Tramadol is an opioid analgesic pain reliever, marketed in tablet form to treat pain in an extended-release, or round-the-clock format. Opioids are thought to disrupt the neurotransmitters in the brain that are responsible for pain sensations and emotions. Opioids generally make people feel relaxed and pleasant. Tramadol is a narcotic sold as:
- Ultram ER
- Rybix OTD
In March of 2010, the FDA recognized the potential for abuse of Utram and Ultram ER forms of tramadol, publishing warnings about the increased risk of overdose, addiction, and suicide as well as the possibility for drug-seeking behaviors and criminal drug diversion.
Health Risks of Tramadol Abuse
Prescription painkillers are commonly abused. They are easy to obtain and mistakenly perceived as “safe” since doctors prescribe them for legitimate purposes. When used as directed, these medications are generally considered safe; however, in 2010, over 12 million people used prescription painkillers for nonmedical reasons, as reported by the National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH). Using a prescription for any reason other than as it was intended is considered abuse.
Some of the physical health risks of tramadol abuse include:
- Nausea and/or vomiting
- Trouble breathing
- Convulsions and/or seizures
Serious psychological side effects can also occur when abusing tramadol. Depression is common, especially for those with underlying mental health disorders, which increases the risk of suicidal behaviors. Another risk factor of tramadol abuse is the onset of serotonin syndrome, which is characterized by hallucinations, agitation, irregular blood pressure and heart rate, hyperthermia, loss of coordination, diarrhea, coma, and even death in some cases.
Tramadol may be crushed into a powder to be smoked or snorted, which thwarts the drug’s extended-release format, sending it rapidly into the bloodstream and across the blood-brain barrier. This is highly dangerous and increases all risk factors.
In 2009, the Drug Abuse Warning Network (DAWN) published that the nonmedical use, or abuse, of prescription painkillers was responsible for 475,000 visits to emergency departments. Mixing tramadol with other drugs or alcohol increases the health risks and intensifies the effects.
Tramadol, like other opioid narcotics, is a central nervous system (CNS) depressant and toxic levels of the drug can lead to a fatal overdose, which typically occurs when respiration levels are depressed and the user stops breathing. In 2008, prescription painkillers were responsible for 14,800 overdose deaths, as reported by the CDC. If you suspect a tramadol overdose, call for emergency help immediately.
Dependence, Addiction, and Withdrawal
Opioid narcotics bind to receptor sites in the brain, causing a euphoric sensation that users may become dependent on. Chronic abuse of opioids like tramadol may lead to the brain developing a tolerance to the drug, requiring users to continue increasing dosages to get “high” or feel the effects.
Tolerance often leads to dependence wherein abusers feel more normal with the drug than without it. Those dependent or addicted to tramadol may experience uncomfortable withdrawal symptoms when the drug is removed or even between doses. Side effects of withdrawal often mimic physical flu symptoms and include intense emotional swings. Psychological effects of withdrawal include anxiety, agitation, restlessness, insomnia, depression, paranoia, panic attacks, and aggressiveness. Due to the severity of withdrawal symptoms, tramadol should never be stopped cold turkey, or suddenly. Instead, under the guidance of a health care professional, a tapering-off schedule may be safer.
Signs of Tramadol Abuse
It may be difficult to ascertain if someone you know and love is abusing an opioid narcotic like tramadol. Some of the warning signs to watch out for include:
- Decreased pleasure in activities they used to enjoy
- Isolation or withdrawal from friends and family
- Unpredictable mood swings and personality shifts
- Financial trouble
- Doctor “shopping” or seeking additional prescriptions that aren’t necessary
- Lowered production levels at work or school
Addicts’ lives generally revolve around the substance they are abusing. For example, an addict will spend most of her time thinking about and obtaining the drug, using the drug, and recovering from its effects. Addicts continue to abuse substances despite any and all negative consequences.
A comprehensive rehabilitation center, like the one here at Axis, will assess your, or your loved one’s, unique situation and circumstances to develop an evidence-based treatment plan. Rehabilitation may include detoxification under medical supervision to ensure safety and success. To learn more about how we can help you or your loved one recover from tramadol addiction, contact us today.