With the opioid epidemic regularly making headlines, and concern over both the risk of addiction from pain management medication and the worries about under-medicating pain, there are many people looking for newer, safer, and more effective pain medications.

Tramadol is one of those medications that’s often touted as a solution for the opioid epidemic. A medication that offers high levels of pain relief for illness, injury, and chronic pain, yet also comes with a lower risk of addiction.

But is Tramadol really the miracle drug it seems to be?

Here’s what you need to know about tramadol, how it’s used, and whether this drug is addictive.

What is Tramadol?

Tramadol is a relatively common pain medication that can be prescribed on its own or in combination with other drugs like Aleve [1] to relieve moderate to severe pain.

It’s important to know that Tramadol, despite often being described as an effective alternative to traditional opioid medications, is actually a synthetic opioid in itself.

The difference between an opioid and an opiate [2] is whether the drug is derived directly from the opium poppy, like morphine, or if the drug is created in a lab using the same or similar chemicals as the ones found in opium poppies. So, while Tramadol may be part of the solution to the opioid crisis, it’s still an opioid itself. We mention this because it’s important to know when it comes to figuring out whether Tramadol is addictive. After all, the type of drug a medication is tells you a lot about how it interacts with your brain and body.

All opioids are at least slightly addictive, but they can vary widely in how addictive they are, and what kind of people are at risk of addiction when they use them. Opioid use disorder [3] is the name for addiction to any opioid and is a common problem in the United States.

How is Tramadol used?

There are two basic kinds of tramadol, extended-release and regular. Both offer about the same level of pain relief, but the doses and duration of the medication are different. Both are used for moderate to severe pain, but the extended-release tablet is typically reserved for chronic pain.

Most of the time tramadol isn’t used long-term, but there are exceptions for chronic pain patients, which is common for most opioid medications.

In the short term, tramadol can be taken as needed, rather than being a drug you need to take on a schedule. That can be useful for people who have severe pain but are recovering from it because it gives you a little more flexibility.

That said, that flexibility still comes with the need to be responsible for how you take the medication. Like other opioids, tramadol can leave users feeling high, euphoric, and physically very good, which can lead to problems from use, especially if you take the medication when you don’t need it or take more than you need at one time.

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Side effects and risk of Tramadol use

All medications come with some side effects and risks. The side effects and risks are generally better than the pain you’re treating with the medication, but there is always a small risk that you might be someone who has more severe reactions to the medication.

The good news is that, if you do react badly to tramadol, other options may not come with the same side effects and risks. You can always talk with your prescribing doctor if you’re worried about a medication or feel like the medication you’re taking isn’t a good fit for you.

Here are some of the common side effects of Tramadol [4] that you should be aware of if you or someone close to you is taking this medication:

  • Relaxation
  • Euphoria
  • Pain relief
  • Constipation
  • Slowed breathing.
  • Dizziness
  • Fatigue
  • Headache
  • Itching
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Sweating
  • Confusion
  • Erectile dysfunction

Risk of taking Tramadol

The most common risk associated with taking Tramadol is the risk of addiction. More rarely, people may also have a risk of an allergic reaction to the medication, which may develop even after they’ve been taking the medication for a while without a reaction.

In addition, like most medications and all opioid medications, there is a risk of overdose. Overdose and addiction are both more likely if you don’t take the medication as prescribed, but there is a small risk of both even if you do take the medication as prescribed.

Your risk of addiction increases the longer you take tramadol, and the more of the medication you need to take to get adequate coverage of your symptoms.

If you’re concerned about the risk of addiction, you can always talk to your doctor about your concerns, possible signs of addiction, and options should you suspect that you’ve developed an addiction. Having a plan in place before addiction happens can both help prevent an addiction from happening and make it easier to deal with an addiction if you do develop one.

Is Tramadol Addictive?

Yes. Tramadol is addictive, and everyone who takes this medication should be aware of the risk of developing an addiction, and that the risk of addiction increases with your dose, and the longer you take the medication.

The good news is that tramadol is less addictive than most opioid medications.

There are many reasons for this. For one. thing, tramadol is approved and generally used for lower levels of pain than other opioids. That’s because the effect of this medication isn’t as strong as other opioid medications

That’s also important because it means that you would have to take more tramadol to get the same euphoric effect as you can get with lower doses, which also works to lower the overall risk of addiction.

If a drug doesn’t feel as good as more addictive alternatives, that’s probably one of the main reasons that drug is the less addictive alternative.

The other big difference between tramadol addiction and other opioid addictions is that more doctors are recommending small doses of tramadol in combination with over-the-counter medications. That means that you can get a more effective pain medication without all of the added risks of using a higher dose of your opioid medication.

However, even though the overall risk is significantly lower, there is still a risk, and there are still people becoming addicted to tramadol every year. That means it’s important for you and your loved ones to understand the signs and symptoms of tramadol addiction anytime you or someone close to you are taking the medication.

Signs of Tramadol Addiction

One of the most frightening things about addiction is that it often gets started long before the person dealing with the addiction, or the people around them, realize that an addiction is at play.

Especially in cases of pain medications, addiction, and needing pain relief can look and feel very similar, at first. The sooner you can recognize the signs and symptoms of addiction, the easier it is to overcome that addiction and go on to live a normal, addiction-free life.

Here are some common signs of addiction. Note that these aren’t specific to tramadol addiction, you may feel this way about other sources of addiction or addictive behaviors in your life as well.

  • You worry about running out of your medication, more than you would worry about other medications
  • You are anxious about getting better and no longer having access to your medication.
  • You feel like you need to hide how often you take your medication
  • You worry about how other people will perceive your medication use
  • You feel like you aren’t really yourself when you aren’t taking your medication
  • You feel like you need to take your medication ahead of stressful situations, even when you aren’t in pain
  • You have considered going to another doctor to get an additional prescription
  • You have considered trying to submit your prescription to more than one pharmacy
  • You have considered buying your medication through an online pharmacy
  • You have or have considered lying about your symptoms to get an additional prescription or a stronger prescription
  • You worry about the impact your medication has on your budget
  • You have or have considered buying your medication from the black market
  • You feel sick when you miss a dose, regardless of your pain levels
  • You feel like you need to take more of your medication to get the same level of relief you used to get
  • You’ve started getting headaches just before you need to take more of your medication
  • You notice that your medication helps you feel physically better, more energized, or more able, regardless of your pain levels before you took the medication
  • You worry that you won’t be yourself after you stop taking your medication
  • You worry about what people will think if they know that you’re taking this medication
  • You have been taking your medication longer than your doctor originally thought you’d need it

There are reasons why you might feel some of these symptoms without being addicted, but it’s important to make sure you’re aware of the risks of addiction, especially if you’ve been feeling a lot of these things, or if your overall pain levels have decreased but you still feel like you need your medication.

Is Tramadol Addiction Treatable?

Yes, all addictions are treatable, and there is always hope if you have an addiction. The trick is finding the right treatment for you or the right combination of treatments for you. Once you’ve found the right treatment, you can overcome your addiction, no matter how severe it’s become.

How to get Help?

If you are ready to get help for tramadol addiction or are looking for resources for someone close to you, you’re in the right place.

One of the best ways to overcome addiction is by going to an addiction treatment center that can help identify the risk factors for your addiction, your triggers, and the techniques and coping mechanisms you need to manage your mental health and addiction risk in your future.

If that sounds like the right kind of addiction treatment for you, contact Achieve Wellness treatment center to learn more about our treatment programs, therapies, insurance coverage, and more. We’re happy to help you get back to your normal.

We work with most insurance companies. Please note we are not affiliated with or endorsed by insurance companies.

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Medically Reviewed By

Nicole Rettino-Lambert LCSW, LCADC, CCS, CCTP, CSTIP

Nicole Rettino-Lambert is a dually licensed clinician with over 20 years of experience working with children, adolescents, and adults in both addiction treatment and mental health treatment. Along with extensive experience in clinical work, she has held leadership roles in both inpatient and outpatient addiction treatments centers in New Jersey. Throughout her various leadership positions, Rettino-Lambert has developed clinical programming, assisted staff in their growth and development in the clinical field, and had the privilege of helping numerous individuals on their path to recovery.

As a clinician, Rettino-Lambert specializes in addiction trauma, mental health, self-harm behaviors, anxiety, intimacy issues, sex addiction, and personality disorders. She holds certifications as a clinical trauma professional and sex informed professional. Her passion and purpose as a clinician are to help individuals find their voice, purpose, and motivation through their recovery. She takes pride in being part of the process that helps those who are fighting for their lives to achieve both sobriety and wellness.In her role as a Clinical Director at Achieve Wellness and Recovery, Rettino-Lambert works tirelessly to ensure that her staff feels supported in their roles, continues their clinical growth and development, and is empowered to become the best versions of themselves. She firmly believes that all the staff are an essential part of clients’ recovery journey and that they deserve continuous compassion, empathy, acknowledgment, and support from leadership.

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