Understanding Tramadol Addiction

tramadol addiction

Tramadol is an opioid painkilling medication that is prescribed for relief of pain. This can be in the short term or long term, and it can be for moderate pain or severe pain. Tramadol is considered to be a narcotic, which means that there is a certain risk for abuse as well as addiction, even when taken as prescribed.

The Effects of Tramadol on the Body

When a patient takes tramadol, the processing of pain signals that travel between the nerves and the brain is modified. Like heroin, hydrocodone and all other opiates, tramadol binds to the opioid receptors that are in the brain as well as the spinal cord. This causes the pain-relieving effects that the drug is prescribed for and the euphoria produced when the drug is abused.

Tramadol is not as strong as other commonly abused opiates like hydrocodone or morphine when it is injected. However, when patients take tramadol orally, it is converted into a compound called O-desmethyltramadol, which is a more potent activator of the opioid receptors. This is why users may get high when using tramadol.

There are many potential side effects associated with tramadol use including:

  • Difficulty falling asleep
  • Constipation
  • Headache
  • Dizziness
  • Diarrhea
  • Nausea
  • Dry mouth
  • Sweating
  • Loss of appetite
  • Tremors

Long-Term Effects of Tramadol

It’s becoming less and less common for physicians to prescribe tramadol for a prolonged period of time. This is because of the undesirable effects of long-term use.

Tramadol changes a person’s brain chemistry when it is taken. Therefore, there is a risk of the patient developing a tolerance to the drug. When the body adapts to having a certain amount of tramadol, a patient may need to take more of the drug to feel its painkilling effects.
In many cases, when patients use opioids in the long term, cognitive impairment can result. A patient may have slowed reaction times and confusion. Activities like driving may become more difficult than they were before.
In many cases, when patients take tramadol for an extended period, they become dependent on the drug. Without it, they may not be able to function normally, and they may experience withdrawal symptoms if they stop taking it.

How is Tramadol Abused?

Although tramadol has low abuse potential relative to morphine and other opioids, tramadol does produce opioid-like effects at doses much higher than those used for therapeutic purposes. According to a study in Iran, 30% of individuals using tramadol consumed the drug for its euphoric effects.

Tramadol abuse is often observed in individuals with a history of substance abuse and has reinforcing effects in individuals who abuse other opioids. Individuals who use tramadol for a long time develop a tolerance for the drug and require larger amounts of the drug to produce the desired effects. This is often observed in individuals who use tramadol for chronic pain. Besides using larger doses, such individuals develop physiological dependence on the drug and continue taking the drug even after the cessation of pain. Tramadol is also abused in the Middle East and many African countries to allow individuals to work for longer hours.

Tramadol Addiction Signs and Symptoms

If you suspect you may be addicted to tramadol or you suspect someone you love may be addicted to tramadol, you may want to be on the lookout for the following signs and symptoms:

  • Using more tramadol than prescribed
  • Using tramadol multiple times a day
  • Claiming medication is lost to get a new prescription
  • Visiting multiple doctors or pharmacies to get more prescriptions
  • Asking friends or family members to fill a prescription for them
  • An obsession with getting more tramadol

Tramadol Abuse Facts and Statistics

The following are statistics regarding tramadol abuse:

  • In 2017, synthetic opioids such as fentanyl and tramadol, excluding methadone, were involved in 28,466 deaths due to overdose. This figure excluded fatalities caused by other opioids including natural opioids (morphine), semi-synthetic opioids (oxycodone, hydrocodone) and heroin.
  • Synthetic opioids were involved in 59.8% of all deaths due to overdose involving opioids
  • Tramadol was involved in 1,250 deaths in 2016 accounting for 2% of all deaths caused by drug overdose. Tramadol was involved in 1,177 (2.2%) deaths due to drug overdose in 2015.
  • Tramadol was the 14th leading cause of death due to drug overdose in 2016
  • 41 million prescriptions for tramadol were dispensed in 2017, whereas 43.6 million prescriptions were dispensed in the previous year

Tramadol Withdrawal Symptoms

If a person develops a dependence to tramadol, stopping the medication will result in difficult withdrawal symptoms. Even if a patient uses tramadol as his or her doctor has prescribed, they could still experience dependence and withdrawal.

Many experts suggest the gradual tapering off of the medication as opposed to stopping the medication abruptly. Most people describe tramadol withdrawal symptoms as flu-like symptoms. However, some patients have been known to have serious withdrawal effects like panic attacks, hallucinations and severe anxiety.

Other common withdrawal symptoms include:

  • Abdominal cramps
  • Irritability
  • Mood swings
  • Dizziness
  • Blurred vision
  • Insomnia
  • Diarrhea
  • Headaches
  • Restlessness
  • Loss of appetite
  • Sweating
  • Muscle pain
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Depression
  • Cravings

Tramadol is an opioid so withdrawal symptoms are similar to those of other opioids like hydrocodone and oxycodone. Tramadol also affects the areas of the brain that are effected by antidepressants. So tramadol withdrawal can also be similar to antidepressant withdrawal.

Tramadol Addiction Treatment

If you or someone you love needs tramadol treatment, we can help. At The Recovery Village Ridgefield, we are dedicated to helping patients begin a life-long recovery journey. We offer medical detox, inpatient programs, outpatient programs and aftercare programs for tramadol addiction treatment. You don’t need to suffer any longer. Give us a call today, and speak with an addiction expert. We are here for you 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

Mehrpour, Omid. “Addiction and seizure ability of tramadol in high-risk patients.” Indian J Anaesth. January 2013. Accessed August 16, 2019.

Scholl, Lawrence; Puja, Seth; Mbabazi, Kariisa; Nana, Wilson; Baldwin, Grant. “Drug and opioid-involved overdose deaths—United States, 2013–2017.” Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report. January 2019. Accessed August 16, 2019.

Hedegaard, Holly; Brigham, Bastian; Trinidad, James; Merianne, Spencer; Warner, Margaret. “Drugs most frequently involved in drug overdose deaths: United States, 2011-2016.” December 2018. Accessed August 16, 2019.