Demerol Withdrawal Timeline

One of the first things people want to know when entering detox for alcohol or drug addiction is how long the process is going to take. Whether it is due to curiosity, a desire to plan how to take the time away, or a hesitation to enter treatment because of fear, this question is often first and foremost on the minds of people in need of detox and addiction treatment.

This is complicated by the growing numbers of people struggling with prescription drug abuse or addiction who would like to stop using a medication they’ve become addicted to, such as Demerol, but are struggling with how to manage the process. Understanding the timeline, symptoms, and process of detox and treatment for Demerol can ease fears and encourage individuals to enter the detox process, giving them a better chance at gaining control over Demerol abuse or addiction.

Demerol for Acute Pain Treatment

Demerol, also known as meperidine, is a fully synthetic opioid agonist, which means it is similar to other medications synthesized to behave like substances from the opium poppy, which can be used to treat severe pain. Unlike some other opioid medications, Demerol is indicated for use only in the case of acute pain, such as that caused by injury. It is not meant to be taken for chronic pain, such as pain that occurs with cancer or other long-term conditions.

As described in documentation from the Food and Drug Administration, Demerol acts similarly to morphine, helping to reduce pain through sedation and interfering with the pain response. However, Demerol appears to not relax smooth muscle as much as morphine does, which means it is less likely to cause constipation or suppress the cough reflex. Nevertheless, Demerol is an opioid medication, and as such, it is still subject to drug abuse and potential addiction.

Detox from Demerol

When a person has been abusing Demerol, the first step in treatment is to detox the body from the drug. The person stops using the drug, enabling it to clear from the body; however, this isn’t necessarily as simple as it sounds. In fact, for Demerol, it can be a bigger challenge because of the way it is metabolized in the body. This challenge is described in the Journal of Pediatric Pharmacology and Therapeutics.

In summary, when the body attempts to break down Demerol, the drug turns into a compound called normeperidine, which can be toxic to the nerves. This substance has a greatly extended half-life compared to meperidine – that is, it takes much longer to eliminate it from the body. While the main ingredient of Demerol takes a couple of days for an adult to eliminate it, the metabolite normeperidine can take a week or more to be eliminated. This creates a potential risk of toxicity and can cause some severe withdrawal symptoms.

Withdrawal Symptoms

Healthline describes the basic withdrawal symptoms during opioid detox, which include:

  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Insomnia and restlessness
  • Anxiety
  • Trembling
  • Muscle aches and pains
  • Sweating and runny nose
  • Intense cravings to use the drug

On their own, these symptoms are extremely uncomfortable, and they are sometimes severe enough to make the person relapse to using the drug simply to stop the pain. Some people have reported that opioid withdrawal makes them feel like they’re dying; however, these symptoms are very rarely fatal. In fact, the person who continues using opioids has a much higher risk of death than the person stopping use.

Still, because of the potential for normeperidine toxicity, withdrawal symptoms on this drug can also include:

  • Hallucination
  • Muscle weakness
  • Tremor
  • Seizures

These symptoms can pose a higher risk of severe injury or even death if normeperidine toxicity is not managed by a healthcare professional. For this reason, detox from Demerol is highly risky without medical support.


General Withdrawal Timeline

Based on the half-life information provided by the above study and DrugBank, the general timeline for Demerol withdrawal is:

  • Days 1-2 after stopping use: The individual will begin to feel some symptoms, including nausea, restlessness, and trembling.
  • Days 3-4: Additional withdrawal symptoms will occur, including pain and insomnia.
  • Days 5-7: Symptoms will hit their peak.
  • Days 7-14: Symptoms will taper off, except for cravings, which will diminish over time and with treatment.

Symptoms during this time can be eased with some over-the-counter medications, massage or baths, and exercise as well as other treatments that can be provided through medically supported detox by a drug addiction professional. These professionals can appropriately taper the dosage, prolonging the detox process but at the same time minimizing potential withdrawal symptoms.

Different People, Different Timelines

The timeline above is only a rough estimate. In fact, each individual will have a slightly different withdrawal timeline, based on a number of factors, including:

  • Constitution and overall health
  • Body weight, fat percentages, and other physical attributes
  • Sex
  • Polydrug abuse
  • Kidney disease or other health issues

For example, as explained in the FDA information on the medication, people with compromised kidney function may have a much longer period of elimination for both meperidine and normeperidine, increasing the chances of developing toxicity or overdose during the detox process.

Due to these differences, each individual will have a different withdrawal experience that can be longer or shorter than the above timeline. Working with a medical professional to manage detox can help the individual get a better idea of what the full detox and withdrawal timeline will be.


Physical Complications of Demerol Withdrawal

The main complications of Demerol withdrawal are described above and include the potential for toxicity that can severely compromise the individual’s health. Again, this is an important reason for getting medical support of the detox process. Other complications can arise if the person is using other substances with Demerol, including alcohol or benzodiazepines, and this situation could require additional intervention during the detox process.

One of the biggest challenges of detox and withdrawal is the heavy cravings that occur, making the individual prone to relapse. Compounded with the discomfort of withdrawal, this strong desire to start using again can counter the efforts to stop and may even result in the person overdosing on the drug, creating a greater risk to health and potentially causing death. As described by the Journal of Addiction, the rate of relapse after detox for opioid abuse is very high, and continuing treatment after detox is required to provide the best chance of managing a Demerol addiction.

Getting Detox and Withdrawal Support

Medically supported detox has a greater chance of preventing relapse to Demerol abuse than other forms of detox, including at-home detox or rapid detox models. Rapid detox brings additional risks based on other health conditions, and it does not make withdrawal symptoms any easier, as described in an article by the National Institute on Drug Abuse. With medical support and giving the detox process the time it needs to fully remove the meperidine from the body, withdrawal can be minimized, and the potential for relapse can be reduced.

Another advantage of detox with an accredited, professional facility is the ability to move directly into treatment for Demerol abuse and addiction. This additional step can help the individual learn how to deal with triggers or cravings that might arise, making it possible to manage the addiction and curtail the chance of future relapse. With the potent combination of medical detox and addiction treatment through a research-based, reputable facility, the person struggling with Demerol abuse has a greater chance of managing the substance use disorder and returning to a productive life without Demerol.

About The Contributor

Editorial Staff
Editorial Staff

Editorial Staff, American Addiction Centers

The editorial staff of Greenhouse Treatment Center is comprised of addiction content experts from American Addiction Centers. Our editors and medical reviewers have over a decade of cumulative experience in medical content editing and have reviewed... Read More

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