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Demerol Addiction & Abuse

Demerol addiction, stemming from its use as a painkiller, can be treated through medication-assisted therapy and counseling, such as cognitive behavioral therapy. Residential treatment programs offer comprehensive care for managing withdrawal and addressing underlying addiction causes.

Struggling with Opioid Addiction? Get Help Now

Demerol is the brand-name formulation of the opioid painkiller meperidine. Doctors use it to address moderate to severe pain. Short courses are recommended, as this drug has a high abuse potential.

People addicted to Demerol may struggle to quit without help. But treatment programs can correct drug-caused chemical imbalances and help you live a happier, healthier life. 

What Is Demerol?

Demerol is a prescription painkiller containing the opioid meperidine. Doctors use it to treat short-term episodes of moderate to severe pain. If you have surgery, a significant injury, or a painful illness, your doctor might offer Demerol to help. 

Doctors try other painkillers before using Demerol. Anti-inflammatory medications (like aspirin) or non-medication treatments (like stretching) are sometimes more helpful than opioids like Demerol, and they come with fewer side effects too. 

Key Facts About Demerol

Key Facts

  • Demerol is designed for short-term pain control. Long-term use can lead to seizures, drug tolerance, and addiction.[1]
  • Demerol is a Schedule II controlled substance with an abuse potential similar to morphine.[1]
  • Like all opioids, Demerol works by changing how your brain and nervous system respond to pain signals.[2]
  • In a one-year period that ended in April 2021, over 100,000 Americans died from drug overdose, and the majority of these deaths were attributed to opioids like Demerol.[3]
  • Addiction to Demerol is generally treated with medication-assisted treatment (MAT), where medications like buprenorphine or methadone are used to alleviate withdrawal and cravings while people participate in therapy.

Medical Uses for Demerol: Why Is It Prescribed?

Opioids like Demerol alter the brain’s response to pain signals. If you’re experiencing discomfort that hasn’t responded to other forms of therapy, your doctor might use Demerol. 

Demerol is metabolized into a toxic substance (normeperidine) within a few hours of your dose. This element can interact with your body’s serotonin system, causing a variety of health problems. Some people develop life-threatening seizures.[4]

Because Demerol can cause dangerous side effects, it’s used less often than other opioid drugs. Your doctor will only try this medication if you haven’t felt relief from other (safer) options.

Potential for Abuse: How Addictive Is Demerol?

Demerol is a Schedule II medication. It’s helpful at therapeutic doses but comes with a high abuse potential. 

All opioids, including Demerol, cause spikes of feel-good chemicals within the brain. When taken regularly, brain cells change in response. They won’t produce chemicals without drugs. Severe depression develops, and only opioids offer relief. 

Addictions like this can develop very quickly, even in people who use Demerol as directed. 

Side Effects: Demerol’s Effect on the Body 

Using Demerol, even one time as directed by a doctor, can be very dangerous. However abusing this drug for longer periods can lead to significant health issues, including some that could be fatal.[1] 

Short-Term Effects 

Known Demerol side effects include respiratory depression, lightheadedness, dizziness, nausea, and sweating. Experts say these problems are common in people who use this drug recreationally, rather than to treat pain. However, some people experience heart problems (including heart attacks) from this drug.[1]

Long-Term Effects 

Using Demerol for more than 14 days can lead to fatal reactions, including comas, loss of breathing, and very low blood pressure. These episodes can look like an overdose, but they’re caused by a toxic buildup of meperidine within the body.[1]

Continued use of Demerol can lead to significant brain cell changes. You may need more Demerol to get the results that smaller doses once delivered. And you may feel sick between doses. 

Short-Term EffectsLong-Term Effects
Respiratory depressionComa
LightheadednessVery slow breathing
DizzinessSerotonin syndrome 
Nausea Drug tolerance
SweatingIncreased overdose risks 
Heart attack Withdrawal symptoms 
Source: [1]

Overdose Risks 

Opioids like Demerol are central nervous system (CNS) depressants. Take too much, and you could slow your breathing and heart rate to fatal levels. 

Opioid overdose signs include the following:[1]

  • Pale or clammy skin 
  • Muscle weakness
  • Purple- or blue-tinged fingernails or lips 
  • Vomiting 
  • Very slow breathing rates
  • Weak or slow heartbeat

If you think someone is experiencing a Demerol overdose, administer naloxone (Narcan). This medication can immediately reverse an opioid overdose, and it causes no long-term damage. 

After you administer Narcan, call 911. Tell the operator where you are and what symptoms you see. Follow instructions and stay on the phone until help arrives. 

All healthcare workers, including the pharmacist and nurse practitioner, should be aware that meperidine is no longer considered to be safer than other opiates … When prescribed, the patients require close monitoring, and the duration of prescription should not be more than a few days. Experts recommend alternate means of pain control.

Signs & Symptoms of Demerol Addiction 

Doctors rarely offer Demerol prescriptions for more than a few days. But some people develop addictions and sustain them for long periods. Understanding what that addiction looks like can help you step in and help when needed. 

Symptoms can be physical, mental, and behavioral.[4,7] 


People who abuse opioids like Demerol often seem sedated. They may slur their speech, stumble while walking, or fall often. They may neglect their appearance and appear dirty or slovenly. Some people lose weight, as they’re rarely awake long enough to make nutritious meals.[1]


Frequent episodes of sedation can lead to memory loss and confusion. The person may be unable to follow a conversation or participate in discussions. As the addiction deepens, mood swings can develop. Depression is quickly followed by euphoria, as long as the person can take another hit of drugs.[7] 


Maintaining a Demerol addiction can mean visiting multiple doctors to get new prescriptions. Or the person may form tight relationships with dealers willing to sell more doses. The person may withdraw from family, friends, and work obligations to focus on drug use.[7] 

Physical Cognitive Behavioral 
Sedation Memory loss Doctor shopping 
Slurred speech Low participation in conversations Connecting with drug dealers
Weight loss Inability to focus Poor performance at work 
Overdose episodes Mood swings Withdrawing from friends and family 
Withdrawal symptoms between doses Deep depression Social isolation 
Sources: [1,4,7]

Symptoms of Demerol Withdrawal 

With repeated use, the body becomes accustomed to Demerol. Quit abruptly, and people may develop withdrawal symptoms that last for several weeks. 

Common withdrawal symptoms of Demerol include the following:[1,7]

  • Anxiety
  • Paranoia
  • Agitation
  • Insomnia
  • Restlessness
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Runny nose
  • Discharge from eyes
  • Shortness of breath
  • Muscle aches
  • Sweating
  • Chills
  • Dry mouth
  • Increased blood pressure
  • Hallucinations

Treatment Options for Demerol Addiction 

Quitting Demerol can be life-threatening. Severe dehydration caused by nausea and vomiting can lead to organ failure. And since Demerol can lead to serotonin syndrome and seizures, it’s more dangerous than other opioids. 

Getting help for addiction is the best way to quit safely. A treatment plan might include the following elements:[7] 

Medication-Assisted Treatment (MAT)

Medication-assisted treatment (MAT) involves using therapies like buprenorphine or methadone to replace the opioids brain cells rely upon. You won’t feel high on these drugs, but you will experience fewer withdrawal symptoms and drug cravings.

Some people use MAT for withdrawal only. They start with a high dose, and a weeks-long taper allows brain cells to adjust.

Others remain on MAT indefinitely. As long as relapse risks exist, medications can provide safety and security. 

Behavioral Therapy 

While medications can be essential to recovery from OUD, they aren’t sufficient on their own. They must be used in conjunction with therapy.

Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is considered a gold standard of treatment for people with addictions. Multiple studies prove that CBT is effective for a wide variety of substance abuse issues.[5]

Some people benefit from therapy sessions with their family members, and others work best in groups made up of others in recovery. Mixing and matching approaches can help people develop a robust variety of methods to use to preserve their sobriety. 

Residential Treatment

Since Demerol can be both powerful and dangerous, most people with addictions need around-the-clock supervision during recovery. A residential treatment program allows people to move away from their triggers and surround themselves with support and clinical expertise. 

Treatment teams can manage both MAT and behavioral treatment. They can also use nutritional support, exercise, and other treatments to improve outcomes.

Demerol Addiction Frequently Asked Questions 

We’ve compiled some of the most common questions about Demerol addiction and recovery. 

How long does Demerol stay in your system?

Meperidine has a half-life of about five hours, so it should be eliminated from your system in about a day. But its metabolites have a half-life of 30 hours, so traces of one dose of Demerol could stay in your body for about a week.[6]

Is Demerol an opioid?

Yes. Demerol is a prescription painkiller in the opioid class. 

What schedule is Demerol?

Demerol is a Schedule II medication, meaning it comes with a high risk of addiction and abuse.

How strong is Demerol?

Demerol is a very strong painkiller, capable of providing short-term relief of moderate pain. 

How long does Demerol last?

Doctors typically ask their patients to use Demerol every three to four hours.[2]

Profile image for Dr. Alison Tarlow
Medically Reviewed By Dr. Alison Tarlow

Dr. Alison Tarlow is a Licensed Clinical Psychologist in the States of Florida and Pennsylvania, and a Certified Addictions Professional (CAP). She has been a practicing psychologist for over 15 years. Sh... Read More

Updated March 19, 2024
  1. Demerol. U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Published September 2010. Accessed July 26, 2023.
  2. Meperidine. U.S. National Library of Medicine. Published May 15, 2023. Accessed July 26, 2023
  3. Drug overdose deaths in the U.S. top 100,000 annually. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Published November 17, 2021. Accessed July 26, 2023.
  4. Meperidine. Yasaei R, Rosani A, Saadabadi A. Stat Pearls. Published July 11, 2022. Accessed July 26, 2023.
  5. Carroll KM, Kiluk BD. Cognitive behavioral interventions for alcohol and drug use disorders: Through the stage model and back again. Psychol Addict Behav. 2017;31(8):847-861. doi:10.1037/adb0000311
  6. Buck ML. Is Meperidine the Drug That Just Won't Die?. J Pediatr Pharmacol Ther. 2011;16(3):167-169. doi:10.5863/1551-6776-16.3.167
  7. Dydyk AM, Jain NK, Gupta M. Opioid use disorder. StatPearls. Published January 2023. Accessed July 20, 2023.
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