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Can You Mix Tramadol and Alcohol?

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When you’re taking any prescription medication, it’s important to know how other common substances will affect you. Alcohol is a common concern for people that are taking a prescription. Tramadol is a common opioid medication, and it’s even used to treat long-term issues like fibromyalgia. But can you mix tramadol with alcohol safely?

Mixing alcohol and opioids like tramadol can be dangerous and even potentially life-threatening. Learn more about how tramadol works and why mixing it with alcohol can be deadly.

What is Tramadol?

Tramadol is an opioid medication that’s sold under the brand name Ultram. The drug is used to treat moderate to severe pain symptoms, and it’s sold in immediate-release formulations that begin to work within an hour. It’s also sold in long-acting formulas. As an opioid, tramadol is a federally controlled prescription drug. It’s classified as a Schedule IV drug, which means it’s considered to have a low potential for abuse. However, long term use of opioids like tramadol can cause chemical dependency and addiction.

Tramadol, like other opioids, can produce feelings of relaxing euphoria when it’s taken as a recreational drug. However, high doses can increase your risk of experiencing negative side effects like dizziness, dependency, and nausea. It may also lead to a potentially fatal overdose. Frequent use of tramadol may also cause it to be less effective as you build tolerance, which lowers the efficacy of opioids in your body. Quitting, after developing a chemical dependence, can also cause uncomfortable flu-like symptoms.

How Tramadol Works

Tramadol works in a way that’s similar to other opioids. It’s an opioid receptor agonist, which means that it binds to opioid receptors in the brain and body and activates them. Opioid receptors are designed to bind with your body’s endorphins, which manage pain signals. When these receptors are activated, pain signals are blocked from reaching your brain. Moderate to severe pain is too strong for your endorphins to alleviate completely. Tramadol can help by more effectively blocking pain and facilitating relaxation. Opioids slow down the nervous system to cause sedation. 

Taking opioids as directed is relatively safe. However, in high doses, tramadol can slow down some essential nervous system functions like your heart rate and breathing. In fatal opioid overdoses, people often lose consciousness, their heart rate slows down, and their breathing either slows or stops. 

What Happens When Tramadol and Alcohol are Mixed?

Alcohol is a central nervous system depressant that works by influencing a chemical called GABA, which helps to facilitate your “rest-and-digest” response. The positive feelings that come from drinking are a result of it’s relaxing and inhibition-releasing effects. Alcohol also causes its side effects by slowing down your nervous system. When you become intoxicated, your reaction time is slower, you lose some motor control, and you’re slower to make decisions.

When you take tramadol and drink alcohol at the same time, the substances will potentiate each other. Potentiation is when two or more substances work together to enhance their effects. Because tramadol and alcohol both work to slow down your nervous system, taking them together can lead to adverse effects, even if you take moderate doses of each drug. For that reason, even normal doses of both substances can lead to an overdose when they’re mixed. Mixing increases your risk of experiencing respiratory depression that can be fatal.

Sources

American Psychiatric Association. (2017, January). What Is Addiction? from https://www.psychiatry.org/patients-families/addiction/what-is-addiction

National Institute on Drug Abuse. (n.d.). Opioids. from https://www.drugabuse.gov/drugs-abuse/opioids

National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2019, November). 8: Definition of dependence. from https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/teaching-packets/neurobiology-drug-addiction/section-iii-action-heroin-morphine/8-definition-dependence

RxList. (2019, September 17). Gamma-aminobutyric Acid: Health Benefits, Uses, Side Effects, Dosage & Interactions. from https://www.rxlist.com/gamma-aminobutyric_acid/supplements.htm

Scheve, T. (2019, July 25). What are endorphins? from https://science.howstuffworks.com/life/inside-the-mind/emotions/endorphins.htm

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