Tramadol ADDICTION Treatment, Effects & SympToms

Tramadol is a common painkiller and opioid analgesic. It is less powerful than codeine and morphine, but that doesn’t prevent it from being abused and resulting in the occasional overdose. Side effects can include heart, breathing, and gastrointestinal issues.

Introduction to Tramadol

Tramadol is a long-acting opioid painkiller used to treat moderate to severe chronic and acute pain. Comparatively, tramadol is considerably weaker than others in its class, but being an opioid it still possesses the ability to create artificial feelings of pleasure, and therefore the potential to result in abuse. For this reason, the DEA has classified tramadol as a Schedule IV substance in 2014.  The health consequences of tramadol abuse can be drastic, resulting in cardiovascular issues, respiratory issues, seizures, and even comas. 

In addition to the risk of causing addiction, tramadol overdoses are another real concern.  Instances of this are rare – although when they do happen, they can be fatal. Overdoses are typically caused by it being ingested with alcohol or other drugs, from prolonged use of several weeks or months, or supra-therapeutic doses that exceed the 400 mg/day recommendation. Emergency room visits involving tramadol overdoses quadrupled in recent years as the primary cause being the adverse reaction of tramadol with other substances.

How Does It Work? 

Tramadol is an opioid analgesic meaning that it is a pain reliever that does not cause unconsciousness. It functions as a typical opioid would: occupying µ-receptors and effectively blocking pain signals to the brain. These types of opioids also affect the reward pathways which is why they are able to elicit feelings of euphoria and pleasure and have a strong propensity for causing addiction. 

Opioid (mu) receptors are located throughout the body with a concentration in the brain and along the spine – the hub of the central nervous system. As such, tramadol can have notable effects on the body beyond pain management and affect everything that the central nervous system regulates. Tramadol can be classified as a CNS depressant. 

Tramadol Side Effects

Tramadol targets opioid receptors which are located throughout the body. The bulk of which are located in the brain and spinal cord, but can also be found in peripheral organs such as blood vessels, the heart, and kidneys, among others. Mu opioid receptors are broadly distributed in the body and can cause a wide spectrum of side effects. These can cause sensory disruption, depression, gastrointestinal issues, and heart and lung disorders. 

One of the most significant causal factors of tramadol side effects is that it has such a long half-life (as is expected for an extended-release painkiller). The possibility of a toxic buildup within the body is very possible and increases the risk of an adverse reaction. The more common side effects of tramadol are relatively mild and do not pose a significant health threat, these include: 

  • Anxiety
  • Constipation
  • Dizziness
  • Drowsiness
  • Dry mouth
  • Headache
  • Heartburn or indigestion
  • Lack of energy
  • Mood swings
  • Muscle tightness
  • Spasms
  • Sweating

Some of the more serious tramadol side effects mirror the same signs of abuse:

  • Fast heart rate
  • High blood pressure
  • Hallucinations
  • Raised temperature
  • Lack of coordination
  • Abdominal pain
  • Trouble sleeping
  • Fatigue
  • Chills

There are more serious side effects that can occur, but the majority are caused by other substances being ingested when tramadol is still in the system. Tramadol is not known to cause long-term adverse effects aside from the results of developing physical dependence.

Cause & Signs of a Tramadol Overdose

Due to the nature of opioids, tramadol can result in physical dependence even when following prescription recommendations. Incidental addictions are common, having an increased likelihood of occurring during prolonged use. Overdoses, on the other hand, are far rarer, and typically result from dosages higher than the recommended 400 milligrams per day. Overdoses can have both intentional and accidental causes. 

The signs of a tramadol overdose will closely resemble that of other opioids, and primarily involve the severe impairment of central nervous system functionality:

  • Confusion
  • Shallow breathing
  • Bluish lips and fingernails
  • Vomiting
  • Coma

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