Demerol Uses, Side Effects, and Risk of Addiction

Demerol, also known as meperidine or pethidine, is one of the more well-known opioids.1 Demerol is often prescribed for its pain-relieving effects, as it is known to be a successful treatment option for moderate-to-severe pain, both sudden and short-term, as well as long-lasting and chronic pain.2

Demerol’s pain-relieving effects have a more rapid onset than other opioids,1 therefore, making it a more appealing option for those patients with an immediate need for pain relief. Demerol can be taken as a syrup or in tablet form.2 Demerol shots are also available, furthering its appeal for prescribing professionals when looking for pain management options with a wide array of patient needs.

What is Demerol Used For?

Demerol is a versatile drug as it proves effective for all types of pain management. Demerol is often used for:

  • Preoperative medication to reduce shivering2
  • Pain management during labor3
  • Pain management during colonoscopy3
  • Postoperative wound healing4

Demerol is commonly used in medical settings, as it demonstrates less respiratory depression than other medication options. With this benefit, patients do not experience the same labored or shallow breathing that other opioids may cause. Patients are then at much lower risk of severe complications from Demerol or from the procedure for which the medication is taken.5

Knowing that respiratory depression is unlikely with Demerol, prescribing professionals are often drawn to Demerol as a top choice for pain management. Additionally, prescribing professionals can confidently offer Demerol to patients in which respiratory depression may pose a more serious risk.5

If you or a loved one are taking Demerol, or are considering Demerol as a medication option, then this positive benefit may help ease your mind about the medication’s safety profile.

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Demerol Side Effects

Because of Demerol’s high level of toxicity and potential for severe side effects, this medication has been replaced for many uses by newer opioids.

Demerol side effects may include:

  • Drowsiness6
  • Nausea7
  • Vomiting7
  • Heart problems8
  • Kidney problems 9
  • Seizures10
  • Addiction11
  • Overdose12
  • Death12


Drowsiness is a known side effect of most opioid medications.6 It is usually mild and not normally a cause for concern, however, if you are experiencing an unusual amount of drowsiness, please speak with your medical provider. A simple adjustment in medication dosage may be all that is needed to limit this side effect.

Heart Problems

Heart problems are a rare but serious side effect of Demerol. Heart problems have been noted among both people with and without existing heart conditions. Knowing this, it is wise to be aware of this slight risk to self-monitor for this side effect while taking Demerol.

QT prolongation is the heart condition most often seen in those taking Demerol, which, if left untreated, could lead to death. Although heart problems have been seen in those without underlying heart disease, QT prolongation occurs most often in people with pre-existing heart conditions.

If you or a loved one are considering Demerol or are currently taking Demerol, please be certain that your medical professional is aware of any possible underlying heart conditions that you may have. Several other pain management options are available to take safely with a heart condition.8

Kidney Failure

Another possible risk factor with the use of Demerol is the patient’s age. Older adults appear to be more sensitive to Demerol side effects, with possible renal failure being the most significant of those side effects. Renal failure, or kidney failure, can impact the patient’s overall health and wellness and decrease their quality and quantity of life.9 There are limited treatment options for renal failure, so being proactive is the best method to avoid this side effect.


Seizures have occurred in a few patients taking Demerol, but evidence supporting seizures as a common side effect is limited. As such, seizures as a side effect of Demerol can be considered rare.

Yet, since they have been noted in some patients taking Demerol, doctors are always cautious before prescribing Demerol to patients with a medical history that may increase the risk of this rare side effect. More research is being done into the possible connection between seizures and Demerol, but at this time, the risk appears to be small.10

Effects of Demerol on Pregnant Women

Demerol is not considered a safe medication option during pregnancy but is often used as a pain relief option, in epidural form, for women during labor and delivery.

When taking Demerol for pain relief during labor and delivery, please know that Demerol is overwhelmingly safe. Your medical provider will only recommend Demerol if it is a healthy option for you and your baby.

For those women who are delivering with an uncomplicated pregnancy between 37 and 42 weeks, Demerol proves highly effective in relieving labor pains. Some possible side effects of Demerol during labor may include drowsiness, nausea, and vomiting. These side effects are not experienced by all women and are generally mild and easily managed if they are experienced.7

It should also be emphasized that Demerol appears to be safe for newborns when taken by the mother during labor and delivery.13

For those patients who are choosing to breastfeed their infants, Demerol should be avoided. Demerol passes into the mother’s breast milk in high amounts, leading to serious side effects for newborns and infants.

Possible newborn side effects include:

  • Excessive drowsiness
  • Central nervous system depression
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Difficulty feeding
  • Limpness
  • Death

With the severity of these side effects, please be certain to speak with your medical provider for alternative pain management options while breastfeeding.7

Demerol Addiction

Addiction is a risk of taking Demerol because it is an opioid. Studies have shown that Demerol is less potent than morphine in regards to physical dependence, but since Demerol is faster-acting than other opioids, the addiction risk remains strong.

Taking Demerol in 600 mg to 800 mg daily doses greatly increases the risk of both physical and psychological addiction to the medication. Yet, several doctors argue that Demerol is a safer option for those at risk of drug dependence and/or addiction because its level of physical dependency is far less than others in the opioid family. 11

For those who may develop a dependence on Demerol, it is highly advisable to seek professional guidance and support to overcome the developing addiction. Call 844-431-5818(Who Answers?) to discuss your rehab options and get help.

Demerol Overdose

Overdose is a very serious risk for those who have developed a physical dependence on Demerol. As Demerol is an opioid, it is not uncommon for the body to develop a physical tolerance to the medication. When this occurs, you may increase the amount of medication taken to achieve the same level of euphoria as they were experiencing before the tolerance kicked in. From this point, Demerol overdose is a great risk, as you may consume more medication than the body can process to achieve the desired euphoric effect or “high.”14

Opioid overdose is always damaging to the body and, without prompt medical treatment, is often fatal. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that more than 40,000 people die from an opioid overdose each year. Yet, these deaths are highly preventable with proper medical oversight while taking an opioid medication and with professional support when an addiction has possibly developed.12

Demerol Withdrawal

If physical dependence has occurred, withdrawal symptoms may also occur when moving toward recovery. Withdrawal symptoms may include:11

  • Restlessness
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Sweating
  • Runny nose
  • Tearfulness
  • Insomnia
  • Achiness
  • Hot and cold flashes
  • Stomach cramps
  • Nervousness
  • Irritability
  • Muscular twitches

Withdrawal symptoms to Demerol may be uncomfortable but are most often not life-threatening. The severity of withdrawal symptoms is dose-dependent, with those taking a larger amount of Demerol experiencing a higher amount and more uncomfortable withdrawal symptoms.11

If you or a loved one are beginning the detoxification process from a Demerol addiction, please consider seeking medical care before the discontinuation of Demerol use. A variety of options are available for Demerol addiction treatment.

If you or someone you know is concerned about Demerol safety or misuse, please call 844-431-5818(Who Answers?) anytime and get started toward sobriety.


  1. Ching Wong, S.S., & Cheung, C.W. (2020). Analgesic efficacy and adverse effects of meperidine in managing postoperative or labor pain: A narrative review of randomized controlled trials. Pain Physician, 23(2):175-201.
  2. Yasaei, R., Rosani, A., & Saadabadi, A. (2021). Meperidine. StatPearls.
  3. Lee, H., & Kim, J.H. (2009). Superiority of split dose midazolam as conscious sedation for outpatient colonoscopy. World J Gastroenterol, 15(30):3783-7.
  4. Sensoy, E., Akcan, A.C., Korkmaz, M., Elmalı, F., Topal, U., Akgun, H., & Muhtaroglu, S. (2020). Investigation of the effects of systemic meperidine administration on fascia healing in an experimental rat model. Acta Cir Bras, 35(11):e351107.
  5. Tainter, M., & Buchanan, O. (1949). A comparison of certain actions of demerol and methadone. Calif Med, 70(1):35-43. PMID: 18104720; PMCID.
  6. Benyamin, R., Trescot, A.M., Datta, S., Buenaventura, R., Adlaka, R., Sehgal, N., Glaser, S.E., & Vallejo, R. (2008). Opioid complications and side effects. Pain Physician, 11(2).
  7. Drugs and Lactation Database (LactMed). (2006). National Library of Medicine (US), 4(20).
  8. Song, M.K., Bae, E.J., Baek, J.S., Kwon, B.S., Kim, G.B., Noh, C.I., Choi, J.Y., & Park, S.S. (2011). QT prolongation and life-threatening ventricular tachycardia in a patient injected with intravenous meperidine (Demerol®). Korean Circ J., 41(6):342-5.
  9. Friesen, K.J., Falk, J., & Bugden, S. (2016). The safety of meperidine prescribing in older adults: A longitudinal population-based study. BMC Geriatr, 16(100). d
  10. Schlick, K.H., Hemmen, T.M., & Lyden, P.D. (2015). Seizures and meperidine: Overstated and underutilized. Ther Hypothermia Temp Manag, 5(4):223-7.
  11. Himmelsbach, K. (1943). Further studies of the addiction liability of Demerol (1-methyl-4-phenyl-piperidine-4-carbodxylic acid ethyl ester hydrochloride). United States Health Service Hospital, 4(28).
  12. Dydyk, A.M., Sizemore, D.C., Haddad, L.M., Lindsay, L., & Porter, B.R. (2021). NP safe prescribing of controlled substances while avoiding drug diversion. StatPearls.
  13. Smith, L.A., Burns, E., & Cuthbert, A. (2018). Parenteral opioids for maternal pain management in labour. Cochrane Database, 6(6).
  14. Mercadante, S., Arcuri, E., & Santoni, A. Opioid-induced tolerance and hyperalgesia. (2019). CNS Drugs, 33(10):943-955. d

the Take-Away

Demerol, also known as meperidine or pethidine, is one of the more well-known opioids.1 Demerol is often prescribed for its pain-relieving effects, as it is known to be a successful treatment option for moderate-to-severe pain, both sudden and short-term, as well as long-lasting and chronic pain.2 Demerol’s pain-relieving effects have a more rapid onset than …