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Tramadol Addiction and Abuse

Tramadol is an opioid painkiller used to treat moderate pain. While it’s considered to be less habit forming than other prescription opioids, users can still develop an addiction to tramadol.

Addiction to Tramadol

Tramadol 50 mg tabletThose who misuse or abuse tramadol are at risk for developing an addiction. In some cases, even people who follow their doctor’s directions can become addicted.

After frequent, prolonged tramadol use, many people develop a tolerance to the drug. This means they have to take larger doses to feel the drug’s effects. Along with tolerance, tramadol users may experience withdrawal symptoms when they stop using the drug. Tramadol withdrawal can cause irritability, depression and flu-like symptoms.

Tolerance to and withdrawal from tramadol are common signs that someone has a physical addiction. Other signs of an addiction include frequent cravings, relationship problems caused by drug use, and uncontrollable use of tramadol.

”I remember waking up in the mornings with anxiety or heartache that I couldn’t live without my drugs. On days when I didn’t have them, I was almost relieved. I felt like, ‘Okay, I don’t have any. I’ll start today.’ That lasted as long as it took to find more.”

Cathy C., in recovery from painkiller addiction

Understanding Tramadol

Tramadol is a prescription opioid painkiller for moderate pain. It’s often used for pain after surgery or for chronic pain from conditions like fibromyalgia.

Tramadol most often comes in 50 mg tablets and is taken orally. Brand names of tramadol include:

  • Ultram
  • Ultram ER
  • ConZip
  • Ryzolt

Common street names for tramadol include trammies, chill pills and ultras.

As a narcotic painkiller, tramadol has a potential for abuse and can be dangerous in large doses.

Tramadol works by binding to opioid receptors in the brain, which relieves pain. Although it is effective at treating mild pain, tramadol is one of the least potent painkillers available. However, tramadol can still be addictive, especially when taken for a long period of time.

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Tramadol Effects and Abuse

Tramadol is often prescribed because it has less addictive potential than other opioid painkillers. While most painkillers are schedule II substances under the Controlled Substances Act, tramadol is a schedule IV substance.

Tramadol is abused for its calming and euphoric effects. People who abuse tramadol usually feel relaxed and happy. People with severe pain may also take higher doses of the drug.

Frequent tramadol users may become addicted and graduate to harder painkillers or illicit drugs to satisfy their cravings.

As a central nervous system (CNS) depressant, tramadol slows down lung and heart function. Those who take large tramadol doses can stop breathing altogether and may experience a fatal overdose. Symptoms of tramadol overdose can include:

  • Sleepiness
  • Unconsciousness
  • Coma
  • Seizures
  • Respiratory depression
  • Abnormally low blood pressure
  • Slow heart rate
  • Sweating or clammy skin
  • Weak muscles
  • Pinpoint pupils

Common Tramadol Drug Combinations

Tramadol is sometimes abused alongside other drugs, which is called polydrug use. Typically, users combine tramadol with other substances to increase their high or self-medicate. The following drugs are commonly combined with tramadol:

The risk of developing an addiction to tramadol is higher when the drug is taken with other substances. As a CNS depressant, it can be very dangerous to mix tramadol with other CNS depressants, like alcohol, opioids and sedative hypnotics. Mixing these substances can lead to respiratory depression. It also increases the risk of seizure or overdose.

Tramadol Abuse Statistics

84percent

A study from 2005 found that 84 percent of patients who abused tramadol in very high doses had seizures within 24 hours.

1.5million

In 2013, 1.5 million people abused painkillers, such as tramadol, for the first time.

60percent

From 2012-2013, over 60 percent of people who used painkillers like tramadol got the drug from a friend or relative.

Withdrawal symptoms associated with tramadol addiction can be intense and even dangerous in some cases. Medically assisted detox and treatment is the safest way to overcome a tramadol addiction. For help finding a treatment program that fits your needs, please give us a call today.

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Sources & Author Last Edited: January 22, 2016

  1. American Psychiatric Association (2013). Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition. Washington, D.C.: American Psychiatric Association.
  2. Mayo Clinic. Tramadol (Oral Route). Retrieved on June 27, 2015 from: http://www.mayoclinic.org/drugs-supplements/tramadol-oral-route/description/drg-20068050
  3. U.S. National Library of Medicine. MedlinePlus. (2013). Tramadol. Retrieved on June 27, 2015 from: http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/druginfo/meds/a695011.html
  4. The Journal of Family Practice. (2005). What Is the Addiction Risk Associated with Tramadol? Retrieved on June 27, 2015 from: http://www.jfponline.com/index.php?id=22143&tx_ttnews%5Btt_news%5D=178880
  5. Clinical Toxicology. (2005). Seizures Associated with Intoxication and Abuse of Tramadol. Retrieved on June 27, 2015 from: http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/1556365050014418#.VZqabO1Viko
  6. Mayo Clinic. Fibromyalgia Treatment. Retrieved on June 27, 2015 from: http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/fibromyalgia/basics/treatment/con-20019243
  7. National Survey on Drug Use and Health. (2013). Summary of National Findings. Retrieved on June 27, 2015 from: http://www.samhsa.gov/data/sites/default/files/NSDUHresultsPDFWHTML2013/Web/NSDUHresults2013.pdf
About the Writer, Kayla Smith

Kayla Smith is the editorial director for Addiction Center. After working for years as a journalist, she joined the Addiction Center team in hopes of spreading awareness about addiction and mental health issues and helping people get treatment.