There are many different substances to which people can become addicted. Most of us are familiar with the more well-known and widely publicized substances like alcohol, marijuana, cocaine, heroin, and opiate painkillers. The reason that these drugs are so widely known is because they have been known to pose a major threat to many individuals, whether it’s a threat as a gateway to other substance, quick development of physical dependency, risk of adverse reactions with other substances, or due to the ever-present possibility of overdose. With rates of addiction reaching epidemic-level proportions according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), it’s important for individuals to be well-informed about the many available substances that can quickly overcome a person’s will, robbing him or her of health and independence.
While the majority of addictive substances could be considered illicit street drugs — heroin and cocaine fall into this category as well as marijuana in most places — there are a number of substances that are actually available through legal channels. For instance, prescription pain medications became a major epidemic after the introduction of OxyContin (oxycodone) in the 1990s, sparking a tsunami of opiate addiction that still strongly affects society today. In the wake of OxyContin mania, many other prescription drugs became substances of widespread abuse, including benzodiazepines, muscle relaxants, and even over-the-counter cough medicine. However, a drug called tramadol — developed to be a safer alternative to opiates and narcotic painkillers — is being more and more commonly abused, causing many to reconsider whether the drug should be classified as a narcotic.
Tramadol: Safe Alternative to Narcotic Painkillers?
According to its official classification, tramadol — more familiar to some under the name Ultram — is a non-scheduled, narcotic-like opioid agonist. Functioning somewhat like narcotics such as opiate painkillers, tramadol is typically prescribed for moderate to severe pain. Many doctors and physicians prescribe tramadol because it’s typically one of the best-tolerated medications for treating pain, producing very few and minimal side effects and also being considerably less expensive than the most powerful and desirable opiate painkillers. By the standards of the government and agencies like the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) and the Food & Drug Administration (FDA), tramadol is not recognized as an actual narcotic. Instead, tramadol is often prescribed in instances in which a patient could be considered intolerant of strong painkillers or when a patient is deemed to be a risk for substance abuse or diversion of medications.
Federal classifications for controlled substances are broken down into five levels according to their potential for abuse and addiction. Schedule I drugs are the street drugs with no accepted medical use and include heroin and cocaine while Schedule V medications have a very low potential for abuse and are the types of substances found in cough and cold medicines. Schedules II through IV are those that are considered the most dangerous with the highest potentials for abuse and addiction. Presently, the federal government doesn’t consider tramadol a controlled substance or a narcotic, but with tramadol abuse and addiction becoming more widespread, there have been a number of state-level laws passed that classify tramadol as a Schedule IV narcotic and controlled substance.
The Dangers of Tramadol Abuse
Although the legal consensus of tramadol’s status as controlled varies from state to state, there’s no denying that tramadol is a powerful and dangerous substance despite being intended as a safer alternative to opiates. Being molecularly similar to narcotics, taking tramadol produces many of the same effects that one would expect of a narcotic opioid, including drowsiness and fatigue, confusion, muscle weakness, and so on. Additionally, tramadol is frequently prescribed in instances in which an opiate might also be offered, suggesting that tramadol offers the same level of therapeutic benefit as some of the most powerful medications in the world like oxycodone, hydrocodone, morphine, and codeine. It’s also been found that tramadol binds to opiate receptors in the brain in much the same way as other narcotics and opiates. As such, this has many asking an important question: If the substance is compared to and used alongside opiates, and also functions essentially the same as an opiate, why would it not be considered an opiate?
Despite the belief that tramadol has less potential for abuse and addiction, the narcotic-like effects of tramadol give the drug an inherently high risk for abuse and misuse. Moreover, tramadol has the ability to act as an antidepressant in the body, prolonging the activation and effects of neurochemicals like serotonin and norepinephrine in the brain. However, with prolonged use or misuse of tramadol, individuals may experience a condition known as serotonin syndrome, triggered by an individual’s experiencing excess serotonergic activity and causing distorted perception and cognition as well as uncontrollable neuromuscular and autonomic activity.
Is Tramadol Addictive?
Like the narcotics the drug was intended to safely mimic, tramadol can be abused, and with prolonged abuse comes the risk of becoming addicted. Individuals who are becoming dependent on tramadol experience very strong cravings, continue using and seeking the drug despite the knowledge and inevitability of negative consequences, and exhibit a decline in work or academic performance as well as becoming withdrawn emotionally. Once addicted to tramadol, individuals begin experiencing dizziness, headache, uncontrollable drowsiness, weakened immune system, inhibited respiration, constipation and other digestive issues, and many other symptoms. Fortunately, tramadol addiction can be treated by utilizing an effect, evidence-based inpatient program after a period of detox treatment in order to stabilize one’s serotonin levels.
The Palm Beach Institute Can Help You Get Your Life Back — Call Us Today
Even though it was widely thought to be a safe alternative to opiate painkillers and other narcotic drugs, tramadol has proved to pose a major threat to those who take the drug. If misused, tramadol can cause a number of unpleasant, scary effects. If you or someone you love is suffering from tramadol addiction or some other form of dependency, the Palm Beach Institute is here to help. Call us for a free consultation and assessment at 1-855-960-5456. Let one of our recovery specialists help you or your loved one begin the journey back to health and happiness today.