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Demerol Withdrawal & Detox

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Demerol withdrawal can be intense, accompanied by uncomfortable symptoms, such as nausea, vomiting, body aches, and anxiety. The detox process is generally completed within a week, with the worst symptoms subsiding within about five days. 

Many people in recovery from opioid use disorder avoid much of the withdrawal process via medication-assisted treatment (MAT). Medications like buprenorphine can control opioid withdrawal symptoms and cravings.

Demerol Abuse Potential

Demerol is the brand name for the drug meperidine hydrochloride, which is a narcotic analgesic that is primarily used to treat pain. The drug acts on opioid receptors in the central nervous system, which can interrupt the transmission of signals between the body and brain and create the perception that a particular area of the body that was once in pain no longer is so.

This medication can create a powerful euphoric effect, making it susceptible to abuse, tolerance, dependence, and addiction. If you discontinue Demerol after a period of consistent use, you’ll likely experience withdrawal.

What Causes Withdrawal From Demerol?

Withdrawal occurs when you discontinue the use of Demerol or any other opioid after prolonged use. Demerol is an incredibly strong opioid that is only prescribed for severe pain. Dependence on it can form quickly, meaning the brain and body are accustomed to its presence.

Once dependence is present, the brain has become dependent on Demerol to achieve its new sense of balance. A perpetual presence of a drug that alters nerve signal transmission ultimately warrants that adaptations are made in the production and maintenance of cells in the central nervous system. When the drug is suddenly removed, adverse physical and emotional symptoms can result as the body strives to achieve homeostasis once again. 

What Are the Common Symptoms of Demerol Withdrawal?

Common symptoms of withdrawal from Demerol include the following:

  • Excessive perspiration
  • Insomnia
  • Vomiting
  • Aches and pains in the body
  • Chills
  • Fatigue and yawning
  • Nausea
  • Anxiety
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Elevated blood pressure and heart rate
  • Agitation
  • Low affect

Demerol abuse can also lead to a range of side effects that vary from mild to severe. Mild side effects can include headaches, lightheadedness, constipation, and stomach pain. 

More severe side effects include rapid heartbeat, muscle spasming, seizures, nightmares and hallucinations, muscle stiffness, and shakiness of the hands. If you see any of these signs, call 911 immediately. 

Is Demerol Withdrawal Dangerous?

Opioid withdrawal can be life-threatening in some cases, primarily due to dehydration from excessive vomiting and diarrhea. 

The risk for relapse is also very high during withdrawal. If an individual relapses during this time, overdose is possible, and this can be fatal. 

Since Demerol is such a potent opioid, it’s likely that anyone abusing it has a severe opioid use disorder (OUD). As a result, medical detox (often aided with medication-assisted treatment) is recommended for withdrawal.

What Factors Determine the Intensity of Withdrawal Symptoms?

Many factors can influence the intensity of withdrawal symptoms, such as your genetic background, body size, and age. These are two factors that affect everyone:

  • Length of time used: As a general rule, symptoms of withdrawal will be more severe if you have taken Demerol or other opioids for a longer period of time. Over time, there will have been a greater opportunity for Demerol to accumulate in your system and will, thus, require more time to eliminate it. Symptoms will also be more intense. 
  • How much was taken: Similarly, symptoms of withdrawal will likely be more severe if you have taken larger amounts of Demerol on a regular basis. Consumption of larger doses will mean that more has accumulated in your system as well, and eliminating toxic levels of the drug will induce stronger symptoms. 

How Long Does Withdrawal Last?

The period of withdrawal from opioids depends on the drug’s half-life, or the period of time needed for its concentration to reduce by half. The half-life for Demerol is approximately two to five hours, and the drug can remain in the body for up to 40 hours. The metabolite of Demerol, normeperidine, can remain in the body for up to 100 hours. 

Additionally, withdrawal symptoms may last longer if you are older, larger in body size, female, and have a personal history of substance abuse or addiction. The use of other substances alongside Demerol can also complicate the withdrawal process.

In most cases, the most severe symptoms of withdrawal last up to a week. Many people avoid intense withdrawal symptoms via MAT.

Demerol Withdrawal Timeline

The withdrawal timeline following discontinuation of Demerol will vary somewhat for each individual. However, this is a common timeline:

  • Day 1: During the first 24 hours of withdrawal, you will likely begin to experience symptoms that are similar to the flu, such as body aches and nausea. You may also feel anxious, irritable, and fatigued. 
  • Days 2–5: During this period, symptoms will begin to peak. Your risk for relapse is high, so it’s imperative to get support during this time.  
  • Days 6 and beyond: Symptoms will begin to subside during this time, though you may have cravings for opioids. Coping with triggers for relapse will continue to be challenging. 

Professional treatment is the best way to ensure you safely and successfully make it through Demerol withdrawal.

How to Safely Detox From Demerol

The safest way to detox from Demerol or any opioid is under supervision in an addiction treatment program. This can mean medical detox on an inpatient basis or medication-assisted treatment on an outpatient basis. During this time, you’ll be participating in therapy and other treatments to address your OUD.

Without medical support and professional guidance, your risk of relapse is highest during Demerol withdrawal. Don’t risk your health and your recovery by attempting an at-home detox on your own. Get help to ensure you get through Demerol withdrawal safely and can begin your road to long-term recovery.

Updated August 23, 2023
Resources
  1. Demerol. (September 2010). U.S. Food and Drug Administration.
  2. Is Meperidine the Drug That Just Won’t Die? (July-September 2011). The Journal of Pediatric Pharmacology and Therapeutics.
  3. Meperidine. (July 2022). StatPearls.
  4. Withdrawal Management. (2009). Clinical Guidelines for Withdrawal Management and Treatment of Drug Dependence in Closed Settings.
  5. Yes, People Can Die From Opiate Withdrawal. (August 2016). Addiction.
  6. Medication-Assisted Treatment for Opioid Use Disorder in a Rural Family Medicine Practice. (January–December 2020). Journal of Primary Care & Community Health.
  7. Meperidine: A Continuing Problem. (July 2013). Substance Abuse: Research and Treatment.
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