Tramadol is a painkiller prescribed for moderate to moderately severe pain and, in its extended-release formulation, for the management of chronic pain. As with any painkiller, if taken according to a doctor’s prescription, tramadol can be a safe and effective analgesic medication. However, it is possible to become addicted to tramadol when it is abused.
Tramadol is a member of the opioid class of drugs, which affects the reward centers of the brain that lead to feelings of pleasure. This can, in turn, reinforce the development of dependence and addiction as a person begins to crave those feelings more and more often.1
Additionally, tramadol and other prescription opioids are frequently abused. According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), in 2013, roughly 1.9 million people per year were classified as addicts (of all drugs). Additionally, about 4.5 million people abused painkillers such as tramadol, although not all fit the criteria for a true substance use disorder. Still, the overall number of people misusing such drugs as tramadol is significant…and growing.2
Common Signs of Tramadol Abuse
Tramadol relieves pain effectively by interacting with chemical receptors in the brain. Specifically, opioid medicines (such as tramadol) bind to the opioid receptors in the brain and reduce the perceived sensation of pain. Opioid receptors also influence parts of the brain involved with the sensation of reward and pleasure, so tramadol may produce euphoric feelings too.
However, over time a person may develop a tolerance for tramadol, which means that certain brain processes become so used to operating under the effects of tramadol that the tolerant individual will require higher doses to feel the same “high” feelings. When abused, tramadol can also cause confusion, drowsiness, suppressed breathing, and death.3
A person who has become physically dependent on tramadol may experience the effects of withdrawal if the abuser suddenly stops using the drug. Signs of tramadol withdrawal include:
- Body aches, and cramps.
- Bone pain.2,3
Typical Tramadol Overdose Symptoms
As with any opioid, tramadol users are at risk of accidental overdoses simply because they are taking the drug more often (and perhaps not as mindfully) and at higher doses. When a person overdoses, the following may result:
- Bluish discoloration to lips and fingernails
- Shallow breathing
Treatment for a Tramadol Overdose
Tramadol overdose is a serious medical emergency that requires immediate medical attention. Naloxone is a medication that can be used to block some of the immediate effects of tramadol on the body and potentially help save someone’s life in the event of an overdose. It can be given through a nasal spray or injected into the muscles (or intravenously if administered by medical personnel).
Notably, emergency treatment for a tramadol overdose is only the beginning. When someone overdoses on tramadol, it is often a sign of a greater problem—such as marked physical dependence and addiction. So, after a tramadol overdose, detox may be necessary. Medical oversight, as well as professional emotional support, can be extremely beneficial for a person overcoming a tramadol addiction. Going through it alone or quitting “cold turkey” is rarely a good idea.
Some treatment programs incorporate medications to help a person wean off of tramadol. These medications, such as buprenorphine and Suboxone, can help a person taper off the drug, and are sometimes used beyond the initial treatment period to help manage cases of tramadol and other opioid dependence. Medication-assisted treatment approaches also use non-opioid drugs such as clonidine to control some of the unpleasant side effects of tramadol withdrawal. Once a person has completed a detox treatment program, ongoing support and therapy are needed in order to help the individual maintain their recovery progress and avoid relapse.6
Inpatient and Outpatient Treatment
A variety of treatment programs exist to treat tramadol addiction. Inpatient treatment typically begins after detox is completed and provides a person with intensive treatment for at least 30 days. While some people seek outpatient treatment as a continuation or “step-down” to their inpatient or residential experience, others use the various outpatient therapeutic approaches as their primary means of substance abuse treatment.
The National Institute on Drug Abuse notes that it is important to look at the quality of outpatient programs to ensure that the counseling offered is comparable to an inpatient program. Some outpatient programs may offer what is really more drug education than the intensive treatment found in an inpatient setting. However, many intensive outpatient treatment (IOP) programs do exist.
Whether offered in an inpatient or outpatient setting, quality treatment typically incorporates medical assessment, physical well-being, individual, and group counseling, as well as other forms of social support. Group counseling is especially effective in treating addiction and is part of most inpatient and outpatient treatment programs.7
Counseling and Therapy
Much of the counseling and behavioral therapy received will be focused on learning new skills to cope with the withdrawal effects, cravings and temptations to use that an addict will experience when participating in detox and recovery programs. Additionally, the program will focus on the addict’s underlying issues that led to the addiction, such as depression, anxiety, or other interpersonal or emotional issues. Family counseling is often part of treatment to address the family conflicts that arise during addiction, as well as the ongoing issues facing a person in recovery from addiction.
Tramadol overdoses can be treated. If you or your loved one has had a tramadol overdose and is struggling with addiction to tramadol, please call our helpline today, 1-888-287-0471. A representative can help you locate a treatment program for tramadol addiction.
- National Institute on Drug Abuse (2016). Commonly abused drugs charts: Prescription opioids.
- Substance Abuse Mental Health Services Administration (2013). Results from the 2013 National Survey on Drug Use.
- National Institute on Drug Abuse (2014). Prescription drug abuse. What are the possible consequences of opioid use and abuse?
- Substance Abuse Mental Health Services Administration (2016). Opioid overdose.
- Substance Abuse Mental Health Services Administration (2016). Naloxone.
- U.S. National Library of Medicine. (2016). Opioid and opiate withdrawal.
- National Institute on Drug Abuse (2012). Principles of drug addiction treatment: A research-based guide.