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Demerol Abuse Symptoms

Demerol abuse symptoms include constipation, loss of appetite, and mood swings, with addiction signs like preoccupation with use and strained relationships. Abuse risks include mental, emotional, and physical harm, leading to potential overdose.

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Demerol abuse symptoms include digestive issues like constipation, appetite loss, and mood swings. Signs of addiction to the drug include a preoccupation with using it, a loss of interest in previously enjoyed activities, and a strain on personal and professional relationships.

Why Is Demerol Used?

Demerol is the brand name for the drug meperidine, which is a narcotic that is used to treat mild to moderate pain. The medication is commonly prescribed when other pain medications are no longer effective or tolerated by a patient. 

Demerol is a fast-acting medication that works by interrupting nerve signal transmission between the brain and body.[1] The euphoric effect caused by ingesting Demerol makes the drug susceptible to abuse. 

Demerol is generally given via injection in a medical setting, such as a hospital or clinic. In some cases, it may be given for at-home use, and patients will be instructed on how to administer the medication themselves.

Once Demerol is used in any way other than exactly as prescribed, use has crossed over into abuse. If you use Demerol without a valid prescription or in a dose larger than prescribed, this is abuse and comes with many risks.

What Are the Most Common Signs & Symptoms of Demerol Abuse?

Signs of Demerol abuse include the following:[4]

  • Visiting different doctors seeking multiple prescriptions for Demerol
  • Purchasing Demerol illegally or stealing the medication from someone with a valid prescription
  • Neglecting personal responsibilities based on frequent Demerol abuse or to seek out the medication
  • Deceiving friends, loved ones, or colleagues about Demerol use and abuse
  • An obsession with using the drug
  • Financial problems that arise out of illegally obtaining Demerol and other opioids

In addition to the euphoric clinical effect of the drug, abuse of Demerol can lead to symptoms like these:[2]

  • Loss of appetite
  • Dry mouth
  • Constipation
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Mood swings
  • Agitation and anger
  • Loss of interest in previously enjoyable activities
  • Sleep disturbances
  • Dizziness
  • Anxiety
  • Depression

What Are the Dangers of Demerol?

When taken in accordance with a valid prescription, Demerol is not considered dangerous, and it is usually only associated with mild side effects. However, when abused, Demerol can present serious mental, emotional, and physical risks.[2]

Because of its high potential for abuse, Demerol is not usually prescribed for long-term use.

Mental & Emotional Effects

Mental and emotional effects of Demerol abuse include the following:[4]

  • Depression
  • Loss of motivation 
  • Reduced performance at school or work
  • Loss of employment
  • Impaired social relationships
  • Financial problems
  • Suicidal ideation

Physical Effects

Physical risks associated with Demerol abuse include the following:[1,2]

  • Muscle atrophy and weakness
  • Organ damage
  • Comorbidities like hypertension and cardiovascular disease
  • Insomnia
  • Respiratory depression, potentially leading to overdose and death
  • Digestive system issues, such as chronic constipation
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Lightheadedness
  • Low blood pressure
  • Heart issues

Risks With Long-Term Use

As with all opioids, the risks associated with Demerol compound with long-term use. Since the drug isn’t recommended for long-term use due to its addiction potential, it’s likely that any sustained use occurs outside of a hospital or medical setting and is abuse of the drug.

Dependence will quickly form with continued use, making it very difficult to stop abusing the drug without professional help. Each instance of abuse carries the risk of overdose, which can be fatal. 

Virtually every body system sustains damage from chronic abuse, including the heart, lungs, kidneys, and brain.[7-9] Long-term use of opioids like Demerol is also linked to an increased risk of cancer.[10] 

Demerol Withdrawal Symptoms

Since physical dependence can form so quickly with opioids like Demerol, withdrawal will begin once use stops. This adaptive state can induce a range of adverse mental, emotional, and physical symptoms, such as these:

  • Disproportionate perspiration
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Aches and pains
  • Diarrhea
  • Diminished appetite
  • Elevated heart rate
  • Respiratory problems

In some cases, withdrawal symptoms can be severe, and the risk for relapse is incredibly high. A person will often take more Demerol or any opioid just to make withdrawal go away. This often deepens a cycle of abuse, making it very difficult for a person to successfully begin recovery.

Withdrawal symptoms can differ in severity and duration based on a range of factors, such as how much Demerol was usually taken and how long the drug has been consumed. In general, symptoms will be more severe and last longer with higher dosages and durations of consumption. 

While highly variable between each individual, withdrawal symptoms will likely occur within the first 24 hours of stopping use and reach their peak within one to two days. Most symptoms resolve within about a week.

Because of the intensity of Demerol withdrawal, medication-assisted treatment (MAT) is the recommended course of treatment. Medications like methadone or buprenorphine allow people to largely avoid the discomfort of withdrawal and greatly reduce their likelihood of relapse. 

Demerol Overdose

It is possible to overdose on Demerol, which can be fatal. This is considered a medical emergency, as opioid overdose can be reversed with prompt treatment.

If Demerol overdose is suspected, take these steps:[11]

  1. Call 911. Give the operator your location and any details you know about the person, including what they potentially took and in what dose.
  2. Administer naloxone (Narcan), if available. This can immediately reverse an opioid overdose, and there is no harm in giving it if an opioid overdose hasn’t occurred. Put the tip of the applicator into the person’s nose and press down on the plunger.
  3. Assess the situation. If the person doesn’t recover after one dose of naloxone, administer a second dose.
  4. Stay on the line with the emergency operator, and follow any further instructions they have. They may advise you to begin CPR if the person doesn’t have a pulse. 

If you suspect Demerol abuse in a loved one, talk to them about your concerns. Get them into addiction treatment for Demerol before they face an overdose.

Updated May 10, 2024
  1. Demerol. (September 2010). U.S. Food and Drug Administration.
  2. Meperidine. (July 2022). StatPearls.
  3. Is Meperidine the Drug That Just Won't Die? (July–September 2011). The Journal of Pediatric Pharmacology and Therapeutics.
  4. Opioid Use Disorder. (April 2023). StatPearls.
  5. Strategies to Identify Patient Risks of Prescription Opioid Addiction When Initiating Opioids for Pain: A Systematic Review. (May 2019). JAMA Network Open.
  6. Meperidine: A Continuing Problem. (July 2013). Substance Abuse: Research and Treatment.
  7. What Do We Know About Opioids and the Kidney? (January 2017). International Journal of Molecular Sciences.
  8. Opioid Use and Its Relationship to Cardiovascular Disease and Brain Health: A Presidential Advisory From the American Heart Association. (August 2021). Circulation.
  9. Opioid Use Disorder and the Brain: A Clinical Perspective. (July 2021). Addiction.
  10. Chronic Opioid Use and Risk of Cancer in Patients With Chronic Noncancer Pain: A Nationwide Historical Cohort Study. (October 2020). American Association for Cancer Research.
  11. Naloxone. (April 2023). StatPearls.
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