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Tramadol Addiction

Tramadol is a type of addictive pain medicine called an opioid. Only available by prescription, tramadol can be used to relieve moderate to moderately severe pain in adults and children 12 years of age or older. However, its misuse can cause a person to become physically and psychologically dependent on it, and this can eventually lead to tramadol addiction.

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Key Facts

  • Tramadol is an opioid painkiller, which is prone to abuse and addiction.
  • Over 75% of drug overdose deaths in 2021 involved an opioid like tramadol.[1]
  • Since opioids share many similar effects, tramadol addiction effectively means one is addicted to all opioids rather than tramadol specifically.
  • Using tramadol only as prescribed can still cause physical dependence. Talk to a doctor if you struggle to take your medication only as prescribed as a result of escalating tolerance and dependence.[1]

What Is Tramadol?

Tramadol is an opiate analgesic, also called an opioid or just a narcotic. This class of drug is generally only prescribed when less dangerous painkillers cannot provide needed relief. Street drugs like heroin also fall under the opioid classification.

These drugs work by binding to opioid receptors in the brain, blocking pain signals, causing euphoria, and producing several other less desirable effects. Tramadol specifically is used to treat moderate to moderately severe pain, and it comes in a standard and extended-release form.[2]

The street names of drugs are always evolving, but two common street names used to refer to tramadol are trammies (in reference to tramadol) and ultras (in reference to the brand-name medication Ultram, which contains tramadol).[3] 

Understanding Tramadol Addiction

All opioids should only be used with care and exactly as prescribed by a medical professional, and tramadol is no exception. Because this medication can cause a powerful sense of euphoria if misused, it is prone to being abused and causing addiction. 

Opioids can essentially hijack the brain’s reward mechanisms.[4] The brain learns to think of opioids as highly rewarding and additionally think of normally rewarding activities, including things like eating and sex, as less rewarding. 

Over time, a person may start to feel they need opioids like tramadol just to function, finding little joy in other activities and feeling a sense of anxiety when not under the effects of opioids. They will also likely experience physical withdrawal symptoms (discussed in more detail later) if they don’t take opioids for a long enough period.[5]

While anyone can become addicted to opioids if they misuse them, addiction becomes more likely for those who use the drugs more often and more heavily. Certain mental health factors, like struggling with depression or already having an addiction, can further contribute to the risk of developing a tramadol addiction. 

Many factors can influence whether one might become addicted to drugs, including biological, environmental, social, and psychological factors.[6] Fundamentally, nobody should consider themselves “immune” to addiction.

Notable Risks

There are several related risks when discussing tramadol misuse and addiction. Opioids like tramadol can cause life-threatening symptoms if misused, as they can cause respiratory depression at high doses. This can make breathing in enough air impossible at high doses. This becomes more likely if one misuses these drugs with other substances that can also cause respiratory depression, such as alcohol.

People buying drugs illegally should be aware that pills are not always what they seem. It is a relatively common practice for criminals to cut drugs they’re selling with other substances to save money or make the drugs more addictive. 

Counterfeit pills are sometimes sold laced with fentanyl, an extremely powerful synthetic opioid that can easily result in an overdose if someone doesn’t realize that’s what they’re taking. One study reported on tramadol being found in seized drugs that also contained non-pharmaceutical (street) fentanyl.[7]

Tramadol Overdose Dangers

Again, tramadol and other opioids have a serious overdose risk if taken in high doses. If respiratory depression becomes too severe, an individual’s body can become so weak that they literally cannot draw in enough oxygen to support their brain’s needs. 

Some notable symptoms common to a tramadol overdose include the following:[2]

  • Difficulty breathing
  • Slowed (or stopped) breathing or heartbeat
  • Extreme drowsiness or sleepiness
  • Inability to wake up or an inability to respond to others
  • Cold, clammy skin

Any opioid overdose should be treated as an emergency. Don’t delay—call 911. If accessible, administer naloxone (known by the brand name Narcan) to the person experiencing an overdose.

Symptoms of Tramadol Addiction

Someone with a tramadol addiction has an opioid use disorder (OUD). This condition, which ranges in severity, is signaled by an ability to stop misusing opioids even as a person realizes this use is causing serious negative effects on their physical, mental, and social health. 

There are many tramadol abuse symptoms that can signal addiction, such as these:[8]

  • Spending significant amounts of time seeking out, using, or recovering from tramadol use or that of other opioids
  • Experiencing withdrawal when one is abstinent from opioid use for a significant length of time (described more below)
  • Withdrawing from social situations even when they are important or would once have brought joy
  • Failing to meet important obligations at school, work, or in other aspects of life
  • Trying or wanting to quit using tramadol and other opioids but being unable to do so
  • Relationship issues due to use of tramadol or other opioids
  • Combining tramadol with other substances of abuse, such as alcohol
  • Physical health issues due to tramadol use, such as gastrointestinal problems and sleep difficulties
  • Increasing cravings for the drug

An obvious sign that a person is at least misusing tramadol is taking the drug in a way that is different than it was prescribed. For reference, the drug is taken orally, generally in the form of a tablet or capsule. It should not be crushed into a powder and snorted with something like a straw. This would signal a person is definitely misusing the drug.

What Are the Effects of Tramadol?

Tramadol is a synthetic opioid, made in a lab. It binds to opioid receptors in the brain (as well as the spinal cord and some other organs) and activates them. This blocks feelings of pain and is strongly self-reinforcing. The body and brain find the process highly rewarding, especially if the drug is misused. 

In the short term, tramadol is likely to cause several undesirable side effects in addition to the euphoria and pain blockage it causes.

Tramadol side effects include the following:[9]

  • Confusion
  • Constipation
  • Drowsiness
  • Slowed breathing

In the long term, some notable effects of chronically using opioids like tramadol include the following:[9]

  • A heightened risk of physical dependence and addiction
  • An increased tolerance for opioids, requiring a higher dose to produce the same effect
  • A higher risk of experiencing a life-threatening overdose
  • A higher risk of experiencing serious and potentially permanent brain damage as a result of hypoxia (the brain receiving too little oxygen)

Withdrawal From Tramadol

As a full agonist opioid, tramadol can cause significant dependence. If you suddenly stop taking tramadol after an extended period, you’re likely to experience withdrawal. Opioid withdrawal can be life-threatening in some instances, and it can be intensely uncomfortable, especially if you’ve been misusing opioids.[10] 

Common symptoms of tramadol withdrawal include the following:[9]

  • Cold flashes with goosebumps
  • Diarrhea 
  • Vomiting
  • Muscle and bone pain
  • Strong cravings
  • Sleep issues
  • Intense leg movements
  • Dehydration

How Tramadol Addiction Is Treated

While there is no cure for OUD, tramadol addiction treatment enables the management of the addiction. This means people can live long, healthy, and productive lives while managing this chronic condition.

Common treatments for tramadol addiction include the following:

  • Medical Detox 
  • Residential Rehab
  • Outpatient Rehab
  • MAT
  • Behavioral Therapy

Tramadol Rehab at Boca Recovery Center

Beating addiction isn’t easy, but no matter the stage you’re at in recovery, it’s possible. The best way to regain control of your life and stop abusing drugs is with professional help. At Boca Recovery Center, we can craft a recovery plan tailored to the severity of your addiction and your specific needs, maximizing your chances of long-term recovery.

If you struggle with tramadol or other types of opioids, reach out to us. We offer medical detox, inpatient treatment, outpatient care, MAT, and evidence-based therapy. Our team of empathetic and professional addiction treatment experts is ready to help. 

Check out the locations of our addiction treatment facilities in Florida, New Jersey, and Indiana. Whether you live locally or travel for treatment, we can set you up today.

Frequently Asked Questions

Some of the most frequently asked questions about tramadol addiction include the following:

How long does tramadol stay in your system?

Generally, tramadol will stay in your system for about four days. This is how long it can be detected on a urine drug test.

What is tramadol’s half-life?

Tramadol is somewhat unusual in that it’s been found to have a varying half-life depending on the dose taken. One study found the mean half-life of tramadol in overdose to be 9.24 hours, but this isn’t the norm if one only takes the drug as prescribed.[12] It typically takes four to five half-lives of a drug for the body to eliminate the vast majority of that drug from the system (95%+). Its effects will significantly weaken long before that, however.

What are common side effects of taking tramadol?

Common side effects of tramadol include euphoria, confusion, constipation, drowsiness, and slowed breathing. The drug can be life-threatening if taken in high doses, especially if mixed with other drugs, like alcohol.

What type of drug is tramadol?

Tramadol is a full opioid agonist, also called an opioid painkiller or a narcotic. It is a prescription medication that should only be used as prescribed.

What are common slang terms for tramadol?

The most common slang terms for tramadol are trammies and ultras

What drug classification is tramadol?

Tramadol is an opioid painkiller and a Schedule IV substance. 

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Medically Reviewed By Dr. Alison Tarlow

Dr. Alison Tarlow is a Licensed Clinical Psychologist in the States of Florida and Pennsylvania, and a Certified Addictions Professional (CAP). She has been a practicing psychologist for over 15 years. Sh... Read More

Updated March 22, 2024
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