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The Dangers of Tramadol (Ultram) Abuse and Addiction

Tramadol is an opioid pain medication that is also prone to abuse and addiction. It is also known as Ultram, and is prescribed to treat moderate to moderately severe pain. This medication is in the benzenoid class.

Upon ingestion, the active ingredients in this drug provide pain relief within the hour. The efficacy of the medication is due to the fact that it easily penetrates the blood brain barrier. This makes it one of the most effective painkillers available.

Although Ultram is an opioid pain medication, it functions quite differently from traditional opiates and opioids. It binds to the mu-opioid receptor and the serotonin norepinephrine reuptake inhibitor (SNRI). This medication goes through a transformation in the body. It gets converted into desmetramadol, which is an even more potent opioid.

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Common Brand Names of Tramadol

Tramadol is merely the generic name of the medication. Popular brand name medications with the same active ingredients and effects include:

  • ConZip
  • Ultram
  • Ultram ER

The different types of medications will have the same effects. These medications come in numerous forms. Patients may be prescribed immediate-release capsules, extended-release capsules, or even oral solutions.

Ultram is a fairly popular painkiller. This is because it has one-tenth the strength of morphine. It’s not considered to be a strong medication at all.

Usual Adult Dosage for Treating Pain

In most situations, adults are prescribed anywhere from 50 to 100mg to be taken every 4 to 6 hours for pain. The maximum recommended dosage is 400mg each day.

Extended-release capsules are used to treat chronic pain. Patients will first start off with immediate-release capsules before moving onto extended-release ones. Unfortunately, some patients will have difficulties converting from immediate-release to extended-release capsules. These patients will not be able to use Ultram to treat chronic pain.

Is Tramadol Addictive?

For the longest time ever, the DEA and other government agencies refused to acknowledge that Ultram is addictive. This led to many unfortunate misconceptions.

Tramadol Addiction

Tramadol treats pain by interacting with the same chemical receptors as opioids. This helps reduce pain sensitivity and create euphoric sensations. This type of medication does not have a "ceiling effect". This means that it's possible for patients to develop a tolerance.

When the body develops a tolerance, the brain has gotten used to the altered chemical levels brought on by Tramadol. To get the same effects, it needs a larger dose of the medication. This further manipulates brain chemistry levels, so that a noticeable change is detected.

Eventually, this will lead to dependence on the medication. Dependence can be both physical and psychological. Both are considered to be withdrawal symptoms.

While the abuse potential for Ultram is not as high as the abuse potential for many other opioids, it's still there. Many studies have shown that people can become addicted even if they don't have any history of drug use.

Who Is Most Likely to Get Addicted?

Data from many studies have concluded that some demographics are more likely abuse Ultram. For one, most of the people who misused this medication were over the age of 26.

On top of that, those who abused this medication were likely to:

  • Be chronic pain patients
  • Be health professionals
  • Struggle with another narcotic addiction

These people had the easiest access to this type of drug. They were able to get a continuous supply for their addiction. In addition, injectable Ultram is considered less addictive than oral capsules. Unfortunately, capsules are prescribed more often than injectable solutions.

The difference between oral capsules and injectable solutions lie in the way that they are processed. Oral capsules are metabolized by the liver. This breaks down the medication in a way that makes it much easier to abuse and misuse. Overdoses are also more common when taking oral capsules.

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Tramadol Abuse Statistics

Most Americans don't realize the dangers of Tramadol use. After all, there aren't any posters or campaigns that focus on the risks of taking this type of medication.

In fact, the DEA didn't even classify Tramadol as a Scheduled IV controlled substance until 2014. This is because they didn't believe that it had a potential for abuse.

This doesn't mean that Ultram is not dangerous or addictive. It's much deadlier and dangerous than what it is perceived to be. Take a look at some of these shocking statistics:

8,000,000

8 million prescriptions for Ultram were written in 2013

84%

84% of users who abused this drug experienced a seizure within 24 hours

54,397

54,397 emergency room visits in 2011 involved the use of Tramadol; 50% were due to adverse reactions to the medication

  • 1 in 5 emergency room visits were caused by mixing Tramadol with other drugs or alcohol
  • 75% of the patients, who sought emergency medical attention for Ultram use, were women

These statistics are shocking. Unfortunately, they only show a glimpse of the dangers involved with taking this medication.

Side Effects of Tramadol Use

Tramadol is not as dangerous as other opioids, like oxycodone. However, some patients can still experience side effects from taking the drug. Side effects range from mild to severe. The mild side effects tend to be the most common, while the severe ones rarely happen.

Higher doses of the medication will result in more intense side effects. The intensity of the side effects may also depend on the length of the drug use.

Some side effects of Ultram abuse are relatively common. Many patients experience them. Fortunately, these side effects tend to subside after some time. They include symptoms like:

  • Diarrhea or constipation
  • Dizziness
  • Drowsiness
  • Headaches
  • Impaired cognitive abilities
  • Itching
  • Nausea and vomiting

If these common side effects don't subside with time, speak to a doctor about it. In most cases, these side effects are to be expected, and should not cause any alarm.

Most doctors and pharmacists will go through expected side effects with their patients. They'll also explore whether the benefits of Tramadol outweighs its risks.

A Look at the More Serious Side Effects of Tramadol Abuse

Unfortunately, there's a whole range of side effects that can occur from Tramadol use. Some side effects are much more serious than other. Patients who experience these side effects should speak to a medical professional immediately.

Some examples of serious side effects include:

  • Depressed breathing
  • Life-threatening allergy reactions
  • Low blood pressure
  • Seizures
  • Serotonin syndrome
  • Suicidal thoughts
  • Swelling under the skin
  • Skin reactions that could be fatal

While all patients have the same likelihood of experiencing seizures, those who take larger doses are most at risk. Doctors will determine whether the dosage should be reduced or whether the patients should be switched to another drug completely.

Tramadol Overdose Symptoms

The maximum recommended daily dose for Ultram is about 400mg/day. Any dosage that exceeds that amount can lead to an overdose.

Symptoms of an acute overdose include:

  • Acidosis
  • Cardiac arrest
  • Confusion
  • Construction of the pupils
  • Drowsiness
  • Hypotonicity
  • Liver failure
  • Pulmonary edema
  • Respiratory depression
  • Seizures
  • Slowed breathing
  • Slowed heartbeat
  • Vomiting and nausea 

In worst-case scenarios, an overdose can result in coma or death. Much like with opioids, a fatal overdose can look peaceful. The users may simply look like they're falling asleep when, in reality, their bodies are shutting down. They forget how to breathe, and essentially suffocate to death.

The risk of an overdose is even more pronounced if Tramadol is mixed with other drugs and alcohol. For example, concurrent use with barbiturates can get deadly rather quickly.

How to Deal with an Overdose

So, what should a person do if they see someone overdosing on Tramadol?

Many experts recommend administering Naloxone. Naloxone is an opioid-reversing medication that can treat overdoses. It's often used to treat heroin overdoses and prescription opioid overdoses.

While Naloxone is effective in those circumstances, it may not necessarily be effective with Tramadol. This is because Tramadol does not work in the same way as most opioids. It relies on some unique chemical pathways in the body. As a result, Naloxone can only partially reverse some of the effects of an overdose.

Another important thing to note is that Naloxone can actually the risk for seizures. As a result, administering Naloxone can be equally as dangerous. It must be administered with caution.

Regardless, it's always a good idea to call 9-1-1. Stick with the affected individual until help arrives. Try to keep him or her as calm as possible. In the event that he or she stops breathing, administer CPR immediately. Don’t wait.

Tramadol Addiction Withdrawal Symptoms

Tramadol withdrawal symptoms are separated into two classes: typical and atypical. Most patients experience typical withdrawal symptoms when quitting. These symptoms include:

  • Agitation
  • Anxiety
  • Bone pain
  • Depression
  • Diarrhea
  • Epiphora
  • Gastrointestinal pain
  • Headaches
  • Insomnia
  • Nausea
  • Profuse sweating
  • Rhinorrhea
  • Vertigo 

These symptoms are quite easy to deal with. Many rehab centers are able to anticipate these symptoms, and have developed various programs to prevent them. 

Unfortunately, 1 in 8 patients will experience what is known as atypical symptoms. At this moment, no one knows what some patients are more prone to atypical symptoms than others. It is not dependent on one's age, sex, race, or even drug intake history. 

Atypical symptoms are much more severe and include:

  • Confusion
  • Delusions
  • Derealization
  • Depersonalization
  • Panic attacks
  • Paranoid thoughts
  • Severe anxiety
  • Unnatural sensory experiences
  • Visual and auditory hallucinations

Unnatural sensory experiences include sensations like prickling, tingling and numbness. Some addicts will even experience tinnitus. There's no rhyme or reason behind atypical symptoms. In fact, there is still a lot of research in this field, as most researchers have more questions than answers.

Tramadol Addiction Recovery Time

Withdrawal symptoms can kick in within hours after last use, and the can take weeks to subside. Once the withdrawals have stopped, the patient is in recovery.

Each patient will experience a different withdrawal timeline. Each person will take a different amount of time to recover from Tramadol abuse and misuse.

With that said, there's a rough timeline that most patients seem to follow.

Between day 1 and 3, typical withdrawal symptoms will begin to kick in. Recovering addicts will feel nervous, nauseous and anxious. They may also start to experience cravings for the drug. These withdrawal symptoms will continue to peak until 4 to 7 days after the last use.

At its peak, addicts may experience drug cravings, insomnia, disorientation and confusion. They may even have blurred vision.

After this, the withdrawal symptoms tend to subside. By day 8 to 14, the symptoms are usually fairly mild. Most physical withdrawal symptoms will have disappeared for good. Unfortunately, many addicts are still left with psychological withdrawal symptoms. This may include experiencing depression and anxiety.

Detox from Tramadol Addiction

Tramadol detox can be quite uncomfortable. This is why most experts recommend getting supervised medical detox. Detox treatment programs can lessen the intensity of withdrawal symptoms.

Tramadol detox can be quite uncomfortable. This is why most experts recommend getting supervised medical detox. Detox treatment programs can lessen the intensity of withdrawal symptoms.

Most doctors prescribe an array of medications. Popular medications used in detox treatments include:

  • Acetaminophen or ibuprofen for muscle pain and aches
  • Buprenorphine for preventing patients from feeling "high"
  • Clonidine for treating anxiety and profuse sweating
  • Loperimide for diarrhea
  • Metocloperimide for the vomiting and nausea
  • Methadone for general withdrawal symptoms
  • Naltrexone to maintain opioid abstinence
  • Valium for dealing with anxiety and insomnia

A cocktail of medications may help with the Ultram withdrawals. It's important to note that some of these detox medications can be addictive if misused. Methadone is a good example.

For patients who are prone to addictions, around-the-clock supervision is helpful. Medical professionals will try to prescribe medications with a "ceiling effect". The effects of these medications will plateau at a certain dosage. This prevents patients from developing a secondary addiction.

These medications lessen the intensity of withdrawal symptoms, and prevent relapses. The dosage prescribed will differ from patient to patient. Patients will be under supervision to determine how their body reacts to the drugs.

The Dangers of Tramadol Misuse

While Tramadol use has a low addictive potential, it can still be misused. Misuse can lead to the dependence and tolerance, which can blow up into a full-blown addiction.

If you or someone you know are dependent on Ultram or Tramadol, it's vital that you seek help as soon as possible. Don't let the problem worsen because you'll only spiral down further into addiction. It'll only get more and more difficult to quit.

To better understand the dangers of Tramadol abuse, contact one of our counsellors today. We'll be happy to provide you with more information, and to walk you through the various treatment programs we have. We can also point you towards the resources you need to make an informed decision.

Get a professional assessment to determine whether you are addicted and whether you need medical treatment. With our help, getting sober has never been easier.

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