Tramadol is an opioid with one-tenth the potency of morphine. It’s widely prescribed for both humans and dogs. However, it can still cause addictive and abusive behavior. For example, a Kentucky woman frequently cut her dog with razor blades, so she could take her pet to the vet and get more tramadol.
Tramadol has played a significant role in the U.S. opioid crisis. In 2012, it outranked oxycodone to become the #2 most commonly prescribed opioid in the U.S. There’s also a debate about whether the drug is actually a narcotic. The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration classified it under Schedule IV of the Controlled Substances Act (CSA), which is the category of drugs considered to have a “low potential for abuse and low risk of dependence.”
Nevertheless, the abuse and misuse of tramadol persist. The National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH) reports 1.6 million people over the age of 12 misused tramadol products in 2016.
Tramadol was developed in Germany in 1962, but it wasn’t introduced in the U.S. until 1995. It’s a fully synthetic opioid that’s used to treat moderate to severe pain. Tramadol is also intended for the ongoing treatment of pain, so it’s available as an extended-release or long-acting tablet.
Tramadol acts on the opioid receptors in the brain and blocks the body’s ability to experience pain. It also has antidepressant and anti-anxiety properties. When taken in high doses, the drug can induce feelings of mellow euphoria.
While tramadol is viewed as safer than OxyContin, its misuse can lead to a litany of troubling symptoms and health complications. It can even become habit-forming. Prolonged tramadol use can invoke tolerance, dependence, and addiction in a user. The street names associated with tramadol include ultras, chill pills, and OxyContin Lite. Tramadol products are sold under brand names such as Ultram ER and Conzip.
Tramadol is commonly abused with other drugs, which is an act known as polydrug use. In most cases, the user will combine tramadol with other substances to intensify their high or self-medicate. The most common drug combinations with Tramadol include:
The possibility of developing an addiction to Tramadol is higher when it is used with other substances. Due to its classification as a depressant drug, it is extremely dangerous to mix the medication with other CNS depressants such as opioids, alcohol, or sedative-hypnotics. When these drugs are used together, it increases the risk of respiratory depression, and it can also increase the odds of seizures or an overdose.
When someone starts to mix drugs to intensify their effect, it can be a sign that they’ve developed a tolerance to Tramadol. If you are not experiencing the results as when you started using Tramadol and mix it with other drugs, it can be an indicator that you are slowly developing an addiction to the medication.
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Tramadol users can develop a tolerance when they take more than the prescribed amount. Recreational users typically crush and snort tramadol pills to experience its immediate effects, thereby bypassing the extended-release feature.
Dependence on tramadol becomes apparent when users experience withdrawal symptoms after ceasing use. Tramadol is unique in that it produces two types of withdrawal symptoms.
The first type includes flu-like symptoms, restlessness, and craving.
As with other substances, people who struggle with a tramadol addiction will compulsively try to obtain the drug. The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) defines addiction as “an inability to stop using a drug; failure to meet work, social, or family obligations; and, sometimes (depending on the drug), tolerance and withdrawal.”
After having already developed a high tolerance for tramadol, a user will also display these observable signs of addiction:
Tramadol addiction treatment begins with medical detoxification, which is the first and most critical step toward sobriety. In detox, you’ll be provided with medications to fight the symptoms of withdrawal. Our medical staff will provide round-the-clock care and supervision to ensure that your detox is safe, comfortable, and successful. This phase of care typically lasts between three and seven days. At the conclusion of your detox period, you’ll be evaluated and presented with options for ongoing treatment.
After detoxing from tramadol, it’s imperative that you stay at a residential treatment facility to continue your recovery. In residential treatment, you’ll receive counseling and therapy that explores the psychological roots of your tramadol addiction.
After your stay in residential treatment, you should pursue outpatient services that can provide additional support as you recover from your tramadol addiction.
Taking too much tramadol can cause you to experience serotonin syndrome, which occurs when high levels of serotonin accumulate in your body. According to the Mayo Clinic, “Serotonin is a chemical your body produces that’s needed for your nerve cells and brain to function. But too much serotonin causes symptoms that can range from mild (shivering and diarrhea) to severe (muscle rigidity, fever, and seizures). Severe serotonin syndrome can be fatal if not treated.”
If you or a loved one has overdosed or is displaying serotonin syndrome after prolonged tramadol use, immediately call 911 or go to the nearest emergency room.
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