Tramadol is an opioid prescription that’s used to treat pain symptoms. It’s an effective pain reliever, but like other opioids, it can cause some adverse effects like dependence, withdrawal, addiction, and overdose.
Tramadol addiction is a serious disease that can affect multiple areas of your life, including your physical health. Studies show there’s a link between the abuse of prescription opioids and the use of illicit opioids like heroin.
Learn more about tramadol addiction and how it can be treated.
What Is Tramadol?
Tramadol is a synthetic opioid pain reliever that’s sold under the brand name Ultram. Tramadol is prescribed to treat moderate-to-severe pain for a variety of causes like post-surgery pain, injury recovery, and chronic pain.
As an opioid, tramadol can bind to opioid receptors in the brain and body that are responsible for blocking pain signals. These receptors are normally activated by endorphins to regulate the pain response in the body. However, tramadol and other opioids are more powerful than your own endorphins.
They can cause significant pain relief, sedation, and relaxation in people who are struggling with severe pain. However, tramadol does have serious adverse effects, including tolerance, dependence, and addiction. Tramadol can also cause euphoria and intoxicating effects that cause nausea, dizziness, dry mouth, indigestion, and constipation.
When you use the drug for a long time, or if you abuse it in high doses, you can start to experience dependence and addiction.
Dependence occurs when your brain gets used to the drug and starts to integrate it into normal chemical functions. When you stop using, you’ll feel the effects of a chemical imbalance in the form of uncomfortable withdrawal symptoms.
Addiction occurs when tramadol and the chemicals that it releases start to affect the brain’s reward center. Your reward center is designed to help you survive by picking up on important life-sustaining activities like eating and drinking. Though activities cause a release of feel-good chemicals like serotonin, endorphins, dopamine, and oxytocin. However, opioids mimic endorphins and affect dopamine in the brain.
Frequent use can trick the brain into thinking that opioid use is one of these life-sustaining activities. The reward center will encourage you to repeat it through powerful compulsions to use.
What Are the Signs of Tramadol Addiction?
Addiction can get worse over time, and it may eventually take over multiple aspects of your life. To avoid some of the most severe consequences of addiction, it helps to catch the disease early.
Learning to recognize the signs can help you realize when you need help. It’s especially important to be aware of the signs of Tramadol addiction if you or a loved one has been prescribed the medication.
If you are worried that you might have developed a substance use disorder, there are a few telltale signs that you might notice in yourself.
- Strong drug cravings
- Needing the drug to feel normal
- Needing more of the drug to achieve the same effects
- Uncomfortable symptoms when you cut back
- Needing more of the drug than you once did
- Trying and failing to stop using
- Using more than you intended to use
- Continuing drug use despite consequences
- Using drugs to avoid uncomfortable emotions
If someone you know might be struggling with a substance use disorder related to tramadol, there are a few signs and symptoms you may be able to notice. Signs include:
- Shopping for doctors
- Hiding drugs around the house
- Lying about drug use
- Loss of interest in normal activities
- Poor performance at work or school
- Anxiety or irritability
- Strange sleep patterns
- Change in friend groups
- Unexplained medical, legal, or financial issues
How Dangerous Is Tramadol?
Tramadol is a prescription-strength opioid that can be dangerous in high doses. Like other opioids, Tramadol causes effects that slow down the nervous system. These effects make it effective as a medication used to treat pain. However, it can also be what causes a fatal overdose in high doses.
Tramadol can cause respiratory depression and a lower heart rate when you take more than your body can handle safely. Respiratory depression can lead to brain damage, coma, and death if left untreated. A fatal overdose is also more likely if you mix tramadol with other opioids, alcohol, benzodiazepines, barbiturates, or other sleep aids.
What Is Involved in Tramadol Addiction Treatment?
Tramadol addiction can be a mild, moderate, or severe disease. The treatment you receive will depend on your specific needs. Addiction treatment is a process that is designed to address the biomedical, psychological, and social aspects of a substance use disorder. However, treatment doesn’t just target substance use problems; it also addressed other issues that can be caused by or contribute to addiction.
Underlying mental health issues, financial problems, and legal issues are common things that need to be dealt with for treatment to be effective. When you enter addiction treatment, you’ll go through an intake and assessment process that helps treatment professionals determine the best level of care and treatment plan for you.
If you are likely to experience severe withdrawal symptoms or if you have other medical conditions that need a high level of care, you may start treatment with medical detoxification. Detox is the highest level of care in addiction treatment, and it involves 24-hour medically managed treatment.
Tramadol is not known to cause life-threatening withdrawal symptoms, but withdrawal can be unpleasant. Going through it alone can lead to a relapse, and in rare instances, it can cause dangerous dehydration. Detox can help you avoid dangerous complications and mitigate discomfort as much as possible.
After detox, you will likely go through additional levels of care if you are diagnosed with a substance use disorder. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), detox is an important part of treatment, but it’s not all it takes to address a substance use disorder effectively.
Other levels of care include inpatient, intensive outpatient treatment, and outpatient treatment. During treatment, you’ll go through individual, group, and family treatment based on your needs.
Tramadol Abuse Statistics
- 41 million tramadol prescriptions were dispensed in 2017.
- 1.6 million Americans over age 12 misused tramadol in 2015.
- Global tramadol consumption increased by 186% between 2000 and 2012.