

Demerol is a semi-synthetic opioid-based painkiller. Most other opioids like morphine block pain messages from reaching the brain. Demerol, by contrast, targets the CNS (central nervous system), blocking feelings of pain by inducing euphoria.

This medication is unsuitable for the treatment of chronic pain due to its abuse potential. American Pain Society reports that Demerol should no longer be prescribed for severe pain relief, especially in the over-65s.

Along with that, if you are dealing with a head injury, kidney disease, mental illness, sleep apnea, or other problems, make sure you run those by your doctor or pharmacist before taking this opioid medicine.

If you are prescribed Demerol to alleviate acute pain, you should not use the opioid for more than two days.

Overall, Demerol is now considered an inferior painkiller due to the brief duration of its effects and its capacity to produce toxic metabolites.

Demerol Side Effects

Taking Demerol can trigger any of the following side effects:

  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Sweating
  • Weakness
  • Fatigue
  • Restlessness
  • Depression
  • Appetite loss
  • Hives
  • Blue tinge to the skin
  • Pale lips
  • Puffy lips, tongue, or eyelids
  • Irregular heartbeat
  • Fever
  • Painful urination
  • Overactive reflexes
  • Redness of arms, upper chest, face, or neck
  • Cold skin
  • Tremors
  • Confusion
  • Cough
  • Blurred vision
  • Chest pain
  • Darkening skin
  • Breathing problems
  • Dizziness
  • Faintness
  • Diarrhea
  • Impaired coordination
  • Jerking
  • Agitation
  • Muscle twitching 

Demerol Breathing Problems

One specific side effect to be more aware of is how Demerol affects breathing. Using Demerol can cause serious and life-threatening breathing problems, these are especially prevalent during the first 1-3 days of treatment or any time the dose is increased. If you notice problems like shallow breathing or respiratory depression, tell your doctor or pharmacist as soon as possible.

One of the most common causes of breathing problems associated with Demerol use in instances of overdose.

A man looks up at the sky to represent demerol and the life threatening withdrawal symptoms it can cause.

Demerol Overdose

Demerol overdose can occur when someone doesn’t take the correct dose of the drug and uses more than their body can handle. This type of opioid overdose leads to a number of dangerous overdose symptoms and adverse effects including slow breathing, increased risk of seizures, respiratory depression, unresponsiveness, and more. In these cases call the poison control center for more information or seek emergency medical attention as soon as possible.

Additionally, call your doctor if you are experiencing any of the following side effects:

  • Feeling like you’re going to pass out
  • Severe drowsiness
  • Severe dizziness
  • Severe constipation
  • Trouble breathing

Along with these side effects of Demerol, another dangerous problem can occur: Demerol withdrawal.

Demerol Withdrawal & Withdrawal Symptoms

Demerol can be addictive, and withdrawal symptoms can occur if someone stops taking it suddenly.

Demerol withdrawal symptoms can be mild to severe, and they usually start within 12 to 24 hours after the last dose. Common symptoms include:

  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Sweating
  • Chills
  • Muscle aches
  • Insomnia
  • Anxiety
  • Irritability
  • Depression
  • Seizures

In severe cases, Demerol can lead to life-threatening withdrawal symptoms. If you are experiencing withdrawal symptoms, it is important to seek emergency medical help.

There are a few different ways to treat Demerol withdrawal. One option is to go through a medically supervised detox program. This involves taking medications to help manage the symptoms of withdrawal. Another option is to attend a rehab program. Rehab programs offer counseling and support to help people overcome addiction.

If you or someone you know is struggling with Demerol addiction, there is help available. Talk to your doctor or a mental health professional about treatment options.

An image of a man who is addicted to Demerol

How Does Demerol Addiction Occur?

The opioid epidemic in the United States started in the late 1990s with pharmaceutical companies persuading doctors to prescribe opioids like oxycodone and hydrocodone for the treatment of chronic pain. Falsely marketed as non-addictive, all opioids have the potential to trigger tolerance, dependence, and addiction.

Some research suggests that this drug could be more addictive than most medications in this class. The effects of Demerol set in quickly, but they also wear off rapidly. These properties mean that tolerance and dependence both build at accelerated rates.

When addiction to Demerol occurs, this is classified as OUD (opioid use disorder). The most recent data from SAMHSA (Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration) shows that over 2.6 million U.S. adults were diagnosed with OUD in 2020.

All non-prescribed, nonmedical uses of this drug are considered Demerol abuse. Abusing this opioid is liable to cause dependence and addiction.

In many cases, though, Demerol addiction develops after someone takes the medication as prescribed without any intention of misusing or abusing the medication. Tolerance to this drug forms swiftly, meaning the pain-relieving properties of the medication are diminished.

Oftentimes, this initiates a vicious cycle with people taking more Demerol to achieve the same effects. As tolerance builds, physical dependence can soon develop. When you are dependent on this drug you require the medication to function normally. Those dependent on opioids will also experience intensely unpleasant withdrawal symptoms if they discontinue use.

Tolerance and dependence are both diagnostic criteria for addiction, although dependence and addiction are not the same. Addiction to this drug is diagnosed as a substance use disorder, specifically opioid use disorder. Addiction is a chronic, relapsing brain disorder, according to NIDA (National Institute on Drug Abuse). Like all substance use disorders, Demerol addiction usually responds favorably to evidence-based treatment in an inpatient or outpatient rehab center – more on this below.

Drinking While on Demerol

Drinking alcohol while taking Demerol, a powerful opioid pain medication, can pose significant dangers to an individual’s health and well-being. Both alcohol and Demerol are central nervous system (CNS) depressants, meaning they slow down brain activity and can cause sedation. When these substances are combined, their effects can be intensified and lead to serious consequences.

One major concern is respiratory depression. If you both drink alcohol and take Demerol, it can suppress the respiratory system, leading to shallow breathing. Combining the two substances can further depress the respiratory system, leading to shallow or slowed breathing, or even respiratory arrest. This can be life-threatening and requires immediate medical attention.

Moreover, both alcohol and Demerol can impair cognitive and motor functions. Combining them can result in severe impairment of judgment, coordination, and reaction time, greatly increasing the risk of accidents, falls, and injuries. It can also lead to confusion, dizziness, and drowsiness, which can be dangerous when engaging in activities that require mental alertness, such as driving or operating machinery.

Additionally, drinking while taking Demerol can lead to an increased risk of drug or alcohol addiction as the two substances play off of one another, causing dangerous drug interactions.

Given these risks, it is crucial to strictly follow medical advice and avoid consuming alcohol while taking Demerol. It is essential to consult a healthcare professional to understand the potential interactions and ensure one’s safety and well-being during pain management.

Morphine vs. Demerol

Morphine is a non-synthetic opioid narcotic derived from opium. The medication is used for the treatment of severe pain and has a powerful potential for abuse and addiction.

Many studies comparing morphine and Demerol in patients not dependent on opioids indicate that Demerol (meperidine) can control only mild pain. Morphine, on the other hand, can control moderate and severe pain effectively.

This recent study of 122 patients dependent on opioids showed that:

  1. Those prescribed morphine reported superior pain control than those prescribed this drug.
  2. Those prescribed this drug reported the presence of prominent withdrawal symptoms.

Research conclusively demonstrates that this drug is less effective than morphine for the management of acute pain, and also less likely to trigger withdrawal symptoms leading to complications.

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Demerol Addiction Treatment at Renaissance Recovery

Demerol addiction can be treated in the same way as any opioid use disorder. In most cases, a supervised detox provides the safest and most comfortable pathway to ongoing treatment. We can help you access licensed medical detox centers throughout Southern California.

During detox, your treatment team may administer FDA-approved medications to reduce the severity of cravings and withdrawal symptoms. These medications can also be effective throughout rehab, mitigating urges for opioids and promoting sustained abstinence.

After a week or so of detox, you can engage with our opioid treatment programs in California:

  • OPs (outpatient programs)
  • IOPs (intensive outpatient programs)
  • Virtual IOPs (remote rehab)
  • PHPs (partial hospitalization programs)

Research shows that most mild and moderate addictions respond positively to outpatient treatment. Take advantage of evidence-based treatment for Demerol addiction without the expense or the restrictions of inpatient rehab, and without needing to take a month or more away from your commitments.

All Renaissance treatment programs for opioid use disorders like addiction connects you with the following pharmacological and behavioral interventions as well as alternative treatment options:

Kickstart your recovery at Renaissance and leave equipped with the skills you need to thrive in life free of opioid addiction like Demerol. Contact the friendly team for immediate assistance by calling 866.330.9449 today.



At Renaissance Recovery our goal is to provide evidence-based treatment to as many individuals as possible. Give us a call today to verify your insurance coverage or to learn more about paying for addiction treatment.

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Joseph Gilmore has been in the addiction industry for three years with experience working for facilities all across the country. Connect with Joe on LinkedIn.

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