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The Dangers Of Using Tramadol Recreationally

Dr. Gerardo Sison

Medically reviewed by

Dr. Gerardo Sison

April 1, 2019

It is important to realize that even though tramadol may initially create a pleasurable effect, over time the impact of the drug is increasingly negative and dangerous. Drug abuse and addiction damage the mind and body and create what can be lasting impacts in an individual’s life.

What Is Tramadol?

Tramadol, like other opioid analgesics, alters the brain’s and nervous system’s response to pain. It is also a central nervous system depressant (CNS). Used for moderate to moderately severe pain, tramadol comes as a tablet or as an extended-release tablet or capsule, as explained by. According to the DEA, tramadol was originally marketed as an uncontrolled substance; however, once the abuse potential became clear it was classified as Schedule IV.

Can Tramadol Be Abused?

Tramadol was created to provide pain relief without the intensely pleasurable effects or mind-altering capabilities of other more potent opioids. Despite this, users, through increased dosages, yet obtain some desirable effects, including a milder “high” or sense of euphoria. While the abuse potential is less than morphine, tramadol still poses risks to recreational drug users.

The World Health Organization reports that oral administration provides an increased risk of abuse. They also note that recreational drug users reported “effects of ‘drug liking’ and ‘want to take again’” at 100 mg, which is less than the majority of abusers may take. This indicates “that tramadol has abuse liability in recreational drug users.”

Why Do People Abuse Tramadol?

The DEA reports that “Tramadol is most commonly abused by narcotic addicts, chronic pain patients, and health professionals.” But tramadol abuse can affect anyone. With recreational abuse an individual is seeking to change the way they feel and perceive, while also seeking a pleasurable effect.

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Many times this abuse stems from a user’s desire to escape their life or an area of it which causes distress, such as a co-occurring disorder (when a mental illness accompanies addiction). This is called self-medication. Some individuals who initially use tramadol medically may begin to use it for recreational purposes. Do any of these circumstances sound familiar?

What Are The Risks Of Tramadol Abuse?

The following are side effects which are reported to occur with tramadol abuse:

  • Constipation
  • Dizziness
  • Drowsiness
  • Mood imbalances
  • Nausea
  • Nervousness
  • Sleep disturbances
  • Increased thoughts of suicide
  • Respiratory depression
  • Irregular heart rate
  • Seizures/convulsions
  • Withdrawal
  • Addiction

If an individual is self-medicating a mental illness with tramadol, the drug abuse may actually make the co-occurring disorder worse. Additionally, if a person is abusing Ultracet (a combination medication containing acetaminophen, tramadol) they could experience liver or kidney damage from the high levels of acetaminophen. This could cause organ failure and/or jeopardize a person’s life.

Increased dosages raise the risk and intensity of many side effects, while also increasing the risk of addiction, withdrawal, and overdose.

Is Withdrawal From Tramadol Dangerous?

As tramadol is an opioid, withdrawal may become intense, uncomfortable, and even painful.

MedlinePlus details the following symptoms of withdrawal:

  • Chills
  • Cough
  • Nausea
  • Diarrhea
  • Hair stands on end
  • Nervousness
  • Pain
  • Panic
  • Runny nose or sneezing
  • Sleep disturbances
  • Sweating
  • Certain parts of your body begin to shake in a way you can’t control

While MedlinePlus tells us that withdrawal from an opioid drug is in itself not life-threatening, the symptoms may lead to a secondary scenario which could be. If an individual vomits during withdrawal they could aspirate their vomit (breathe it into their lungs). This could create aspiration pneumonia which can be quite serious, or a person could even choke and die.

The journal Drug and Alcohol Dependence published findings on Ultram, noting that in addition to typical symptoms of withdrawal some users may experience atypical symptoms. The publication reports that these include:

“a strong component of other CNS disturbances not usually observed in typical opioid withdrawal. These CNS disturbances included intense anxiety and panic attacks (nearly one-third of the patients), unusual CNS symptoms such as confusion, delusional behavior and derealization, unusual sensory phenomena (e.g. numbness, parathesia, and tinnitus, tingling in the extremities) and hallucinations, tactile, visual and auditory.”

Confusion and hallucinations may cause an individual to become extremely disoriented and act in a way they wouldn’t otherwise. This could endanger both their health or life and that of those around them. Aggression, anger, outbursts, and violence may occur. A person could engage in dangerous activities such as driving a vehicle or going to great lengths to get away from or stop a danger which doesn’t exist (i.e. jumping out a window or using a weapon).

Can Tramadol Cause Overdose?

If a person takes too much of a drug within a certain period of time their body and brain may become overwhelmed. This often happens when an individual has a tolerance (they need more of a drug to feel good) and/or uses compulsively as is characteristic to addiction.

At this point, critical systems may become unable to function or to effectively expel toxins from your system. CNS depression can increase to dangerous proportions. When these things happen, overdose may occur, causing coma and even death. After surviving an overdose some face permanent brain damage.

How Does Tramadol Abuse Affect Your Life?

The damage inflicted by the hand of tramadol abuse and addiction goes beyond harm to your body and brain. It may cause:

  • Relationships to suffer
  • Educational pursuits to flounder
  • Job struggles or loss of job
  • Financial duress
  • Legal problems
  • A decreased interest in things that were once important
  • Isolation and loneliness
  • Risky behaviors (driving car while intoxicated or unsafe sex)

These adverse effects can become very damaging to a person’s mental, emotional, and spiritual health. As an individual struggles to cope with these circumstances they may use more tramadol to cope. This continues to fuel the cycle of abuse or addiction, thus increasing the risk of the aforementioned dangers.

How Do You Treat Tramadol Abuse Or Addiction?

Like any addiction, good treatment is based on the individual and their specific needs. This is called individualized treatment. The scope and intensity of treatment is dependent on many things, namely the severity of the drug addiction. If you or a family member are addicted to tramadol, the first step towards treatment is detox.

Detoxification occurs while a person’s body and brain work towards removing the drug’s harmful toxins completely from their system. Due to this, we strongly suggest a medically assisted detox.

Medication-assisted treatment pairs various pharmacotherapies (medications used to treat withdrawal and to prevent relapse) with behavioral therapies. This combination addresses not just the adverse effects on the brain and body but those which impact a person’s mental and emotional states as well. These may be used within detox or treatment and can include:

  • Contingency management/motivational incentives
  • Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT)
  • Dialectical behavioral therapy (DBT)
  • Motivational interviewing (MI)

Treatment for co-occurring disorders is an integral part of an effective rehab program. Of the previous behavioral therapies, the latter three may be used to support a person’s mental health needs. Treating these are essential to a drug-free life; left untreated, mental illness may trigger relapse.

Outpatient treatment may help those with more moderate concerns of abuse; however, for moderate to severe instances of addiction inpatient treatment can be a more effective option.

Inpatient drug rehab will give you or your family member better access to the treatment, care, and compassionate support which are so important to finding sobriety. One benefit of these programs is that you can often detox on site then progress directly into treatment.

Coping with the impact of any addiction is hard; however, it can be especially daunting for those who used a drug for recreational or pleasurable purposes. As addiction progresses, many individuals lose sight of positive and healthy ways to feel good or to find fulfillment. After treatment, a sober life may seem overwhelming or even dull because of this. It doesn’t have to be this way.

We Can Help You Lead A Sober And Fulfilling Life

In the long run a sober life can be far more engaging and enriching than one plagued by addiction. can help you find treatment for a tramadol addiction and resources for aftercare support. A good program and aftercare outreach can help you to stay sober and learn how to make the most of it. We want you to stay positive and experience the many benefits of a drug-free life. Contact us today.

Mayo Clinic - Tramadol (Oral Route)

World Health Organization - Tramadol

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