And while other prescription painkillers like OxyContin and fentanyl are some of the biggest killers in this drug category, that doesn’t mean Demerol addiction isn’t tearing apart families and claiming the lives of numerous addicts every year.
If you or someone you know is struggling with a Demerol abuse problem, recognizing the specifics about this drug as well as its dangers is one of the first steps in getting clean.
So, let’s get started.
Also known as meperidine and pethidine, Demerol is a brand-name opioid analgesic, meaning it’s primarily used in the medical community to treat severe pain. Demerol typically comes in the form of a liquid or as a pill. Its effects are short-acting (usually around 3 or 4 hours) compared to other extended-release opioids like OxyContin.
Heroin, a particularly dangerous street drug, also belongs to the opioid class of substances.
Like other opioids, meperidine interacts directly with specialized cells in the brain called opioid receptors. These receptors help regulate mood, pain, and levels of sedation. The body naturally produces chemicals, called enkephalins and endorphins, that interact with these receptors as well.
When used in moderation, prescription opioids can be instrumental in treating moderate to severe pain that’s both chronic and acute. However, physicians are cautioned to prescribe these drugs in the short-term as they have a high risk of developing dependency.
Like other prescription painkillers, continued use of Demerol increases the risk of becoming physically dependent and developing an addiction.
When used habitually, opioids directly affect the brain’s reward system by changing the levels of dopamine, the pleasure-causing neurotransmitter. Using more pethidine than you’re prescribed results in bursts of this chemical that can be two to ten times higher than any natural reward.
But over time, your brain starts to adjust to the presence of opioids in the system and eventually requires higher opioid doses in order to achieve the same euphoria. This is called building a tolerance and the cravings that come about as a result can be overwhelming.
In fact, one study conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention showed that the risk of dependency was so high that even a single-day prescription for opioid painkillers increased the chances of use a year later by 6%. What’s more, the odds of still being hooked three years later was 2.9% as well.
Diseases like chronic pain and addiction, then, often go hand in hand.
The United States is in the middle of one of the deadliest health crises in our nation’s history. And it’s due in part to prescription painkillers like meperidine. Not only are these drugs highly addictive, causing thousands of patients to unwittingly develop an addiction each year, they’re also incredibly deadly when abused.
In fact, the opioid overdose rate has become so substantial that drugs alone are now the leading cause of death for U.S. citizens under 50 years old and killed 59 to 65 thousand people in 2016. That’s more than guns, more than car crashes, and more each year than the total U.S. military deaths from the Vietnam war.
Part of the problem is undoubtedly the irresponsibility of both Big Pharma and of prescribing physicians as well. Overprescribing these drugs without any consideration for (or perhaps awareness of) the addictive potential leads many legitimate users to become physically dependent and eventually addicted.
Beyond the addictive potential of painkillers alone, prescription opioid abuse is also strongly linked with abusing heroin as well. Data from the National Institutes on Drug Abuse shows that nonmedical pain reliever abusers are 19 times more likely to initiate heroin use than an abstinent individual, making these drugs even deadlier.
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When you consider the fact that 1 in 5 opioid patients become long-term users, it’s certainly reasonable to assume that if you’re using Demerol, you have a pretty high likelihood of becoming addicted in the future if you aren’t already.
And given that denial is such a bedrock of the addicted mentality, you may be wondering, “How do I know if I’m addicted to Demerol?”
The first step is taking an objective look at your behaviors and looking for signs of dependency. One of the best (and quickest) ways of doing so is taking a short online addiction quiz. Not only will it only take a few minutes to complete, it will also help give you a pretty good indication of your level of addiction.
You can also evaluate your addiction behaviors by seeing how you stack up against the official criteria for substance use disorders from the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. These guidelines are used by licensed physicians and psychiatrist to diagnose instances of substance dependence and are a more clinical approach to self-assessment.
Opioids in general tend to have a long list of short-term side effects that may have a serious impact on your health. When these medications are used as a substance of abuse, the likelihood and severity of these symptoms tends to be far worse.
As with other drug abuse, using meperidine illicitly also often comes with the danger of being intoxicated in physically risky situations. Driving or operating other heavy machinery while under the influence is a growing concern thanks to the opioid epidemic and doing so can have some disastrous consequences – both for you and for other drivers on the road.
What’s more, abusing these substances will render you virtually unable to attend to the needs of others (e.g. children, family members, loved ones), putting their welfare at risk as well.
The long-term effects of Demerol addiction include severe damage to the internal organs like the liver, kidneys, and heart as well as direct physical damage to the GI tract causing constipation, nausea, and frequent bloating.
What’s more, continued opioid abuse has also been shown to possibly cause irreparable brain damage due to decreased respiration. As the body brings in less air due to opioid abuse, the cells of the brain become starved of oxygen and may even die off entirely.
The dangers of meperidine, then, are extensive both in short-term use as well as in the long-term.
Toxicity from overdosing on opioids like Demerol claims the lives of tens of thousands of people each year. In 2015 alone the death toll rose to more than 33,000 people according to figures from the CDC.
Symptoms of Demerol overdose as provided by the Food and Drug Administration include:
And when these deadly drugs are combined with other medications such as gabapentin, the effects can be even more lethal than when taken alone.
In fact, along with accidental overdoses caused by relapse, mixing opioids with other medications or substances is one of the most prevalent causes of opioid-related fatalities.
The lethal combination of opioids and other central nervous system (CNS) depressants like alcohol or benzodiazepines can cause life-threatening levels of respiratory depression that may result in coma or death.
The takeaway here is that opioids are incredibly deadly, whether they’re abused in conjunction with other drugs or simply on their own.
Withdrawal from pethidine, and opioids in general, can be incredibly difficult to withstand. In fact, many recovering users claim that it’s the most painful drug to detox from, second only to benzodiazepines.
As with other withdrawal timelines, the amount of time it takes to detox from meperidine entirely is dependent on a number of factors including genetic makeup, length and severity of Demerol abuse, age, and general physical health. Predicting the exact amount of time you’ll spend experiencing withdrawals, then, can be difficult if not impossible.
However, in general, the most intense symptoms of a Demerol detox will likely last for five days up to several weeks.
While the direct effects of Demerol abuse are damaging enough on their own, one of the biggest dangers of becoming addicted to this drug is the threat of accidental overdose.
Opioids like pethidine in particular have a tendency to build up tolerance quickly but reduce tolerance just as fast during abstinence. As that tolerance drops, the same dosage that got an individual high before may be potent enough to kill them after kicking the habit for several weeks.
As such, many users who muster up the courage to check into rehab only to relapse later are in grave danger of a potentially fatal overdose.
The numbers here may be shocking. Addicts dependent on substances like heroin have a risk of overdosing that’s 32 times higher than others after completing a 28-day abstinence treatment program according to some estimates.
That’s why it’s incredibly important that you utilize the professional services of a qualified addiction treatment facility. They have the strategies, resources, and expertise to help you avoid relapse, and may just end up saving your life.
Similar to an addiction to other opioids like OxyContin or heroin, your Demerol addiction may be treated using Medication-Assisted Treatments (MATs). These treatment plans are essentially just what they sound like – using medication to help combat addiction.
Some MATs like Suboxone or methadone might stimulate the same opioid receptors that pethidine used, though to a much lesser degree. This results in the patient not experiencing withdrawals and having a significant reduction in cravings for the substance. These are called Opioid Replacement Therapies (ORTs).
You may also be treated with Vivitrol, a once-a-month injection that blocks the euphoria associated with opioid abuse, thereby removing the incentive to turn back to using again. New research has shown that this drug may be just effective as ORTs and could provide an opioid dependency treatment with zero risk of abuse.
Like other prescription opioid painkillers on the market today, meperidine is both highly addictive and incredibly dangerous. When used in moderation, this drug can be highly beneficial in treating chronic pain. But once it becomes a substance of abuse, it can turn into a habitual cycle that shatters your relationships, overtakes your sense of self, and decimates your health. It may even end up costing you your life.
That’s why it’s so incredibly important to recognize the signs of Demerol abuse and addiction before it’s too late and to partner with an experienced addiction facility to help you kick the habit.