Demerol is a prescription painkiller and the name brand of the opioid meperidine. It is used to relieve moderate-to-severe pain, and today is typically confined to strictly medical settings, such as immediately after surgery or during labor.
The reason that Demerol use has become so restricted is partially due to its high risk for abuse and addiction. Even in the midst of the opioid crisis, with more than 100 people in the United States dying of an opioid-related overdose every day, people will still attempt to divert and misuse prescription opioids like Demerol, thinking that because it is not an illicit drug that it is safer to misuse.
But Demerol can be just as dangerous and addictive as any illicit opioid and all-too-easy to overdose on accidentally.
How Does Demerol Work?
Demerol works in the same way as other opioids, by entering the brain and binding to specific opioid receptors to create an excess of opioids. The opioids naturally produced by the body are used to mitigate feelings of pain by slowing down activity in the central nervous system and keeping pain signals from reaching the brain.
Demerol mimics these natural opioids and binds with the brain’s opioid receptors, activating them and stimulating them into overproduction to create powerful blocks against the body’s pain response, blocking off the spinal cord and brainstem. This also produces potent feelings of relaxation and sedation.
Demerol also causes a huge spike in the brain’s dopamine levels. Dopamine is another neurotransmitter, located in the limbic system that controls mood, cognition, and how we process motivation, reward, and pleasure.
The boost of dopamine that Demerol provides is what creates the euphoria that is associated with an opioid high. It also plays a significant role in rewiring the brain to associate Demerol use with a dopamine reward, kick-starting the cycle of addiction.
What are the Signs of Demerol Addiction?
Typically, signs that someone has been regularly abusing Demerol will be present both in their behavior as well as in the form of physical and mental side effects that commonly happen during long-term abuse. However, that does not mean these signs are necessarily visible or easy to spot. In fact, the opposite is often true, especially if the person in question has a Demerol prescription but hasn’t progressed from abuse to addiction.
The most significant characteristic of addiction is compulsively using, which is the loss of control over the use of an addictive substance. Before a Demerol dependence becomes a full-blown addiction, the person abusing it still maintains a level of control over how much Demerol they are taking and may not be exhibiting the more apparent behaviors people associate with addiction.
Because of this, recognizing the signs of Demerol abuse can be difficult, but if you are able to, it can help stop an early addiction in its tracks before it has the chance to worsen. One way to do this is looking for the common side effects of chronic Demerol abuse, such as:
- Dry mouth
- Chronic constipation
- Sudden mood swings
- Frequent headaches
- Constant drowsiness
- Kidney pain and inflammation
The transition from abusing Demerol to being addicted to it can happen almost without the user even realizing it. Sometimes, it is only after the adverse effects of their addiction have become too obvious and overt to miss that the pieces fall into place and signs like social isolation, disregarded responsibilities, and a decline in performance at work or school become a clear pattern of addictive behavior.
As obtaining and using Demerol becomes someone’s highest priority, some common behavioral signs of Demerol addiction that accompanies this shift include:
- Taking Demerol more often/larger doses
- Taking Demerol without a prescription
- Forging prescriptions or “doctor shopping”
- Increased tolerance to the effects of Demerol
- Experiencing cravings and withdrawal symptoms
- Hiding or lying about Demerol use
- Unable to complete everyday tasks without using Demerol
- Experiencing legal trouble
- Being unable to stop using Demerol after multiple attempts
If you have seen these signs in someone you care about or recognize them in your own behavior, take them seriously and seek help from a professional addiction treatment center. The sooner you get help, either for yourself or a loved one, the more likely you are to avoid overdose and recover successfully.
What is Involved in Demerol Addiction Treatment?
Demerol addiction treatment should begin with medical detoxification to remove all traces of the drug and any associated toxins from the body. This is done to treat acute intoxication and get the individual to a state of physical and mental stability.
As with other opioids, Demerol withdrawal is rarely ever life-threatening. However, some symptoms, including diarrhea, vomiting, exhaustion, insomnia, and muscle aches, can be incredibly uncomfortable, and potentially dangerous if not carefully monitored by an experienced medical detox team.
Detoxing from Demerol under medical supervision means avoiding the chance of mid-detox relapse as well as having access to medication-assisted treatment (MAT) that can help ease withdrawal symptoms and safely taper down Demerol usage, sometimes replacing it with weaker opioids such as methadone or buprenorphine and then lowering the dosage of that as well.
After finishing with detox, the next phase of Demerol addiction treatment is receiving ongoing care in an addiction rehabilitation program.
It is of the utmost importance that treatment does not stop at detox, as that process does nothing to keep someone sober or help them address the underlying issues at the heart of their addiction. Detox must be followed up with a full treatment program so that recovering substance users achieve lasting sobriety.
Addiction treatment programs fall into two categories, each with their own subcategories and different levels of care: inpatient and outpatient. Inpatient treatment involves living at a treatment center throughout the program and provides 24/7 access to medical and therapeutic care. For people with severe Demerol addictions or a history of relapse who need to be isolated from potential triggers, inpatient treatment is probably the best option.
For those who are in the earlier stages of Demerol addiction, are in good health, and have a reliable outside support system, outpatient treatment may be all the support they need to recover successfully.
In an outpatient program, a client receives the same therapies and treatments as those in inpatient, but still lives at home and can structure medical check-ins and therapy sessions around their regular lives.
How Dangerous is Demerol?
“Despite being a prescription medication, abusing Demerol is not any less dangerous than abusing any other opioids. ”
Part of the reason that it has mostly fallen out of regular use in the United States is because it reacts negatively with a wide range of other medications and can also damage the brain and nervous system over a long period of regular use.
Demerol overdose will generally include the following symptoms:
- Muscle weakness and floppy limbs
- Cold and clammy and skin
- Slipping in and out of consciousness
- Dangerously slow and shallow breathing
- Blue-tinted skin around fingernails and lips
- Blurred vision
If someone is in Demerol overdose, seek out emergency medical services as soon as possible to avoid a fatal overdose. And even if the overdose is successfully reversed, there is also the chance of permanent organ and brain damage.
Demerol Abuse Statistics
- Prescription opioid misuse is responsible for 1,000-plus emergency room visits per day in the U.S.
- According to a study from the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), roughly 80% of heroin users surveyed in the U.S. reported as abusing prescription opioids like Demerol first before progressing to heroin use.
- There are 115 opioid-related overdose deaths everyday in the U.S., almost half of which are linked to prescription opioids, including Demerol.