Tramadol Abuse and Treatment

The Safer Opioid?

Table of Contents

Effective treatments for pain are often double-edged swords. The most effective pain medications are notoriously dangerous and addictive. Using Tramadol for pain is no different. Approved for use by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in 1995 to treat pain, Tramadol is also known as a drug with a high potential for abuse and diversion.1

Is Tramadol an Opioid?

Tramadol, also known under the trade names Ultram and Ultracet, is an opioid drug prescribed for moderate to severe pain.1 Because Ultram is also a drug used illicitly, it also has the street names “Chill Pills,” “Tramal,” and “Trammies.” Ultram is available in an extended-release tablet or capsule form or as a liquid solution, all of which help address around-the-clock pain.

Because Ultram is prescribed so frequently for pain, you may wonder, “Is tramadol an opioid?” The answer is: Yes. Therefore, its side effects are like that of other opioids. A few common Ultram side effects are:

Some Ultram side effects are cause for significant concern. Tramadol side effects to report a doctor are:

Significant Ultram side effects that require immediate medical attention are: 

Is Tramadol Addictive?

As part of the opioid drug class, Tramadol affects the body just like any opiate — like heroin or morphine — would. There’s a misconception that Ultram for pain is safer than other opioids. However, Ultram is nationally classified as a schedule IV drug, which means that:

When used as prescribed for short periods, Tramadol for pain is relatively safe. New studies, however, indicate that people who were prescribed Ultram after surgery were just as likely as people who were prescribed other opioids to continue using their medications past the point of necessity.2 In short, Tramadol for pain was no safer than other opioids when it comes to abuse risk. As for the question, Is Tramadol a narcotic?3 Yes, and the chances for abuse and addictions are still there.

How is Tramadol Used and How is it Abused?

Ultram is most beneficial for people who have undergone surgery or have chronic moderate to severe pain. Best used for short periods as long-term use of the drug can result in the need for higher doses. Like other opioids, taking more Tramadol in ways other than prescribed can result in dangerous side effects, overdose, addiction, or death.

How Is It Abused?

Tramadol addiction is a growing problem in the U.S. and around the world.4 Ultram is one of the most frequently prescribed opioids in the U.S., and Ultram use is on the rise. Prescriptions for Ultram increased by 88%, from 23.3 million in 2008 to 43.8 million in 2013, that’s only five years. From 2015 to 2017, the medication had a 4% misuse rate out of the total number of prescriptions.5 Ultram is often abused with other substances. For example, 71% of visits to the E.R. report using tramadol with other drugs like painkillers or sedatives.

This increase in abuse, together with its popularity of being combined with other drugs, makes tramadol addiction dangerous. Having a history of drug abuse increases the risk of Ultram addiction. In about 95% of cases of abuse, the person had a prior substance abuse history.

Ultram is available in both immediate-release and extended-release tablets, taken orally. People who abuse Ultram recreationally may crush and snort the pills to create a more potent high. Tramadol interactions may also lead to abuse or overdose, as with alcohol, benzodiazepines, or marijuana.

Signs and Symptoms of Addiction

Similar to other opioids, Ultram causes feelings that increase the risk of continued abuse, including:

  • Euphoria
  • Feeling detached from one’s body
  • Relaxation and feeling calm

Signs of Ultram addiction are:

Another sign of addiction is seeking more drugs outside of the prescribing doctor or doctor shopping. Tramadol addiction can negatively impact every aspect of a person’s life. The short-term side effects of addiction may be tremors, agitation, and panic. It’s the long-term effects that are most harmful to a person. Long-term addiction to Ultram can ruin relationships, destroy careers, and even result in death.

Overdose and Withdrawal

Despite the belief that Ultram is safer than other opioids like morphine, it can still cause an overdose. All opioids affect the body’s central nervous system (CNS), which slows breathing and affects heart rate. Alcohol, and other tramadol interactions, can also cause an overdose. Tramadol and alcohol, when taken together, can result in extreme sedating effects and cause an overdose. A tramadol overdose can result in loss of consciousness or death.

Symptoms of overdose are:

It’s critical to obtain emergency assistance in the event of an overdose. Having a prescription for Tramadol frequently comes with a prescription for the rescue medication called Naloxone. In an overdose emergency, Naloxone may reverse the life-threatening effects of a tramadol overdose. It’s also essential to not drink when using opiates, as with Tramadol and alcohol.

Withdrawal From Tramadol

It’s vital if you want to stop Ultram use to contact your prescriber before quitting. Stopping abruptly can lead to unpleasant side effects and cause a relapse. Tramadol withdrawal should be done gradually and under a doctor’s supervision.

Tramadol withdrawal symptoms start about 24-48 hours after the last dose and last about a week. Because Tramadol isn’t as potent as other opioids, the withdrawal experience isn’t typically as intense. The cravings are much milder. Although not as intense, tramadol withdrawals are still difficult and can cause significant discomfort.

Withdrawal experience is different from person to person and depends significantly on personal drug history and health. Tramadol withdrawal symptoms include:

Steps to Stop Using Tramadol

Tramadol addiction can happen to anyone. Because tramadol abuse can be life-threatening, it’s essential to find support to address addiction. Slowly tapering down drug use during tramadol withdrawal is best performed with a healthcare professional or substance abuse specialist. Detox clinics and treatment centers can help oversee withdrawals from Ultram and help manage the addiction. Having support at hand provides the ideal situation to address the addiction and allows for greater success.


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