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Can I Get Addicted to Tramadol?

SoCal Detox
SoCal Detox

SoCal Detox editorial contributors include writers, editors, mental health and substance abuse treatment professionals who are trained to create credible and authoritative health information that is accurate, informative, and easy to understand.

Compared to its better-known opioid counterparts, such as oxycodone, hydrocodone, and morphine, Tramadol seems innocuous and non-addictive. In fact, when Tramadol was first introduced to U.S. markets in 1995 under the name Ultram, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration originally suggested that it not be classified as a controlled substance. However, increasing evidence over the past 20 years have shown Tramadol to be both addictive and abusable, causing withdrawal symptoms when use is suspended. In light of this information the U.S. Food and Drug Administration amended their initial classification of Tramadol and in 2014 suggested it be classified as a Schedule IV controlled substance. This same year the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency released a paper finding that 3.2 million people over the age of 12 had used tramadol for non-medical reasons during their lifetime. While this only accounts for roughly 10% of the 26.4 million people in the United States who abuse opioids, the study found that majority of those who were abusing Tramadol had previous struggles with addiction to other substances. Following this trend, admission to treatment facilities for Tramadol addiction increased by 250% from 2007 to 2014.

three prescription pill bottles

Tramadol and its Effects

Tramadol is an opioid analgesic approved for the treatment of moderate to moderately severe pain in adults. It is sold under the brand name Ultram, or Ultracet if the Tramadol is combined with acetaminophen. Tramadol is considered to be a safer alternative to other opioid analgesics like oxycodone. When taken as directed Tramadol is effective in offering relief from pain, but when taken at higher doses it can create the same euphoric effects as other opioid-based narcotics. Tramadol also has similar side effects to other opioid-based drugs and the presence of these side effects is increased when dosage is increased, which can be a warning sign of abuse.  These side effects are:

  • Seizures
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Constipation
  • Dizziness
  • Drowsiness
  • Nervousness or anxiety
  • Headache
  • Loss of appetite.
  • Dry mouth.

Another effect of Tramadol is its enhancement of serotonin and norepinephrine transmission. This means that it works similarly to anti-depressants and this mood enhancing property of the drug is what causes some consumers to become addicted to Tramadol. The increase of serotonin and norepinephrine creates a euphoric feeling and some users of the drug begin to take increased doses in order to achieve a greater sense of euphoria. The chances for increased usage and Tramadol addiction is greatest amongst people not prescribed the drug, but a warning sign for those who are prescribed is if they start taking Tramadol in greater doses or more frequently than the allotted amount directed by their physician.

The chances for experiencing the most severe Tramadol side effects are greatly increased when it is not taken as directed. These side effects are seizures, insomnia, and serotonin syndrome, and all can have serious ramifications. The seizures are caused in part because of the enhancement of serotonin and norepinephrine transmissions and the chances of having a seizure are greatly increased if the drug is not taken as directed, or is taken with other medications that lower the seizure threshold. Insomnia can occur as both a side effect of the medication and as an effect of withdrawal from the medication. Studies have shown that Tramadol increases the amount of time spent in stage 2 sleep and decreases the amount of time spent in slow-wave or stage 4 sleep. Prolonged exposure to this can in some cases cause insomnia. Serotonin syndrome is potentially a life-threatening reaction to starting or increasing a serotonergic drug like Tramadol. It includes tremors, fever, and an altered mental state such as confusion or agitation. The chances of experiencing one of these side effects are increased exponentially as prolonged misuse continues.

Tramadol Abuse

As with all opioid-based drugs, taking Tramadol recreationally or not as directed if prescribed can lead to increased tolerance and eventual dependence. When most people think of addiction or dependency they think only of the physical need for the substance. This however, is only a piece of the picture, and dependence, as in Tramadol addiction, has a psychological component as well.

Psychological Aspect of Tramadol Addiction

It would surprise most to learn that psychological dependence usually precedes the physical dependence for a substance. In the case of Tramadol dependency this is true and the person taking Tramadol will sometimes, before a physical dependency occurs, start to believe that they don’t just need the medication in order to deal with their pain, if it is prescribed, but they need it in order to cope with the goings on of their everyday life. Signs of psychological dependency usually begin with anxiety regarding getting access to the drug or running out. This anxiety drives the person to continue to use in order to quell the anxieties. This in time leads to a physical dependency of the drug, which also causes a greater sense of psychological anxiety due to the fear of withdrawal.

Physical Aspects of Tramadol Addiction

Physical dependency for Tramadol is exactly what it sounds like. The body becomes so accustomed to the drug and its effects that it begins to actually need the drug in order to feel “normal”. This usually occurs after prolonged exposure to Tramadol and the chances of being physically addicted increase dramatically when the drug is not taken as directed or is taken recreationally. Once a person is physically addicted to Tramadol they will begin to experience withdrawal symptoms when usage of the drug is stopped.

woman high on drugs

Withdrawal Symptoms

Since Tramadol is an opioid analgesic the withdrawal symptoms produced from stopping are similar to that of other opioids such as oxycontin and morphine. They are:

  • Anxiety, mood swings, irritability.
  • Sweating, chills, goose bumps, shivering.
  • Tremors.
  • Headaches.
  • Insomnia
  • Flu-like symptoms.
  • Nausea
  • Diarrhea
  • Loss of appetite.

Treatment for Tramadol Addiction

While Tramadol is a safer alternative to other opioid painkillers, this does not mean the drug is not abusable or that becoming addicted to it is not possible. Due to the euphoric effects produced by the drug, addiction to Tramadol is a real possibility and if the drug is used recreationally the chances for dependency are increased greatly. If you find that you or someone you know have any of the symptoms associated with Tramadol abuse listed above there are numerous options for treatment in the United States and engagement with a 12-step program can help to break the vicious cycle of addiction.

Do You Have an Addiction to Opiates?

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