Demerol Addiction: Signs, Symptoms, and Treatment

Addictions Content Team Info icon
Calendar icon Last Updated: 03/14/2022

Reading Time: 7 minutes

Demerol is an opioid analgesic medication typically prescribed in hospital settings to manage and treat moderate to severe physical pain. Although the pain-relieving effects of Demerol are similar to other opioid medications like morphine, they are not as long-lasting; because of this, frequent use of Demerol also increases the risk of dependence, even if the medication is taken as prescribed.1 And over time, misusing this opioid painkiller for its euphoric or relaxing effects can lead to Demerol addiction.

Signs and Symptoms of Demerol Addiction

With time, you can develop a physical dependence on Demerol due to your body adapting to the consistent presence of this powerful substance. Addiction, however, goes beyond physical dependence and involves compulsive Demerol use.

Demerol produces euphoric effects, essentially replacing feelings of pain with a sense of calm, pleasure, and ease. These feelings can unintentionally reinforce the misuse of this substance and, over time, lead to Demerol addiction.2

The risk of Demerol addiction involves several interactive factors, including your brain’s chemistry and circuitry, genetic history, environmental conditions, and personal life experiences.3 You or your loved one may experience an irresistible urge to use Demerol, which may indicate a compulsive pattern of use that is beyond your ability to control. This may be especially true if you experience these compulsive feelings despite encountering negative consequences associated with your Demerol use.4

Physical and Psychological Signs

Several signs may indicate whether you or a loved one is potentially misusing Demerol or has developed Demerol addiction. Knowing these signs can be helpful if you or your loved one wishes to seek treatment. Some of the short-term signs of Demerol addiction include:5

  • Taking more of the substance than prescribed
  • Taking more of the substance to change the way you emotionally feel
  • Taking the substance even if you’re not experiencing pain
  • Having problems with digestive health like vomiting and diarrhea
  • Experiencing changes in your patterns of sleep, hygiene, or general daily function
  • Seeking prescriptions from multiple doctors to ensure you have enough
  • Changing in mood (mood swings)
  • Feeling Increased irritability
  • Experiencing symptoms of depression or anxiety

Symptoms of Demerol Addiction

If you or a loved one uses this substance, there are 11 signs of Demerol addiction according to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-5). These include:6

  • Taking larger amounts of Demerol or for a longer time frame than you originally intended
  • Trying unsuccessfully to cut back, control, or stop Demerol use
  • Spending a significant amount of time trying to find, use, or recover from taking Demerol
  • Experiencing cravings or strong urges to use Demerol
  • Experiencing an inability to fulfill responsibilities related to school, work, or home
  • Continuing use despite experiencing negative interpersonal, social, emotional, or legal consequences
  • Continuing Demerol use in dangerous situations
  • Continuing Demerol use despite experiencing a physical or psychological health problem that is made worse by the substance
  • Having a higher tolerance for Demerol, meaning you need a larger amount of the substance to achieve the desired effect, and that same larger amount you need fails to achieve the desired effect you’re seeking
  • Experiencing withdrawal symptoms when you stop taking Demerol or taking a similar substance to alleviate withdrawal symptoms

It is important to know that if you experience 2-3 of these symptoms, your Demerol addiction may be considered mild; 4-5 symptoms, your Demerol addiction may be considered moderate; and 6 or more of these symptoms, your Demerol addiction may be considered severe.

Withdrawal from Opioids

If you use Demerol to treat or manage pain, you can develop physical dependence within a relatively short period—anywhere between 4-8 weeks. This is due in large part to how quickly Demerol is processed within your system compared to other longer-lasting pain medications. Withdrawal from Demerol can be comparable to a severe flu. Some common withdrawal symptoms that are associated with Demerol addiction include:7

  • Rapid heart rate
  • High blood pressure
  • Low-grade fever
  • Sweating
  • Runny nose
  • Excessive tears
  • Sneezing
  • Dry mouth
  • Dilated pupils
  • Lack of appetite
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Chills
  • Muscle aches
  • Bone pain
  • Restlessness
  • Increased irritability
  • Yawning
  • Inability to sleep

Understanding Demerol Addiction: Who is at Risk?

It is possible for you or anyone who uses Demerol to unknowingly misuse the substance and potentially develop an addiction due to its highly intoxicating nature. There are specific risk factors, however, that can increase the likelihood for someone to develop a Demerol addiction, including:8

  • Previous substance misuse
  • Untreated mental health conditions (depression or anxiety)
  • Young age (teenage years to early 20s)
  • Trauma
  • A desire to avoid withdrawal discomfort
  • Social environment that is accepting of misuse
  • Family atmosphere that fosters misuse
  • A stressful living environment (poverty, unemployment)
  • A history of legal, social, professional, or interpersonal problems
  • A tendency to engage in thrill-seeking experiences

Treatment for Demerol Addiction

There are two primary approaches to treat Demerol addiction, including inpatient and outpatient treatment, with various levels that can most appropriately meet your needs.

Inpatient Treatment

The first type of inpatient treatment includes the highest, most intensive medically managed service where you receive 24-hour psychiatric and medical care until you have been safely stabilized. These services are necessary if you or your loved one has physical, emotional, cognitive, or behavioral conditions that require monitoring and maintenance throughout the detoxication process.

The second type of inpatient treatment includes a lower residential service outside a hospital setting with mental health professionals and counselors to help support you through your stabilization process. This type of inpatient treatment resembles a room and board where you reside within the facility for a certain length of time (typically 30, 60, or 90 days and sometimes longer if necessary) with others who also seek treatment support.

One key benefit of inpatient treatment includes your ability to receive consistent medical care and therapeutic support throughout your detox process. If your Demerol addiction is categorized as severe, you are using multiple substances, or if you have a mental health condition while using Demerol, inpatient treatment can provide the necessary assistance for safely tapering off of the substance. Some disadvantages to inpatient treatment include the time away from family and loved ones, the high cost that insurance might not cover, the need to arrange for childcare, and the potential loss of employment.9

Inpatient treatment benefits include:

  • Structured living environment
  • 24/7 support
  • No access to substances
  • Healthy peer influence
  • Intentional time to focus on your physical, psychological, and emotional health
  • An opportunity to develop healthy friendships
  • Intensive attention on relapse prevention and coping skills for recovery

Outpatient Care

Outpatient treatment involves a variety of levels, including partial hospitalization (PHP), intensive outpatient (IOP), and standard outpatient (OP) care.

At the PHP level, you stay on-site for up to 6 hours a day while you receive medical detoxication services under a doctor’s care until you are safely stabilized. This level requires approximately 20 hours of services per week. For IOP, you attend nine and a half hours of group services a week, as well as individual counseling sessions with a trained professional. For standard OP, you receive up to nine hours of services per week, including three hours of group counseling sessions where you receive educational materials on relapse prevention and recovery.

Some benefits to outpatient treatment include the convenience of scheduling services to fit into employment or childcare routines, affordability, a higher likelihood for insurance coverage, and the opportunity to immediately practice what you’ve learned in your home environment. Some disadvantages include the continued contact with the same people, places, and things that may have contributed to your Demerol addiction or misuse, an insufficient amount of time to establish a strong support network, and more limited access to individual counselors if you need more one-on-one time.9

Outpatient care benefits include:

  • Various levels of care to choose from, depending on your needs
  • Schedules structured around daily living needs
  • The opportunity to return to your home every day
  • Flexible services that can be adapted to changing situations
  • Immediate opportunity to practice newly learned skills in your home
  • More affordability compared to inpatient programs

How to Find a Demerol Addiction Treatment Program

Treatment can benefit you or a loved one in many ways. Understanding the process and impact of addiction through educational groups and counseling services is a great place to begin your recovery. In treatment, you will be allowed to learn about your Demerol addiction and how your life experiences and patterns of behavior have contributed to your current situation.

Overwhelming emotions and feelings of isolation often accompany substance misuse or addiction, but with treatment, you will be able to meet others who are experiencing similar challenges and learn healthier ways of coping with your pain and life circumstances. If you think you or a loved one is experiencing signs or symptoms of Demerol addiction and are interested in learning more about your treatment options, call 800-926-9037 (Info iconWho Answers?) to speak with an addiction specialist.


  1. Solhi, H., Sanaei-Zadeh, H., Solhi, S., Azizi Nadian, M. A., Gharibi, M., & Sadeghi Sedeh, B. (2016). Meperidine (pethidine) versus morphine in acute pain management of opioid-dependent patients. Open Access Emergency Medicine :OAEM, 8, 57–59.
  2. National Institutes of Health. (2021). Drugs, brains, and behavior: The science of addiction. National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA).
  3. American Society of Addiction Medicine. (2019). Definition of Addiction.
  4. Luigjes, J., Lorenzetti, V., de Haan, S., Youssef, G. J., Murawski, C., Sjoerds, Z., van den Brink, W., Denys, D., Fontenelle, L. F., & Yücel, M. (2019). Defining compulsive behavior. Neuropsychology Review, 29(1), 4–13.
  5. Miller, N. (2006). Prescription opiate medications: Clinical assessment and treatment of addiction, tolerance, and dependence. Psychiatric Annals, 36(6), 390-396.
  6. American Psychiatric Association (2013). Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition. American Psychiatric Association Publishing.
  7. Wesson, D. R., & Ling, W. (2003). The clinical opiate withdrawal scale (COWS). Journal of Psychoactive Drugs, 35(2), 253–9.
  8. Webster, L. R. (2017). Risk factors for opioid-use disorder and overdose. Anesthesia & Analgesia, 125, 5, 1741-1748
  9. Mee-Lee, D., Shulman, G., Fishman, M., Gastfriend, D., Miller, M., & Provence, S. (Eds.). (2013). The ASAM Criteria Treatment: Criteria for Addictive, Substance-Related, and Co-Occurring Conditions. Carson City, NV: The Change Companies.
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