Demerol Abuse and Side Effects

Demerol is a synthetic opioid analgesic that doctors typically prescribe to treat moderate to severe pain in the short-term. For example, it is commonly used to manage pain during labor and childbirth, as well as pain resulting from cancer, heart attack, and severe injuries sustained in accidents. Meperidine is Demerol’s generic name, and it works by binding to opioid receptors in the brain and preventing the signals of painful stimuli from getting through.

Side Effects of Demerol

According to the US National Library of Medicine, meperidine is habit-forming, and individuals should only take it as directed by a doctor. In addition, Demerol can cause serious negative side effects in some people, which is why most doctors are hesitant to prescribe it for an extended period of time. If side effects are severe or persist for an uncomfortable duration, it is important to see a doctor. Some common side effects of taking Demerol are:

  • Lightheadedness
  • Dizziness
  • Headache
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Stomach cramps
  • Constipation
  • Dry mouth
  • Sweating
  • Agitation
  • Confusion

The US Food and Drug Administration reports that there are also a few serious side effects that can occur when taking Demerol, especially for a prolonged period of time. These include seizures, hallucinations, slowed breathing, and muscle twitches. According to the Emergency Medicine Patient Safety Foundation, administering meperidine in the emergency department is actually discouraged because it lowers the body’s seizure threshold. Individuals who abuse Demerol by taking doses larger than prescribed, taking it more frequently than prescribed, or taking it without a prescription are also at risk of experiencing these serious negative side effects.

Why People Abuse Demerol

In addition to altering how the brain perceives pain, Demerol can also produce feelings of giddiness and pleasure, which is why some people use it for nonmedical reasons. Doing so can be incredibly dangerous because the body can develop a tolerance and subsequent dependence on meperidine quickly. Individuals who are dependent on Demerol cannot stop taking it without experiencing unpleasant withdrawal symptoms. For some people, the withdrawal symptoms are so uncomfortable that they return to using Demerol to ease the pain instead of continuing down the path to recovery, which often results in a hard cycle to break.

Individuals who abuse Demerol often combine it with other substances in order to produce a stronger high. Doing so is even more dangerous than simply taking Demerol alone. For example, the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism reports that combining Demerol with alcohol can result in drowsiness, dizziness, difficulty breathing, impaired motor control, and increased risk of overdose. Other drugs that should not be combined with Demerol include other central nervous system depressants, like benzodiazepines. Mixing stimulants with Demerol is also dangerous and may lead individuals to taking more of each drug, risking overdose, since they counteract each other’s affects.

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How Addiction Develops

Anyone can abuse Demerol, but individuals who are most at risk of doing so are those who have regular access to it. People who initially take Demerol for a legitimate reason as prescribed by a doctor may eventually develop a tolerance to the drug, meaning they need to take more of it in order to feel the same initial effects.

Taking Demerol consistently can eventually result in a dependence developing. It is important to remember that dependence is not the same as addiction. People who have developed a dependence on meperidine may still be taking it for a legitimate medical reason and according to their doctor’s instructions; however, those who are addicted to it take it for the rush they get from its effects and not in order to relieve a particular condition. Since dependence often leads to addiction, it can still be dangerous, and it should be discussed with the prescribing physician. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), more than 2 million Americans suffer from substance use disorders involving prescription opioids, so those struggling with Demerol addiction can take comfort in the fact that they are not alone.

Signs and Symptoms of Demerol Abuse

The risks of abusing meperidine are serious, and if an individual is struggling to quit Demerol, loved ones should step in and encourage treatment as soon as possible. According to NIDA, the number of fatal overdoses involving prescription opioids increased more than threefold between 2001 and 2014.

Individuals who abuse Demerol consistently may start to exhibit certain signs and symptoms, which could indicate that they need help. These include:

  • Nodding off frequently
  • Having difficulty focusing
  • Vomiting
  • Passing out
  • Obsessing over obtaining or taking more Demerol
  • Struggling to maintain relationships

When loved ones are addicted to Demerol, many people who are close to them feel hurt, angry, and frustrated; however, addiction is a disease, and like any other disease, individuals suffering from it do not have control over how it affects them. It is during the throes of an addiction that an individual needs love and support more than ever.

The first step to treating meperidine addiction is identifying and acknowledging that there is a problem in the first place. Because withdrawal symptoms can be severe, individuals who are ready to quit Demerol should do so with the help of trained professionals. Following the detox phase, there are a variety of ways to treat this addiction.

Treating Demerol Addiction

Abuse and addiction develop for countless reasons among individuals, which means there is no single approach that works for treating them; however, there are a few standard principles that all effective treatment options take into account. These principles follow:

  • Relapse can occur at any time, even after a prolonged period of abstinence.
  • Matching the treatment setting and services to an individual’s needs is critical for that individual to enter recovery.
  • Treatment needs to be readily accessible.
  • Effective treatment attends to all of a client’s issues, not just the substance abuse.
  • Positive outcomes typically occur more frequently for clients who remain in treatment for a significant period of time than for those who only attend treatment briefly.
  • Regular assessments must occur during treatment to ensure it is meeting a client’s changing needs.

According to NIDA, behavioral therapy is the most common approach to addiction treatment. There are several different kinds of behavioral therapy, and clients will have access to many of them in both individual and group sessions.

Behavioral therapy can treat addiction by inciting the motivation to make positive changes, replacing destructive behaviors with more productive ones, and giving clients the tools needed to avoid future triggers that may prompt them to use again.

Medication is also an important part of treating Demerol addiction. Some drugs help ease withdrawal symptoms and control cravings, while others help people wean off meperidine and maintain their sobriety following treatment. For example, methadone, which imitates the effects of Demerol without the powerful high, is a critical component of addiction treatment for many individuals; however, since methadone itself is addictive, it should only be used under the guidance of a doctor. According to Pew Charitable Trusts, there are 5,000 fatal overdoses caused by methadone annually. When it is taken as directed by a doctor though, it can be an effective way to ease people into recovery and even reduce rates of relapse. In many instances, buprenorphine is used as an alternative to methadone, due to its lesser abuse potential.

Witnessing a loved one suffering from Demerol addiction is hard, but family and friends are not powerless when it comes to helping. By offering their unwavering support and encouragement, they can help the individual enter treatment and maintain a fulfilling life of sobriety after completing a treatment program.