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photo scan of a medical prescription for the drug Demerol

Demerol addiction comes from using the generic drug compound called Meperidine, which is a synthetic opioid (opiate) that was first synthesized in the mid-1900s. This complex drug has many actions and many side-effects, and the most important and dangerous of them is its addictive properties. Meperidine – Demerol – was first introduced to the medical community in 1939.

Although Demerol was synthesized for another purpose, it was found to bind to opioid receptors. This binding capacity, and subsequent opioid receptor activation, gives meperidine its pain relieving qualities.

The fact that meperidine is an opiate also creates its addictive potential, in addition to the overdose potential of meperidine. This drug was widely used in the medical community, before the advent of other opiates. It was also originally thought to be less addictive than the other available opiates. This have been proven to be untrue. It can be taken orally, or by I.V. and I.M. injection. Injection of meperidine is much more common than the oral use of meperidine.

Meperidine is also called pethidine and is about 30% less potent than morphine. It has fallen out of favor in more modern times because of its unfavorable side-effect profile. Interestingly, because meperidine has anticholinergic properties (which cause many of the side-effects), it does not cause the pupils to constrict like other opioids.

Meperidine/Demerol Side Effects

  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Sedation
  • Dizziness
  • Sweating
  • Urinary retention
  • Constipation
  • Serotonin syndrome – Characterized by unstable vital signs, hyperthermia, agitation, tremor, dilated pupils, and diarrhea
  • Seizures due to accumulation of metabolites

Because seizures can occur with the accumulation of metabolites, meperidine (Demerol) is not indicated for chronic, long-term use. Rather, it is intended to be used for short-term, acute pain. It is commonly used in the emergency room and in labor and delivery in various countries, in its injectable form. Because it is not illegally produced and distributed, most of those who become addicted to Demerol are healthcare providers. Otherwise, the drug is prescribed by a practitioner or is obtained by “doctor shopping”.

Demerol addiction follows more-or-less the same pathway as addiction to other opiates. It may start with a prescription for acute pain, or simply stolen by a healthcare provider for recreational purposes. There are also healthcare providers, mainly nurses, who have either become addicted to another opiate and begin to use Demerol as a replacement, or those who have true pain and become addicted through this route.

In any case, eventually when a healthcare provider becomes addicted they will make a mistake when procuring the drug and will be caught. As addiction progresses, one’s judgement becomes progressively more impaired. In addition, increasingly more of the drug is needed to produce the same effects. In order to obtain a sufficient quantity of meperidine to feed the addiction, it ultimately comes to the attention of coworkers or superiors that a large quantity of meperidine is missing from the hospital unit, urgent care clinic, or other doctor’s office.

Withdrawal Symptoms From Demerol

The withdrawal symptoms that are experience during meperidine addiction are similar to those that are experienced when undergoing drug detox from other opiates and opioids. Withdrawal symptoms from Demerol include:


  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Sweating
  • Restlessness, agitation, and anxiety
  • Muscle cramping
  • Insomnia
  • Chills
  • Runny nose
  • Runny eyes

Demerol Addiction Treatment

Demerol addiction is typically first treated in an inpatient or residential drug detox center. This is especially true for healthcare providers. But, opiate detox that is not followed-up with drug rehab is unlikely to be effective. In fact, the American Society of Addiction Medicine has made a statement that they do not believe that opiate detox alone can be considered an effective treatment for this disorder. An alternative to opiate detox, is to transition the patient to another opiate for maintenance, like Suboxone or methadone.

If you are suffering from a Demerol addiction, it is recommended that you seek professional help. The addiction specialists at Behavioral Wellness and Recovery are committed to locating resources for those in need of recovery-related services. We can be reached confidentially at 800-683-4457. Alternatively, you may use the online contact form.


Behavioral Wellness & Recovery is a Joint Commission accredited program. The Joint Commission recognizes excellence in health care organizations and programs.


Behavioral Wellness & Recovery is a Joint Commission accredited program. The Joint Commission recognizes excellence in health care organizations and programs.


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