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Demerol Withdrawal & Detox

Demerol withdrawal symptoms, including nausea, body aches, and anxiety, typically peak within five days and resolve within a week. Medication-assisted treatment (MAT) can alleviate these symptoms, facilitating a safer detox process.

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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. 

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?

Opioid withdrawal is described in Demerol prescribing information approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Per that document, common symptoms of withdrawal from Demerol include the following:

  • Restlessness
  • Watery eyes
  • Runny nose
  • Yawning
  • Sweating
  • Chills
  • Goosebumps
  • Dilated pupils
  • Irritability
  • Anxiety
  • Backache
  • Joint pain
  • Weakness
  • Abdominal cramps
  • Insomnia
  • Nausea
  • Anorexia
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Increased blood pressure
  • Fast breathing
  • Quick heart rate

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. After four to five half-lives have passed, the drug has been effectively removed from the body. 

The half-life for Demerol is approximately two to five hours. That means your Demerol withdrawal symptoms may begin within a few hours of quitting, and they may be most intense in about 25 hours—when all the drug has been processed.

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 Phases

While every person’s experience with Demerol withdrawal and detox is different, most people experience symptoms in the following three distinct phases:

EarlyAs Demerol levels in your bloodstream drop, you begin to experience physical and psychological symptoms. They may seem mild or even tolerable at this stage, but the symptoms do tend to intensify with time. This stage usually lasts for a day or two.
LateAs the withdrawal progresses, you may develop more significant symptoms (like nausea and vomiting). This phase of recovery may be very difficult to handle without treatment and support. This stage also lasts for a day or two.
Post-acute withdrawal syndrome (PAWS)When your acute physical symptoms fade, you may begin to experience a cluster of mental health symptoms that can last for several weeks or months after quitting drugs. Typically, these symptoms are centered on your mood.

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.

Psychological Aspects of Demerol Withdrawal

We’ve discussed the physical side of Demerol withdrawal, and those signs are often the focus of attention when people quit drugs. However, many people struggle with the psychological side of quitting.

You may be preoccupied with thoughts about drugs. A part of your brain may be contemplating meeting with your dealer and purchasing substances to use. If you’re moving through Demerol withdrawal at home, it could be hard to resist these thoughts.

You may also be struck by memories of the things you’ve done when you were high or opportunities you lost. In the past, you could have self-medicated with drugs. Without them, you may struggle to deal with these emotions.

Enrolling in a treatment program can help you resist the temptation to relapse. In a program like this, you can also work with counselors and therapists to help process your feelings and learn to cope with them.

Medications for Demerol Withdrawal & Detox

Medication-assisted treatment (MAT) involves using pharmaceutical solutions to ease chemical imbalances caused by drug use. An MAT program can help you move through Demerol withdrawal safely and effectively.

The National Institute on Drug Abuse explains that there are three different types of medications that could be part of MAT for withdrawal:

  • Methadone latches to opioid receptors and eases withdrawal symptoms and cravings. It’s provided in pill and liquid form.
  • Buprenorphine loosely latches to opioid receptors and eases withdrawal symptoms and cravings. It’s provided in tablet and injection form.
  • Lofexidine can ease withdrawal symptoms when other medications haven’t helped. It’s provided as an as-needed pill.

When the withdrawal process is complete, you may continue with MAT therapies to reduce relapse risks. You could use medications listed above, or you could switch to naltrexone. This monthly injection could keep you from getting high if you relapse.

What Happens During Supervised Demerol Withdrawal & Detox?

The safest way to detox from Demerol or any opioid is under supervision in an addiction treatment program for Demerol. This can mean medical detox on an inpatient basis or medication-assisted treatment on an outpatient basis.

A typical detox program involves these steps:

  1. Assessment: Your team will ask about your drug use history, check your overall health, and explain how treatment works.
  2. Beginning of withdrawal: Some MAT options (like buprenorphine) can make you sick if you take them while Demerol is still in your body. Your team will look for early signs of withdrawal (like sweating or dilated pupils) before getting started.
  3. Medication management: If your doctor thinks this is a good approach for you, therapies like buprenorphine or methadone will begin.
  4. Ongoing monitoring: Your team will monitor your progress and change your medication plan if you’re not responding as expected.

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 May 10, 2024
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