- What Is Demerol?
- How Does Demerol Work?
- Is Demerol Addictive?
- Statistical Overview of Prevalence of Abuse
- The History of Demerol
- Dosage and Methods of Use
- Physical and Neurological Effects of Demerol
- Common Demerol Combinations
- Negative Health Consequences
- Signs & Symptoms of Demerol Addiction
- Other Abuse Signs
- Key Sources
- Medical Disclaimer
Demerol is a prescription opioid-based medication that is used to treat pain related to surgeries, injuries, and other medical procedures. Primarily used in hospitals and other medical settings, Demerol helps with severe to moderate pain and is administered in pill or liquid form.
However, like most opioids, Demerol is very addictive and poses a high risk for abuse. Individuals can quickly develop a tolerance to Demerol, which often results in uncomfortable withdrawal symptoms when use of the drug is stopped.
However, for those who become addicted to Demerol, there is ample hope for recovery. Numerous treatment options are available, allowing individuals to restore their health and lead new lives free from addiction.
What Is Demerol?
Demerol is the brand name for meperidine, an opioid painkiller that is used to treat moderate to severe pain. Known as an opioid analgesic, Demerol binds to opioid receptors inside the body and produces similar effects to morphine and oxycodone. This medication is primarily used in a hospital setting for post-operative recovery; however, it can also be used to put people to sleep before surgery.
While Demerol is less potent than morphine, it is short acting and poses a high risk of abuse. Classed as a Schedule II Controlled Narcotic, Demerol can only be obtained with a prescription.
Some of the common street names for Demerol include:
- Pain Killer
How Does Demerol Work?
Like other opioid pain medications, Demerol works by acting on the body’s natural opioid receptors. Not only does this medication prevent pain, but it also lowers the stress reactions in the body by slowing down functions in the central nervous system, such as respiration, heart rate, and blood pressure. As well as its pain-relieving properties, Demerol also increases serotonin (feel-good hormones), causing a person to experience a rush of euphoria. This combination of pain relief, relaxation, and euphoria contributes to its addictiveness.
Is Demerol Addictive?
Opioids such as Demerol are known for being addictive due to their strong effects and potential for tolerance. This increase in tolerance causes a person to take higher doses of the drug, leading to abuse behaviors such as changing the normal route of administration. Crushing pills and then snorting them, for example, can increase the drug’s intensity. This rise in tolerance then leads to physical dependence on the drug, as well as strong withdrawal symptoms if the person stops taking it.
Aside from tolerance, Demerol is also addictive because of how it affects the body. People can become dependent on its euphoric and relaxing effects, even if they no longer need the drug for pain relief. Psychologically, Demerol can also become addictive if a person uses the drug for emotional reasons or if they find it difficult to feel normal without it. Many individuals experience anxiety or depression if they stop taking Demerol and become psychologically dependent.
Demerol Addiction vs. Dependence
When it comes to drug abuse, it’s also worth noting that there is a slight difference between dependence and addiction. Dependence, for example, is a state of adaptation in the body that develops after repeated use of the drug. In this state, a person isn’t mentally obsessed or attached to the drug. However, if the drug is discontinued abruptly, withdrawal symptoms can occur and may require medical assistance to taper off.
Addiction, on the other hand, is considered a chronic, primary disease that is marked by compulsive use, cravings, and continued use despite any negative consequences. Therefore, if a person is addicted to Demerol, they will be obsessed with taking it and will usually take more of it than prescribed. People who have an addiction feel unable to function normally without the drug and will go to any lengths to keep taking it.
Statistical Overview of Prevalence of Abuse
- Between 2004 and 2008, emergency room visits caused by Demerol use increased by 111%.
- In 2019, nearly 50,000 people in the U.S. died from opioid-related overdoses. Opioid overdoses also quadrupled between 1999 and 2007.
- In 2010, 210 million opioid prescriptions were dispensed by U.S. pharmacies.
- It is estimated that between 8% and 12% of people who use an opioid for chronic pain end up developing an opioid use disorder.
- More than 2 million people in the U.S. abuse opioid painkillers like Demerol each year.
- The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) estimates that the economic burden of prescription opioid misuse is around $78.5 billion a year. This includes the costs of lost productivity, healthcare, addiction treatment, and criminal justice involvement.
The History of Demerol
Demerol (known previously as meperidine or pethidine) was first synthesized in 1938 by a German chemist named Otto Eisleb. It was later patented and approved for medical use in 1943. Recognized for its analgesic properties, Demerol was thought to be safer and have a lower risk of addiction than morphine.
However, over time it became apparent that this was not the case and Demerol was considered to carry an equal risk of addiction. For most of the 20th century, Demerol was the main opioid of choice for doctors, with over 60% of physicians prescribing the drug for acute pain in 1975. Demerol prescriptions have declined over the years, especially with the arrival of newer medications and opioid types.
Dosage and Methods of Use
Demerol comes in tablet or liquid form. The tablets are white and are available in 50 mg or 100 mg dosages.
The liquid can be taken by mouth as a syrup or it can be injected; however, injections are only usually done by medical professionals. The liquid formats are usually available in 25 mg, 50 mg, 75 mg, and 100 mg solutions.
Physical and Neurological Effects of Demerol
Demerol influences brain chemicals and receptors that are responsible for pain, mood, and appetite. Some of the initial effects that a person may experience are similar to other opioids, and include:
Potential Side Effects
Demerol can also cause uncomfortable side effects, especially if it’s abused or used in excess. These include:
- Respiratory arrest or depression
- Loss of appetite
- Dry mouth
- Mental clouding
- Cardiac issues (heart attack, chest pain [angina], rapid or slow heart rate, arrhythmias, palpitations)
- Low blood pressure
- Faintness or weakness
- Hives or itching
- Heavy sedation
- Serotonin syndrome (if used in high doses or for extended periods)
Common Demerol Combinations
While Demerol is primarily prescribed for medicinal purposes, some people abuse the drug to get high. It is also combined with other substances to maximize the effects. Some of the most frequent combinations include:
Alcohol and opioids are a popular but dangerous combination. While alcohol can increase the feelings of euphoria, both drugs are nervous system depressants. This means that taking alcohol and Demerol together can lead to more pronounced effects. For example, both drugs cause sedation and lead to slowed breathing. This means a person may take in too little oxygen, leading to the possibility of overdoses, coma, and seizures.
Some of the negative effects that can occur by combining alcohol and Demerol include:
- Slowed heartbeat
- Mood changes
- Severe drowsiness
- Weak, shallow breathing
- Loss of consciousness
- Loose, floppy muscles
Like alcohol, benzodiazepines such as Xanax also have an increased narcotic effect on the nervous system. This combination can lead to over-sedation and dangerously slow breathing. Therefore, individuals who abuse these drugs are putting themselves at risk for seizures, coma, or respiratory failure. In general, combining Demerol with benzodiazepines increases the risk of cardiac arrest, extreme sedation, respiratory failure, coma, seizure, overdose, and even death.
Stimulants like cocaine or Adderall, on the other hand, have an opposing effect on the nervous system. While Demerol sedates a person, stimulants wake them up. While this may sound less harmless, the opposing effects in the body can lead to dangerous consequences. Also, both drugs can cancel each other out, masking the effects and making a person think they are soberer than they are. This combination — known often as “speedballing” — can lead to toxic overdoses.
Negative Health Consequences
Using Demerol long term can lead to damaging effects on a person’s health. Below are some of the potential consequences:
- Difficult breathing
- Seizures or stroke
- Heart attack
- Liver problems
People who abuse opioids are also at a high risk of overdose. Some of the key signs and symptoms to watch out for include:
- Blue lips or fingernails
- Breathing issues
- Extreme drowsiness
- Stupor (a state of near unconsciousness)
- Weak or limp muscles
- Cold, clammy skin
- Muscle twitches
- Cardiac arrest
- Nausea and vomiting
Signs & Symptoms of Demerol Addiction
Demerol can be physically and psychologically addicting, especially if it is used for sustained periods. The signs and symptoms of addiction do vary from person to person, depending on how much they take and how long they’ve used it for. However, there are key signs to watch out for.
Physical Signs of Addiction
Individuals who regularly take Demerol for long periods can exhibit physical signs of addiction, such as:
- Constant fatigue
- “Nodding off” frequently
- Profuse sweating
- Slowed breathing
- Constant itching
- Unusual sleeping patterns
- A noticeable state of relaxation and calmness
Sudden changes in behavior can be clear indicators of a problem. Some of the behavioral signs of Demerol addiction also apply to other drug dependencies, and include:
- Appearing in a daze.
- Running out of prescriptions early.
- Forging prescriptions.
- Faking symptoms to get Demerol
- Taking other people’s prescriptions
- Stashing Demerol around the home, workplace, or car.
- Hiding or lying about Demerol
- Continuing to use Demerol despite negative side effects.
- Isolation from work, family, and social life.
- Loss of interest in activities or hobbies.
- Insomnia or over-sleeping.
- Worsened performance at school or work.
- Suspicious behavior, such as sneaking around.
- Abusing other substances (“poly-substance use”).
Other Abuse Signs
Aside from the signs above, there are other identifying behaviors to watch out for if you suspect someone has a Demerol addiction.
Doctor shopping is a common behavior exhibited by people who abuse prescription drugs. Because doctors only prescribe a limited amount of Demerol, a person who is addicted will try to visit multiple doctors and gain several prescriptions at once. Doctor shopping is often a more extreme sign of prescription drug addiction as the person is going to great lengths to acquire the substance. Individuals also tend to travel great distances to new pharmacies so that they remain undetected.
Another common symptom of people who are addicted to drugs is mood swings. While different drugs produce different effects when they’re abused, people who are struggling with opioid addiction can often suffer from mood swings. This can be due to the way that the drugs affect the neurotransmitters responsible for mood, and it can also be due to a person’s feelings of guilt and shame about their drug use. If you or someone you know is having mood swings (which are not normally part of their personality), then it may be a sign of ongoing addiction.
Financial problems are another hallmark trait of people who are suffering from addiction. While some drugs are cheaper than others, Demerol is only available by prescription, which means the cost can add up. Individuals may exhibit signs such as not being able to buy food, frequently running out of money, and being unable to afford their rent and bills. Also, long-term drug use can lead to job losses or an inability to acquire a new one, which can create a downward spiral of substance abuse, debts, and financial problems.
If you or a loved one are struggling with Demerol abuse or addiction, you are not alone. Treatment and support are readily available. Contact the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) National Helpline at 1-800-662-4357 for information on support and treatment.
You can also find a list of treatment centers near you on our website to help get you on the path to recovery.
Everyday Health. (2020). Demerol (Meperidine (Oral/Injection)). Everydayhealth.com. https://www.everydayhealth.com/drugs/demerol.
National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA). (2021). Opioid Overdose Crisis. DrugAbuse.gov. https://www.drugabuse.gov/drug-topics/opioids/opioid-overdose-crisis.
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