Opioid painkillers like meperidine can lead to abuse, dependence and addiction. Learn more about the potential risks involved with this medication.

Article at a Glance:

  • Meperidine can be a highly addictive medication, especially with long-term use.
  • Meperidine abuse is often associated with various symptoms, including long pauses between breaths, slowed breathing and abnormally constricted pupils.
  • Opioid withdrawal isn’t typically deadly, but it is uncomfortable and can be difficult to manage.

Meperidine Addiction Risk

Meperidine, the generic form of Demerol, is a synthetic opioid drug used to treat severe acute pain. Meperidine works by binding to opioid receptors located through 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 meperidine 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.

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

Symptoms of Meperidine Abuse

Meperidine is a controlled substance in the U.S. As a result, misusing it not only increases the risk of negative side effects — it can also be illegal.

Symptoms of meperidine misuse occur when you take doses more frequently or in higher amounts than prescribed. There are various signs that 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

Meperidine Long-Term Effects

Over time, meperidine use can lead to serious side effects. When the brain is repeatedly exposed to an opioid like meperidine, the drug changes the brain’s structure, wiring and function. People who have been taking opioids for a long time can have imbalances in their neurons and hormones. Some studies have also shown a decline in the brain’s white matter due to long-term opioid use. This can lead to problems with thinking, behavior and decision-making.

Damage to organs and systems throughout the body can start to occur, especially when they don’t receive the oxygen they need due to slowdowns in the central nervous system. Complications from chronic constipation can occur, and the longer someone uses meperidine, the more likely they are to develop a physical dependence.

What Are Common Meperidine Withdrawal Symptoms?

Opioids can also lead to the formation of dependence. Due to how opioids interact with the brain and certain chemicals, a person may become dependent on the drug’s effects. This is because the brain alters its own functionality in response to the effects of the opioid drug.

If someone is dependent on meperidine and stops using it suddenly, they’re likely to experience withdrawal symptoms. Withdrawal symptoms can occur even if someone is using this medication exactly as prescribed.

Common meperidine withdrawal symptoms can include:

  • Anxiety
  • Restlessness
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Runny nose
  • Aches and pains
  • Flu-like symptoms
  • Agitation
  • Sweating
  • Chills
  • Changes in blood pressure
  • Tremors
  • Strong drug cravings

Meperidine Withdrawal Timeline and Symptom Duration

Opioid withdrawal isn’t typically deadly, but it is uncomfortable and can be difficult to manage. The meperidine withdrawal timeline can vary depending on certain factors, including:

  • Length of drug use
  • The dosages that were regularly used
  • Use of other substances

Generally, symptoms will start anywhere from 12 hours to two days after the last meperidine dose. During the first one to two days after stopping meperidine, a person may experience nausea, vomiting, restlessness and some tremors. Withdrawal symptoms will usually continue during days three to four and then peak within the first week. For most people, symptoms will subside after one to two weeks. However, some people may experience ongoing symptoms, particularly psychological symptoms like anxiety and depression.

Managing Symptoms of Meperidine Withdrawal

Before stopping meperidine, it’s important to seek guidance from a medical professional to make the withdrawal process more comfortable and reduce the risk of complications. To help ease withdrawal symptoms, most physicians will recommend that patients gradually taper down their drug dosage instead of stopping suddenly, which is known as going “cold turkey.” It’s important not to taper a dose without medical guidance, as doing so can lead to severe symptoms.

Certain prescription or over-the-counter medications may be taken to help relieve withdrawal symptoms. For people who have been taking opioids for a long time or who are more likely to have severe withdrawal symptoms, a medically supervised detox may be the best option. A medically supervised detox provides around-the-clock care and supervision. This kind of setting increases a person’s chances of successfully detoxing from meperidine, allowing them to begin addiction treatment afterward.

Meperidine Medications

With some drugs, there are FDA-approved medications that can be provided during detox. Opioid withdrawal drugs include methadone, buprenorphine and naltrexone. Methadone and buprenorphine can help reduce withdrawal symptoms and cravings because they act as milder opioids. However, there is still some risk of addiction and dependence with these drugs. Naltrexone is an opiate antagonist, meaning it blocks the effects of opioids and can reduce cravings. Along with FDA-approved opioid withdrawal drugs, other medicines may be given as needed. Clonidine is a drug often used to ease a variety of withdrawal symptoms during detox, and others are available as well.

Treatment Options for Meperidine Addiction Symptoms

Certain symptoms can be used to diagnose addiction, and addictions can be characterized as mild, moderate or severe. If someone is addicted to meperidine, they will likely require professional treatment.

Treatment options can vary based on the type of program, how long it lasts and the specific therapies and approaches used. The ultimate goal of any meperidine addiction treatment program is to help people stop using drugs and productively return to their daily lives. General addiction treatment options include medical detox followed by inpatient or outpatient treatment.

Choosing a Meperidine Rehab Center

When choosing a meperidine rehab center, everyone is going to have their own preferences and priorities. Some things to think about that can guide the decision include:

  • Does the program have a medical detox?
  • How severe is the addiction? Did it just begin or is it a long-term, ongoing addiction?
  • Has the person tried other types of treatment previously?
  • Can the person take time away from school or work to attend treatment?
  • How comfortable is the person with leaving their home and potentially their state?
  • Would a supportive, supervised environment work well for the person?
  • What kind of support system does the person have at home?
  • Is dual diagnosis treatment available for mental health disorders that occur alongside the addiction?

If you or someone you love is struggling with an addiction to meperidine or other opioids, The Recovery Village is here to help. Contact us today to take the first step toward a healthier, drug-free future.

Jonathan Strum
Editor – Jonathan Strum
Jonathan Strum graduated from the University of Nebraska Omaha with a Bachelor's in Communication in 2017 and has been writing professionally ever since. Read more
Heena Joshi
Medically Reviewed By – Heena Joshi, PharmD
Dr. Joshi earned her Bachelor of Science in Physiology and Neurobiology from the University of Maryland. She went on to earn her Doctorate in Pharmacy from The Ohio State University. Read more

FAQs About Meperidine


What is meperidine?

Meperidine is a generic opioid drug, most commonly known by the brand name Demerol. It is a synthetic opioid that is similar to morphine, and it was first synthesized in the late 1930s. Meperidine is used for the treatment of moderate-to-severe pain, and it’s sometimes used to put people to sleep before a procedure or for pain relief following childbirth. As an opioid analgesic, meperidine binds to certain opioid receptor sites throughout the body of the patient. This changes how the brain and the nervous system send pain signals and respond to pain. Meperidine is available as a tablet and a syrup, and it’s taken as needed. Some of the side effects of meperidine can include nausea, vomiting, constipation, dry mouth, sweating and changes in vision. Severe side effects may occur as well, including slow or labored breathing.

What does meperidine look like?

Meperidine is the active ingredient in the brand-name drug Demerol, which is frequently given in tablet form. A Demerol tablet is usually small, white and scored. Depending on the dosage and the manufacturer, it may have different markings and logo imprints. It’s usually given as either a 50 mg or 100 mg dosage. There are also meperidine injection solutions available in dosages of 25 mg, 50 mg, 75 mg and 100 mg per mL of solution. A meperidine syrup is available as well, which can be taken orally.

Can you drink alcohol while taking meperidine?

Mixing alcohol with meperidine or any other opioid can be dangerous because alcohol changes how the body metabolizes substances. Taking alcohol and meperidine together can cause higher concentrations of the drug in the body of the patient. The side effects can range from uncomfortable symptoms, such as nausea or vomiting, to life-threatening symptoms, such as respiratory depression. The severe risks of mixing alcohol and meperidine are even greater if someone is misusing the drug by taking large doses or by crushing it to snort or inject it. If someone is regularly mixing alcohol and meperidine, they may have a polysubstance addiction. Simultaneous addictions aren’t uncommon, but they require specialized detox and in-depth addiction treatment.

Sources

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Dave, Vinnidhy. “A Patient’s Guide to Opioid Tapering.” May 21, 2018. Accessed September 17, 2021.

Kleber, H; Gold, M; Riordan, C. “The use of clonidine in detoxification from opiates.” Bulletin on Narcotics, 1980. Accessed September 17, 2021.

Kosten, Thomas; Tony, George. “The Neurobiology of Opioid Dependence: Implications for Treatment.” Science & Practice Perspectives, 2002. Accessed September 17, 2021.

National Institute on Drug Abuse. “Common Comorbidities with Substance Use Disorders.” April 2020. Accessed September 17, 2021.

National Institute on Drug Abuse. “What is heroin?” June 2021. Accessed September 17, 2021.

U.S. National Library of Medicine. “Meperidine.” MedlinePlus, February 15, 2021. Accessed September 17, 2021.

World Health Organization. “Clinical Guidelines for Withdrawal Management and Treatment of Drug Dependence in Closed Settings.” 2009. Accessed September 17, 2021.

Yasaei, Rama; Rosani, Alan; Saadabadi, Abdolreza. “Meperidine.” StatPearls, 2021. Accessed September 17, 2021.

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.