Tramadol is a milder type of opiate, but it would be a mistake to assume this means it is not addictive. Tramadol addiction is a growing—yet often overlooked—problem throughout all demographic groups in the United States.
It is a narcotic-like pain reliever used to treat moderate to severe pain in adults. It works by binding to opioid receptors in the brain and is sold under several different brand names, including Ultram, Zytram, and Conzip. There are two forms of the drug: one that is taken on an as-needed basis and an extended-release form intended to be used for around-the-clock pain relief. Ultracet is the brand name of the drug that includes acetaminophen and tramadol.
This substance is considered an opioid because it binds to the opioid receptor. However, the drug works in a different way than most other opioids while affecting two neurotransmitters: serotonin and norepinephrine. Therefore, it is considered a weak opioid and not classified as a controlled substance by the United States Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA).
Common slang terms for this drug include trammies, chill pills, and ultras.
Signs of Tramadol Addiction
Although this substance is slightly less addictive than other types of opioids, there is a very real danger of addiction—even in people who begin taking the medication with a valid prescription. Studies have shown that tolerance and dependence can occur even when this substance is taken exactly as prescribed. While this doesn’t necessarily mean someone has developed an addiction to the drug, it can be a warning sign of a potential problem.
Other common signs that suggest a person may be addicted to tramadol include:
- Taking doses that are higher than prescribed or using the drug without a valid prescription
- Experiencing cravings for the drug
- Visiting multiple doctors or multiple pharmacies to obtain a steady supply of tramadol
- Stealing pills or purchasing them on the black market
- Believing tramadol is necessary to feel “normal”
- Becoming angry or defensive when confronted about tramadol use
- Continuing to use tramadol despite the negative effects on performance at work or school and relationships with
family and friends
- Complaining of nausea, constipation, muscle aches, heartburn, or sleep problems with no other identifiable cause
- Being unable to cut back or stop tramadol dosage
Understanding the Risk
Tramadol addiction, like other types of substance use disorders, can cause problems in nearly every aspect of a person’s life. Job loss, divorce, estrangement from friends or family, financial or legal problems, cognitive decline, and an increased risk of accidental injury are just some of the possible consequences of tramadol addiction.
People who take tramadol for pain relief should not drink alcohol. Drinking while taking tramadol can lead to respiratory distress, cardiac arrest, seizures, or a loss of consciousness. This drug affects the body’s brain chemistry and reduces a person’s tolerance for alcohol, so it’s very easy for an overdose to occur.
People who abuse tramadol may crush or break the tablet to snort the powder or prepare the drug for injection. This can lead to a fatal overdose—especially when the extended-release tablets are altered.
Tramadol abuse is particularly dangerous for people who struggle with depression. A high dose of tramadol can trigger suicidal thoughts, as can mixing the drug with alcohol.
Pregnant women who abuse tramadol can give birth to babies who are addicted to the drug. There is also an increased risk of miscarriage associated with tramadol use during pregnancy.
Addiction is a progressive, chronic illness. If a person’s tramadol addiction continues without treatment, they may graduate to abusing harder painkillers or illicit drugs with similar euphoric effects. Do not assume that it is safe to wait until a person experiences a “rock bottom” moment to get help. Prompt intervention is the best way to promote a lasting recovery.
Treatment for this addiction typically begins with a supervised medical detox. Withdrawal symptoms depend on the length of abuse and if a person is taking other drugs as well, but will generally begin within 12 hours of the last dose. Symptoms tend to peak around four to seven days after the last dose, then gradually taper off until the body learns to function at a normal baseline without the drug.
At Waypoint Recovery Center, we provide a full continuum of care for men and women struggling with an addiction to tramadol. Clients learn the skills necessary for lasting sobriety and explore options for effective pain relief at our South Carolina residential addiction treatment program, then receive outpatient support and continuing care designed to ease the transition back to independent living.
Recovery is a journey, but we believe the first step is to instill hope for change. Our services are designed to show that a new way of living is possible.