Tramadol (brand names Ultram, Ultram ER, ConZip, Rybix ODT and Ultracet) is a prescription drug and an opioid-like analgesic, meaning that it treats pain and works on the brain and body much like an opioid. When originally marketed, tramadol was promoted as having a lower potential for abuse than other prescription analgesics, but in recent years, an increasing amount of evidence has suggested that this may not be entirely correct.
And although tramadol is less potent than morphine, when misused, it can produce a high, which means there is also a potential for further abuse and even addiction.
What is Tramadol?
Tramadol is a prescription opioid that can be administered to patients for the treatment of moderate-severe acute pain. As the brand name Ultram, it’s also available in an extended release version so it can also be used by patients suffering from chronic pain who require around-the-clock relief.
Tramadol is taken orally, and doctors will often start patients on a low dose treatment plan and increase the dosage if needed. As an opioid analgesic, Tramadol works by reducing activity in the central nervous system and alters the manner in which the brain senses and reacts to pain. Tramadol is different from most other opioids because it also increases levels of norepinephrine and serotonin in the brain.
Common conditions that tramadol is used to treat include back pain, migraines, nerve disorders, spinal stenosis, osteoarthritis, and fibromyalgia.
Can Tramadol Be Abused?
As noted, when tramadol was initially introduced, it was lauded as a safer opioid option with lower abuse potential. However, in 2010, the Food and Drug Administration and Ultram’s manufacturer modified the warning label for this medication, informing doctors not to prescribe it to patients who are at risk for addiction, thus implying there was a potential for abuse.
Doctors are also urged not to prescribe tramadol to patients with a history of substance abuse, and it is not recommended for those who are suicidal or take certain other medicines such as sedatives or antidepressants.
Due to concern about the possibility of abuse, the prescribing and usage patterns of tramadol were monitored for several years after it was initially marketed. After three years, rates of abuse were reported as being fewer than two patients per 100,000 – a statistic that suggested that tramadol abuse was not a significant concern.
However, despite early evidence that hinted tramadol was not addictive, many experts remained unconvinced because nearly all known narcotics that activate the µ-opioid (mu-opioid) receptors in the brain had eventually been shown to be addictive.
According to the following statistics, these concerns were not unfounded:
- In 2012, the National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH) found that two million Americans age 12 or older reported using tramadol for non-medical purposes.
- In 2010, emergency department visits related to effects of tramadol had risen to nearly 26,000 – more than 2.5 times the number of visits in 2005.
For these reasons, the Drug Enforcement Administration classified tramadol as a Schedule IV controlled substance in July 2014.
Can a User Experience a Tramadol High?
As with any opioid, tramadol use, particularly abuse, can result in a high. There are several ways people seek to intensify the desirable effects of tramadol, such as by chewing versus swallowing, crushing the tablet and smoking, snorting, or injecting the resulting powder, and taking tramadol in higher doses and/or more often than directed.
The effects of tramadol can also be amplified when used in conjunction with another substance such as alcohol, other opioids, or benzodiazepines. When someone uses tramadol along with another psychoactive substance, this combination may result in the intensification of pleasurable feelings, but can also raise the risk of dangerous and even fatal side effects, including slowed respiration and overdose.
When someone abuses/misuses tramadol using any of the aforementioned methods, they are taking the drug into their system more rapidly and at a higher concentration, thus increasing the effects. One of the most popular ways tramadol is abused is by snorting it, a method that enables the drug to enter the bloodstream almost instantaneously. Side effects incurred by snorting tramadol include breathing problems, hallucinations, seizures, cardiac arrest and coma.
For patients who use tramadol precisely as directed, less than 1% will experience a high, and instead, side effects may only include dizziness or nausea. Moreover, under normal circumstances, a tramadol high will not occur, and if a person takes the medication as directed, the chances of experiencing feelings of euphoria are improbable.
Treatment for Tramadol Addiction
Treatment for tramadol abuse or addiction usually begins with a medical detox, a process aimed at helping patients stop using tramadol as safely, comfortably, and quickly as possible.
After detox, patients are urged to undergo long-term inpatient or outpatient addiction treatment, which can also help address underlying mental health disorders, such as anxiety or depression. Our center employs certified, professional staff who specialize in addiction and deliver evidence-based services such as behavioral therapy and counseling.
Comprehensive, integrated treatment has been shown to be the most effective approach to addiction and provides clients with the knowledge and tools they need to achieve abstinence, avoid relapse, and enjoy long-lasting wellness and sobriety. Please call us as soon as possible – we can help.
Our programs are structured with various components of evidence-based treatment practices and holistic approaches to treatment that provide our patients with the knowledge and tools they need to be successful in their recovery.
If you or your loved one is suffering from substance abuse, please seek help as soon as possible.