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Demerol Abuse Symptoms and Addiction Treatment

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Woman holding Demerol tablets

Demerol, also known by the street name “demmies” and the generic name meperidine, is a prescription opioid painkiller. Demerol is used to treat relatively severe pain and is available in liquid or tablet form.

As a schedule II prescription drug, Demerol has a high potential for physical and psychological dependence. Abusers may buy the drug from street dealers and/or go “doctor shopping” (seeking out multiple doctors for prescriptions) to get the drug.

Demerol Abuse

Demerol, like other opiate painkillers, carries a high risk for abuse because of its pleasurable mood-altering effects. Many users experience a strong sense of euphoria when taking the drug. Users may swallow the drug in pill or liquid form or choose to snort or inject it to enhance its effects.

Demerol has a history of being abused by healthcare professionals, including doctors and nurses, because it’s readily available in the medical community (Latta, Ginsberg, & Barkin, 2002).

The abuse of opioid drugs like Demerol is dangerous because it can easily lead to:

  • Tolerance (needing increasing amounts to feel the same effects).
  • Physical dependence.
  • Withdrawal symptoms when not using the drugs.
  • Numerous physical health issues ranging from mild (e.g. drowsiness) to potentially fatal (e.g. respiratory depression).
  • Overdose.
  • Death.

Recognizing the signs and symptoms of Demerol abuse can prevent severe negative consequences from occurring.

Signs and Symptoms

Confused man

The signs and symptoms of Demerol abuse can vary from person to person. Some signs you might notice in a person under the influence of Demerol may include:

  • Drowsiness.
  • Confusion.
  • Euphoria.
  • Nausea and vomiting.
  • Small pupils.
  • Constipation.
  • Slowed breathing.

Signs of an Opioid Use Disorder

Demerol abuse can lead to serious problems, including opioid addiction. When Demerol abuse persists, a person may develop what is diagnosed as an opioid use disorder. The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-V) lists the following diagnostic criteria commonly met by those struggling with this and similar conditions:

  • Using the drug in dangerous situations.
  • Relationship problems due to drug use.
  • Neglecting major responsibilities because of drugs.
  • Using larger and larger amounts over time.
  • Repeated failed attempts to quit.
  • Spending long amounts of time acquiring, using, or recovering from use of the drug.
  • Physical and psychological problems due to use.
  • Giving up important activities because of drug use.
  • Cravings.
  • Withdrawal symptoms.
  • Tolerance.

Identifying the signs and symptoms of Demerol abuse is important because long-term abuse can have serious physical and psychological consequences.

Symptoms of Demerol Withdrawal

Demerol withdrawal can be uncomfortable, but it is not usually considered dangerous. Withdrawing from prescription opioids like Demerol may result in one or more of the following symptoms:

  • Restlessness.
  • Involuntary leg movements.
  • Cold flashes.
  • Insomnia.
  • Anxiety.
  • Agitation.
  • Runny nose.
  • Sweating.
  • Dilated pupils.
  • Gastrointestinal distress (nausea, vomiting, diarrhea).

Effects of Abuse

For those who abuse Demerol, side effects may be severe. Abusing prescription opioids can put people at higher risk of developing the following issues:

  • Physical and psychological dependence.
  • Depression.
  • HIV, hepatitis, and other infectious diseases (if sharing needles).
  • Permanent brain damage due to hypoxia (insufficient oxygen to the brain).
  • Potentially fatal respiratory depression.

A danger specific to Demerol is that one of its metabolites, normeperidine, has the potential to be neurotoxic, especially if it builds up in neural tissues with repeated, high-dose use. A build-up of this metabolite may cause agitation, tremors, and seizures.

Learn more about the effects of Demerol use.

Demerol Overdose

Overdose is also a concern for Demerol abusers. At high doses, it can lead to respiratory depression—a condition where the user does not receive enough oxygen—which can result in death. Snorting or injecting the drug, using large amounts, and mixing it with other drugs and alcohol can increase the chances of an overdose.

According to the World Health Organization, people with medical and psychological conditions, such as HIV and depression, may also be at higher risk of overdose.

Demerol Statistics

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA):

  • Approximately 20% of Americans over the age of 12 have used prescription drugs for non-medical purposes at some point in their lives. However, Demerol abuse—like that of other prescription medications—may be underreported because of stigma and fear of repercussions.
  • In 2010, more than 200 million prescriptions were written for opiate painkillers. Unfortunately, these prescriptions are too frequently diverted to the streets, where they are sold for recreational use.
  • Nearly 14% of those who used prescription drugs non-medically meet criteria for abuse or dependence on using the drugs.
  • Overdoses from opiate painkillers quadrupled between 1999 and 2007.

Teen Abuse

Prescription opiate painkillers are one of the most frequently abused classes of drugs reported by 12th graders, according to NIDA. Prescription drug use among teens is linked to other dangerous behaviors, such as heavy drinking, smoking cigarettes and use of illegal drugs like marijuana and cocaine.

Teens may abuse prescription drugs because of easy access, such as after receiving a prescription for pain following an injury or surgery. Some teens report giving away or selling their prescriptions or stealing medications from family members. They may falsely assume that prescription drugs are safer than illegal “hard” drugs, like the opiate heroin or cocaine.

An article in the Journal of Adolescent Health lists factors that could put teens at higher risk of abusing prescription medications:

  • Conflicts with family members.
  • Living in a single-parent household.
  • Frequent moves between homes.
  • Peer drug use.
  • Criminal and violent behavior.
  • Poor physical health.
  • Mental health issues.
  • History of trauma.

Tips for Preventing Teen Opioid Abuse

Educator discussing dangers with teen
  • Parents, educators, doctors, and pharmacists should discuss the dangers of prescription drug use with teens, including the risks of combining different drugs and sharing them with peers.
  • Parents and others should provide education on the consequences of prescription drug use and modify false beliefs about its safety.
  • Parents and other family members should closely monitor prescription drugs within the household. Prescription drugs should be secured and locked away, and old medications should be properly disposed of.
  • Parents should closely monitor dose and frequency of use in the case of their teens being given prescription medications.

In addition, parents can promote healthy activities for teens, such as hobbies, exercise, and positive peer groups. This can help decrease the appeal of prescription drugs and prevent abuse.

Learn more about teen drug misuse.

Resources, Articles and More Information

For more information about prescription opiate addiction, see the National Institute on Drug Abuse’s website:

You can also check out our related articles:

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Emily Guarnotta holds a doctorate degree in Clinical Psychology from the California School of Professional Psychology. She has a passion for working with clients struggling with substance abuse and mental health issues. Her treatment approach includes providing evidence-based practices in a supportive and non-confrontational manner.

Emily's experience also includes working with college students, clients with severe mental illness, and delivering crisis intervention services.

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