Tramadol Abuse and Addiction

As a synthetic opioid, tramadol is similar to other opioid pain medications like morphine, hydrocodone and oxycodone. However, tramadol is weaker than most opioids. Tramadol can treat mild-to-moderate pain. Since it’s less potent than other opioids, for a long time, it was considered less dangerous. Now, it seems there are increasing instances where tramadol abuse and addiction are problematic.

What Is Tramadol?

What is tramadol? Tramadol is a prescription synthetic opioid. One of the most common brand names of tramadol is Ultram. Situations tramadol may be prescribed in include following surgery or for the treatment of chronic pain. With chronic pain, extended-release versions of tramadol are usually prescribed.

Tramadol has effects similar to other opioids. It works as a serotonin-norepinephrine reuptake inhibitor (SNRI). This gives tramadol anti-anxiety and anti-depression effects that most other opioids don’t have.

Other side effects of tramadol include:

  • Dizziness
  • Changes in sleep patterns
  • Headache
  • Diarrhea
  • Constipation
  • Nausea
  • Loss of appetite
  • Dry mouth

Is Tramadol Addictive?

So regarding tramadol, is it addictive? Yes, tramadol has the potential to be addictive. People who use tramadol can also develop dependence. The body and brain adapt to the functions and presence of the tramadol. The person’s body and brain can no longer function properly in the absence of tramadol when dependence forms. If someone is dependent on tramadol and stops using it suddenly, they’ll likely experience withdrawal symptoms.

Why Is Tramadol Addictive?

Why is tramadol so addictive? Tramadol is addictive because of its effects on the central nervous system. As a person uses tramadol, it activates opioid receptors. When opioid receptors are activated, pain-relieving effects occur along with other potentially euphoric effects.

Tramadol has mood-elevating properties because it increases the level of feel-good neurotransmitters in the brain, including serotonin and norepinephrine. Tramadol also changes the chemistry of the brain in a way that brings about desirable anxiety relief.

These feel-good effects can trigger a reward cycle in the brain. That reward cycle is how addiction develops. When someone is addicted to tramadol, they continue to use it in spite of negative effects or consequences.

If someone uses tramadol only to get high or feel pleasurable effects, they are more likely to develop a tolerance. They will then need higher and higher doses to get the effects they are chasing. Tramadol abuse and tolerance also increases the risk of a person experiencing an overdose.

A tramadol overdose can occur because the central nervous system can’t handle the dose a person used. Tramadol and other opioids are central nervous system depressants. If too much of an opioid is used, the functions of the central nervous system, including breathing, may slow so much that it becomes deadly. The slowdown of the central nervous system is an overdose.

How Long Does It Take to Get Addicted to Tramadol?

The question of how long does it take to get addicted to tramadol doesn’t have one answer. Everyone’s brain, genetics and physical and mental health are different. Some people might use tramadol as prescribed and never develop an addiction. Alternatively, someone else might use it as prescribed and become addicted within a few weeks.

Some of the factors that increase the risk of someone becoming addicted to tramadol include:

  • Genetic factors
  • Personal or family history of substance abuse
  • How much someone uses
  • How long a person uses tramadol
  • Whether someone is using it as prescribed or abusing it
  • If other substances are used simultaneously

For someone struggling with tramadol addiction and dependence, it’s important to seek help. Opioid addiction can be challenging to overcome. Contact the Orlando Recovery Center to learn more about tramadol detox and addiction treatment programs that can help you address your addiction and any co-occurring disorders.



Iodine. “Tramadol: More Dangerous Than Many Thought.” October 26, 2016. Accessed March 21, 2019.

Medline Plus. “Tramadol.” January 15, 2019. Accessed March 21, 2019.

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