Tramadol Addiction and Abuse

When you started taking tramadol, it was a genuine help. It took away your pain and let you carry on your life. 

But at some point, it turned into a crutch. Eventually, it became a shackle. 

If you or a loved one are dealing with tramadol addiction, you don’t need to fight alone. Here’s everything you need to know about the dangers of tramadol abuse. 

Tramadol Addiction Statistics

Tramadol is a type of opiate narcotic analgesic (a narcotic painkiller like fentanyl, morphine, OxyContin, and Dilaudid). It’s available as an immediate release or extended release. 

Like other opioid painkillers, tramadol acts on the opioid receptors in the central nervous system, changing how your brain perceives and processes sensations of pain.

Tramadol is unique compared to other narcotic painkillers for two reasons: 

  1. It’s completely synthetic
  2. Unlike other opioids, tramadol also affects norepinephrine and serotonin 

It soothes pain similarly to other opiate painkillers, but it also has a tangible effect on how you perceive pain and your mood following consumption. 

Originally, tramadol was thought to be safer than other similar narcotics, with a lower abuse potential than morphine.

But opioids are highly addictive, and the opioid epidemic has shown tramadol to be just as risky as other narcotic painkillers. Because of this, the DEA reclassified it as a Schedule IV controlled substance

General Statistics on Addiction to Tramadol

With all of that in mind, let’s talk about addiction statistics when it comes to tramadol. 

Legal prescriptions of the drug have been climbing rapidly in the past ten years, rising from 8.61 million in 2004 to 19.48 million in 2016. 

The number of tramadol-related ER visits rose alongside it, from 6,255 visits in 2005 to 21,649 in 2011 (a 250% increase). Among those visits, 20% involved tramadol combined with another drug, 26% combined tramadol with two other drugs, and 26% combined tramadol with three or more drugs. 

Almost half of all tramadol-related visits combined tramadol with another pharmaceutical drug. Only 14% of visits showed tramadol combined with alcohol, and only 12% showed tramadol combined with illicit drugs. 

Demographics

So, who is abusing tramadol? 

Interestingly, significantly more women were shown to abuse tramadol. Among all ER visits in which the gender of the patient was known, nearly 3,000 more women were admitted. Regardless of gender, there was a clear increase in tramadol-related ER visits over time. 

Out of those patients who visited the ER for tramadol abuse and misuse, the age groups admitted most often were adults aged 25 to 34 and older adults aged 55 and older. 

Keep in mind, however, that tramadol has a relatively low instance of abuse compared to other narcotic painkillers. However, researchers have found that tramadol abuse occurred almost exclusively in patients with a prior history of substance abuse (95% of all cases).  

Signs of Tramadol Abuse

How do you know if a loved one is fighting with tramadol abuse? It helps to know the warning signs

Since tramadol is a narcotic painkiller, it’s abused for much the same reasons as similar drugs: the calming effects and the sensation of euphoria. Like other painkillers, it produces certain side effects when abused, such as: 

  • Dizziness
  • Drowsiness
  • Headaches
  • Insomnia
  • Nausea
  • Constipation
  • Heartburn
  • Uncontrollable muscle shaking
  • Mood swings
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Apathy

More severe side effects include fever, agitation, quickened heartbeat, even seizures. 

You may see some of these signs co-occur in ways that wouldn’t make sense in a typical person, such as euphoria while inexplicably drowsy. 

You may also see signs that look as though the person is sick, like a runny nose and sneezing even though the person doesn’t seem to have the flu. 

Since tramadol is by prescription only, look for drug-seeking behaviors, such as going to multiple doctors and pharmacies for prescriptions. You should also look to see if the person is taking tramadol in ways other than how it was prescribed, such as crushing pills, snorting them, or mixing with other medications. 

Am I Addicted?

If you’re wondering whether you yourself are addicted, you need to be honest with yourself in asking whether you rely on the drug. 

Look for signs of psychological dependence. Are you justifying drug-seeking behaviors, even if you know that what you’re doing is dangerous or illegal? Do you instinctively reach for tramadol to help you get through everyday stresses?

You should also look for signs of physical dependence, especially withdrawal syndrome. Tramadol withdrawal produces flu-like symptoms typical of opiate withdrawal, but can also include things like: 

  • Anxiety, nervousness, or panic
  • Sleep problems
  • Cold chills
  • Uncontrollable muscle tremors
  • Diarrhea
  • Sweating
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Muscle, joint, or bone pain

If someone is going through severe withdrawal syndrome, it may be wise to check them into a medically-supervised detoxification program

Dangers of Tramadol Abuse

If you or a loved one is addicted to tramadol, it can be easy to avoid facing the facts. You may convince yourself that you still need tramadol to deal with pain or get through the day. 

The reality is that tramadol abuse is dangerous, especially when the abuse goes on for a long period of time. 

Since tramadol is a central nervous system depressant, it can slow down your breathing, especially when you take a lot of it. This can create hypoxia, which is when the brain doesn’t get enough oxygen. Hypoxia can result in permanent brain damage, coma, even death. 

In addition, tramadol can create serious long-term problems with mood disorders. Unlike other opiates, it directly affects the levels of serotonin and norepinephrine in your body, similar to antidepressants like venlafaxine (Effexor). 

Prolonged abuse teaches your body to rely on tramadol to maintain norepinephrine and serotonin levels, which is why major mood crashes can occur when coming off the drug or when you’re trying to get clean. 

If a Loved One is Fighting Tramadol Abuse

If you or a loved one is struggling with tramadol addiction, don’t wait. Help them take the first steps toward living a happier, healthier, drug-free life. 

Click here to learn about our levels of addiction treatment, or get in touch with one of our certified addiction specialists today to see how they can help.