Demerol: Uses, Side Effects, Addiction & Treatment

An image of a man on a lake who struggles with Demerol addiction
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By: Renaissance Recovery

Clinically Reviewed by: Diana Vo, LMFT

Last Updated:


Authored By: Joe Gilmore

Table of Contents

Demerol is a potent opioid-based painkiller 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.

What is Demerol?

Demerol is a branded form of meperidine, otherwise known as pethidine. Classified as a  narcotic opioid analgesic, this medication is seldom administered in a non-clinical setting.

What is Demerol used for, then?

Typically prescribed to treat moderate or 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.

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 pain relief, especially in the over-65s.

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 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


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.

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.

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 the following treatment programs here at Renaissance Recovery Center in Orange County:

  • 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:

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

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