Demerol, generically known as meperidine, is a medication given to patients to relieve moderate to severe pain. Demerol is classified as an opioid analgesic, meaning it changes how the brain recognizes pain and how the body experiences it. It is only available by prescription and should not be taken otherwise.

Demerol Addiction Risk

Demerol is a synthetic opioid drug used to treat severe acute pain. In its generic form, it is known as meperidine.

This drug works by binding to opioid receptors located in a person’s brain, body and spinal cord. This can change how pain signals are sent from the body to the brain, which is why opioids are such powerful pain relievers. When opioids bind to receptor sites, however, they can also create pleasurable or euphoric effects because an artificially high amount of dopamine is released into the brain and body. This can create a reward and reinforcement response, which can then lead to addiction.

When someone takes Demerol as prescribed and only for a short time, the risk of addiction is somewhat low. However, opioid misuse can increase the likelihood of an addiction forming and cause other dangerous side effects. Meperidine also has a black box warning that states the drug may be habit-forming, especially with long-term use. This risk can be especially high in people with a personal or family history of excessive drug or alcohol use.

Demerol addiction can be both psychological and physical in nature. Additionally, if someone takes Demerol for more than a few weeks, they may experience withdrawal symptoms if they suddenly stop using it.

How Is Demerol Used?

Demerol is available for outpatient use as a tablet or oral liquid and is available for inpatient use as an injection. Because meperidine is a relatively short-acting opioid, it can be given multiple times daily. Generally, Demerol is prescribed to be taken every three to four hours as needed for pain.

You should not adjust your Demerol dosage level or treatment schedule unless your doctor instructs you to.

Is Demerol Addictive?

As a Schedule II controlled substance, Demerol is considered highly addictive. Although it can be prescribed for a legitimate medical purpose in treating severe pain, it carries a high risk of abuse, addiction and dependence.

Signs of Demerol Addiction

Signs of Demerol misuse occur when you take doses more frequently or in higher amounts than prescribed. Many signs point towards the possibility of meperidine abuse, including long pauses between breaths, slowed breathing and abnormally constricted pupils. Other symptoms include:

  • Constant itching
  • Drowsiness
  • Changes in mood or behavior
  • Drug-seeking behaviors
  • Lightheadedness
  • Anxiety or depression
  • Developing a tolerance
  • Keeping stashes of meperidine
  • Irritability or agitation
  • Impulsiveness
  • Lying about how much meperidine is being used
  • Losing interest in the hobbies and activities once enjoyed
  • Becoming obsessed with finding and taking Demerol
  • Performing poorly at work or school
  • Acting irregularly at home
  • Suffering financial losses due to spending money on Demerol

Effects of Demerol Addiction

Demerol addiction can carry severe consequences. Short-term effects of misusing this opioid include:

  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Constipation
  • Sweating
  • Lightheadedness
  • Dizziness
  • Drowsiness
  • Pain or redness at the injection site (when injected)

Long-term abuse of Demerol may result in severe, long-lasting consequences on the brain and body, such as the following:

  • Chronic constipation
  • Sleep-disordered breathing
  • Heart attack and other cardiovascular issues
  • Falls
  • Fractures
  • Hormonal abnormalities
  • Sexual dysfunction
  • Immunosuppression
  • Addiction
Demerol Addiction Hotline

Demerol addiction can ravage an individual’s mind and body. If you or a loved one is struggling with misuse or abuse, please know that The Recovery Village has resources standing by to assist you. It’s never too late to get help. 

Your information will be kept confidential when you call our Demerol 24-hour hotline. We abide by the HIPAA Privacy Policy, meaning we will only use your information to provide you with treatment and support.

Can You Overdose on Demerol?

It is possible to overdose on Demerol. In fact, the potential is somewhat high, especially if certain risk factors exist. There were 70,630 drug overdose deaths in 2019, most related to opioids and synthetic opioids. 

Signs and Symptoms of a Demerol Overdose

The signs and symptoms of a Demerol overdose can vary depending on the amount of drug taken, a person’s tolerance and a number of other factors. Opioid overdoses follow a similar pattern because opioid drugs act on the same parts of the central nervous system. Three overarching symptoms observed in most meperidine overdose victims include:

  • Loss of consciousness: This is the most serious sign of an overdose. The victim cannot communicate what is hurting them or their feelings.
  • Slowed breathing: This symptom is referred to as hypoventilation. Respiration will be reduced or nonexistent, and the victim may require immediate resuscitation before first responders arrive. Most fatal opioid overdoses are because of respiratory depression.
  • Pinpoint pupils: The victim’s pupils become very small and do not react to stimuli like bright lights.

These three symptoms are almost always observed at the same time. Each makes up a portion of the opioid overdose triad, an overdose recognition tool. However, do not assume that each of the three symptoms will always be present. A demerol overdose can be subtle, so get the victim to a hospital at the first sign of distress.

Other signs and symptoms of a meperidine overdose may include:

  • Gurgling noises and inability to hold a basic conversation
  • Clammy, cold and sweat-drenched skin
  • Faint pulse
  • Hypotension (low blood pressure)
  • Blue-colored nails, lips and mucous membranes
  • Limpness and fatigue throughout the entire body
  • Severe drowsiness
  • Unable to stay awake, followed by snoring (apnea)
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Constipation
  • Blue lips and fingernails 
  • Abdominal cramps
  • Convulsions or muscle spasms
  • Extreme muscle weakness
  • Confusion and dizziness
  • Bradycardia (slow heart rate)
  • Convulsions (seizures)
  • Cardiac arrest

Respiratory depression is one of the most dangerous signs of Demerol overdose. If left untreated, respiratory depression can cause brain damage from the lack of oxygen — and even death. 

If you suspect that someone has overdosed on Demerol, call 911 immediately. Do not attempt to wake the person or give them anything to eat or drink. If the person is conscious, try to keep them awake and talking. You should give naloxone (Narcan) if available.

How Much Demerol Does It Take To Overdose?

The amount of Demerol that can cause an overdose varies from person to person. Typical factors like tolerance, body weight and age play significant roles in determining the quantity of Demerol needed to overdose. If Demerol is mixed with alcohol or other opioids, however, even a small amount can cause an overdose.

How Long Does Demerol Stay In Your System?

Demerol is a pain medication with a half-life of three to five hours, which is how long it takes your body to eliminate half of the drug from your system. A drug typically takes five half-lives to leave your body completely, so Demerol can stay in your system for up to 25 hours.

Demerol also has a breakdown product called normeperidine, which has a much longer half-life of up to 21 hours. Normeperidine can stay in your system for more than 100 hours.

The length of time that Demerol stays in your system can be affected by a number of factors, including:

  • Age: People over 45 typically excrete drugs more slowly than younger people.
  • Kidney and liver health: People with kidney or liver problems may have a harder time eliminating Demerol from their system.
  • Frequency of use: People who use Demerol more often may have more of the drug accumulated in their system, which can make it take longer to leave.
  • Other substances: Other drugs, alcohol and certain foods and drinks can interact with Demerol and make it stay in your system longer.

If you are concerned about how long Demerol will stay in your system, please consult your doctor or a medical professional.

Demerol Withdrawal and Detox

Abruptly stopping Demerol can lead to withdrawal symptoms, especially if an individual has misused the drug or has developed an addiction to Demerol. Demerol withdrawal symptoms can include:

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

Doctors will gradually lower a patient’s Demerol dose to avoid withdrawal symptoms. The taper gives the body time to adjust. If you are taking Demerol, do not stop taking it without talking to your doctor. They can help you taper off the medication safely and avoid withdrawal symptoms.

Demerol Withdrawal Timeline

The symptoms of Demerol withdrawal typically start within 12 hours of the last dose, peak within 24–48 hours and subside within a week. However, in some cases, symptoms may last longer. Every individual’s unique physiology will determine how long withdrawal symptoms last. 

Demerol Detox

The withdrawal process for Demerol can be very difficult to manage. Seeking medical help is recommended for dealing with the withdrawal and detox process. Treatment centers like The Recovery Village’s locations will help individuals manage detox with medication, therapy and support. 

Treatment for Demerol Addiction

If you suspect someone in your life is struggling with a Demerol addiction, seeking professional help and support is important. Demerol addiction is a serious problem, but it is treatable. Here are some signs that someone may be struggling with a Demerol addiction:

  • Obsession with finding and taking Demerol: The person may constantly think about Demerol and how to get more. They may be willing to lie, cheat or steal to get the drug.
  • Loss of interest in hobbies or activities: The person may no longer enjoy the activities they used to. They may spend more time alone and withdraw from friends and family.
  • Poor performance at school or work: The person may start to perform poorly at school or work. They may miss classes or appointments, or they may make careless mistakes.
  • Financial problems: The person may start to spend more money on Demerol. They may borrow money from friends or family, or they may start to sell possessions to get money to buy the drug.

If you or a loved one are struggling with Demerol addiction, The Recovery Village has many options to help you regain control and enjoy life again without Demerol.

Demerol Medical Detox

If you do not wish to continue taking Demerol, schedule a meeting with your doctor to discuss alternatives for treating your pain. Do not abruptly stop taking Demerol. Suddenly stopping a Demerol treatment plan greatly increases the risk of unwanted withdrawal symptoms. In fact, you should never adjust your Demerol dosage levels or treatment schedule without explicit instruction from your doctor.

Patients who no longer want to take this medication will typically be given a lowered dose gradually over time by their doctor. This strategy of tapering off the medication helps patients avoid severe withdrawal.

Demerol Addiction Treatment

People who have developed a Demerol addiction can greatly benefit from the rehabilitation programs offered by The Recovery Village. Regardless of whether a patient begins treatment with inpatient or outpatient rehab, they will first be required to detox from Demerol safely. Once all the medication is completely cleansed from the patient’s system, they will participate in individual and group counseling sessions hosted by The Recovery Village. Patients will also have the opportunity to enjoy recreational therapy programs.

Get Help Today for Demerol Addiction

If you or someone you love is struggling with Demerol addiction or another substance use disorder, do not hesitate to seek the help you need. The Recovery Village has many resources and programs for patients looking to live a happier, substance-free life.

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Editor – Theresa Valenzky
Theresa Valenzky graduated from the University of Akron with a Bachelor of Arts in News/Mass Media Communication and a certificate in psychology. She is passionate about providing genuine information to encourage and guide healing in all aspects of life. Read more
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Medically Reviewed By – Dr. Jessica Pyhtila, PharmD
Dr. Jessica Pyhtila is a Clinical Pharmacy Specialist based in Baltimore, Maryland with practice sites in inpatient palliative care and outpatient primary care at the Department of Veteran Affairs. Read more


How Can I Tell if Someone Is Misusing Demerol?

If you begin to think someone in your life is misusing Demerol, seek professional help as soon as possible.

Symptoms which may point to Demerol misuse:

  • Losing interest in the hobbies and activities once enjoyed
  • Becoming obsessed with finding and taking Demerol
  • Performing poorly at work or school
  • Acting irregularly at home
  • Suffering financial losses due to spending money on Demerol.
Is Demerol Addictive?

Patients who are taking Demerol responsibly and exactly as directed by their doctor are still at risk of developing a physical dependence or psychological addiction. This is mainly due to Demerol’s classification as an opioid analgesic; opioids are powerful pain-relievers, but they quickly build a tolerance in most patients.

What Are Common Demerol Withdrawal Symptoms?

Common withdrawal symptoms of Demerol include anxiety, paranoid thinking, agitation, insomnia, restlessness, nausea, vomiting, runny nose, runny eyes, shortness of breath, muscle aches, sweating, chills, dry mouth, increased blood pressure, hallucinations, and more. Remember, do not stop taking Demerol without assistance from your doctor as your risk for experiencing these side effects will increase.

What Are Possible Side Effects of Demerol?

Taking Demerol may produce some common, non-serious side effects at the beginning of treatment. These side effects include nausea, vomiting, constipation, sweating, lightheadedness, dizziness, drowsiness, and pain or redness at the injection site. Be sure to notify your doctor if these side effects persist or worsen over time. Usually, the side effects will subside as the body adjusts to the medication.

Experiencing serious side effects from a Demerol treatment plan is uncommon. These side effects would include mood changes, agitation, confusion, hallucinations, stomach or abdominal pain, difficulty urinating, slow or irregular heartbeat, tremors, vision changes, loss of appetite, unusual tiredness, and weight loss. You should seek medical attention as soon as possible if you experience severe Demerol side effects such as fainting, seizures, slow or shallow breathing, severe drowsiness, and difficulty waking from sleep.

What Is Demerol?

Demerol is a medication given to patients to relieve moderate to severe pain. It is only available by prescription and should not be taken otherwise. Demerol is classified as an opioid analgesic, meaning it changes how the brain recognizes pain and how the body experiences it.

Sources “Meperidine Monograph for Professionals“>Meperidi[…]Professionals.” April 19, 2023. Accessed August 14, 2023.

American Society of Addiction Medicine. “National Practice Guideline for the Treatment of Opioid Use Disorder“>National[…] Use Disorder.” December 18, 2019. Accessed August 14, 2023.

Baldini, AnGee; Von Korff, Michael; Lin, Elizabeth H. B. “A Review of Potential Adverse Effects of Long-Term Opioid Therapy: A Practitioner’s Guide“>A Review[…]ner’s Guide.” The Primary Care Companion for CNS Disorders, 2012. Accessed August 14, 2023.

Hallare, Jericho; Gerriets, Valerie. “Half Life“>Half Life.” StatPearls, June 23, 2022. Accessed August 14, 2023.

Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. “Preventing, Recognizing, and Treating Opioid Overdose“>Preventi[…]ioid Overdose.” March 21, 2023. Accessed August 14, 2023.

Medical Disclaimer

The Recovery Village aims to improve the quality of life for people struggling with substance use or mental health disorder with fact-based content about the nature of behavioral health conditions, treatment options and their related outcomes. We publish material that is researched, cited, edited and reviewed by licensed medical professionals. The information we provide is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It should not be used in place of the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare providers.