Why Tramadol Really Isn't Non-Narcotic | Palm Beach Institute
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Why Tramadol Really Isn’t Non-Narcotic

In the 1990s, a certain pharmaceutical drug was released and intended to offer those who suffered from serious injuries or conditions that involve chronic pain a means of relief. At the time, there was very little evidence to suggest that the drug should be the cause of any concern, which is why doctors and physicians began prescribing it to patients quite liberally. Unfortunately, we came to discover that the drug — OxyContin — could not only be abused, but had an exceptionally high addictive potential. This marked the beginning of what one might refer to as the OxyContin era, and although the past couple years have seen a small decline in the rate at which Americans are becoming addicted to prescription pain medications, the effects of the OxyContin and painkiller epidemics on society can still be readily seen today.

With a greater awareness of addictive and abuse potential, today’s healthcare providers have a number of different substances from which to choose when treating patients’ afflictions. Although it’s still relatively common for doctors and physicians to prescribe opiate painkillers to patients, there are a number of federal regulations in place as well as prescription drug monitoring programs in each state that help to ensure that these dangerous substances are kept out of the wrong hands. Additionally, in instances when some sort of pain medication is necessary, many physicians will first attempt to use an alternative to opiates, something that’s not a controlled and, therefore, dangerous substance with a high potential for abuse.

Tramadol is one such non-narcotic medication that’s often prescribed as an alternative to opiate painkillers; however, many have begun to assert that tramadol should actually be considered a narcotic and become a controlled substance. As such, the following will define tramadol — what it is and what it’s used to treat — and explain why it’s a dangerous substance.

What Exactly is Tramadol?


Tramadol — which is sold under the more well-known brand name Ultram — is a medication that was first approved by the Food and Drug Administration to treat moderate to severe pain in 1995. Rather than being classified as a painkiller like oxycodone and other opiate drugs, tramadol is described as a “narcotic-like” pain reliever and was widely held to be safe with very little potential for respiratory depression. The drug works by affecting how the brain responds to or perceives pain, causing an increase in the production of neurotransmitters such as norepinephrine, serotonin, and also hormones such as endorphins; in effect, these are natural substances that work to alleviate feelings of pain. Alternately, the drug’s psychoactive properties have led to its occasional use as a mild antidepressant. However, in terms of its potency, it’s been said that tramadol is roughly equivalent to codeine in strength and a dose of tramadol is about ten percent of the strength of a same-sized dose of morphine.

Not a Safe Alternative: The Dangers of Tramadol

Being that the drug works similarly to the opiate painkillers with which it’s often compared, it wasn’t long before people began experimenting with tramadol and realized that it had a very similar potential for abuse. As it’s most commonly prescribed for the treatment of pain, users began taking tramadol to dangerous excess, resulting in dire consequences; users were seeking the type of euphoria that commonly results from abusing other opiates, such as fatigue and lethargy, drowsiness, muscle weakness, and decreased pain response. And despite the negative effects that often result from improper use of the drug, rates of tramadol abuse continued to climb. By 2011, there were more than 20,000 emergency room visits attributed to the abuse of tramadol across the country. Additionally, there were 379 tramadol overdose deaths in 2011 in the state of Florida alone, which was more than a threefold increased from the 106 tramadol overdose deaths that were recorded in the state in 2003.

It’s not just the abuse of tramadol that poses a major threat to those who use the drug. Although it was previously thought to be a safe alternative to opiates, it was recently found that one can, in fact, become addicted to tramadol. When an individual continues to take or abuse tramadol over a period of time, he or she is very likely to form a strong chemical dependency. This is made worse by the drug’s psychoactive properties, allowing it to further alter an individual’s mental and emotional state and even cause strong psychological urges to use the drug. In fact, since the drug is much weaker than others in terms of its efficacy as a painkiller, the psychoactive properties and its effects on brain chemistry — levels of neurochemicals and hormones — are significantly more pronounced than any euphoria it might offer. Another major risk of tramadol abuse is the tendency for the drug to cause seizures at high doses.

Tramadol & Serotonin Syndrome

Being that the drug’s most pronounced effects pertain to the levels of norepinephrine and serotonin in the brain, the abuse of tramadol has the potential to cause harm that’s very much unlike what one might expect from the abuse of opiate painkillers. In particular, tramadol abuse and addiction has been associated with a condition known as serotonin syndrome, which occurs when a serotonergic medication causes a buildup of so much serotonin in the body as to actually become toxic. Some of the most common symptoms of serotonin syndrome include confusion, irritability, disorientation, muscle spasms and/or rigidity, rapid heartbeat, high blood pressure, nausea, diarrhea, tremors and shivering, anxiety, and dilated pupils. In the most severe cases, an individual might begin to have seizures, become unresponsive, or slip into a coma.

Tramadol Dependency & Recovery Treatment at the Palm Beach Institute

With its high addictive potential and the dangerous effects that result from its abuse, it’s clear that tramadol isn’t the safe non-narcotic alternative it was once thought to be. Fortunately, tramadol addiction is a treatable affliction. An individual suffering from tramadol addiction can begin the recovery process with detox treatment, which will help them restore his or her body to a state of health and balance; during this time, the individual will receive continuous monitoring and care to ensure safety and minimize as much discomfort as possible. After detoxification, an individual will begin counseling and psychotherapy while participating in a variety of other program offerings, including group sessions, life skills groups, relapse prevention education, and other complementary or supplemental treatments. With determination and aftercare, an individual who had previously suffered from tramadol addiction can live a life free from addiction.

If you or someone you love would benefit from learning more about tramadol addiction or the recovery process, the Palm Beach Institute is here to help. For a free consultation and assessment, call us now at 855-960-5456. Our recovery specialists are available anytime, day or night. With one phone call, you or your loved one can begin the journey back to a life of lasting health and happiness.

35 Responses to “Why Tramadol Really Isn’t Non-Narcotic”

  1. Nicole

    I take Tramadol occasionally for pain. I have been to treatment for opiate addiction before, however this medication does not make me feel like other opiates do. I really don’t see how this is a narcotic.

  2. Ed Collier

    Tramadol is not a narcotic. It targets opiate receptors and so behaves like a narcotic in certain ways but it is not a true narcotic.

    • lisa nunn`

      totally agree with ed collier. I have been taking this since 1997 and it is not a narcotic. some people say they get a feeling like they are high but for me it does not.

  3. tramadol

    Tramadol 50mg a day with 40-60mg of lopermide can eliminate all withrawels from oxys,dilauded and vicodin addiction.. It doesn’t give you euphoria at that low of a dosage..tramadol I’d used in certain rehabs to taper off opiates. I hope this helps someone struggling with opiate addiction..FLORIDA has an epidemic of opiate use and I have witnessed persons who have gotten clean using tramadol and lopermide with quinine (for restless legs relief) with great success..

  4. Roger Alien

    Why do people keep saying Tramadol is not a narcotic. Yeah, I get it, you’ll read it listed as non-narcotic but any legit doctor will tell you otherwise. Aside from that, at least someone like me would have to take the whole bottle to get a high, but I take it between Vicodin doses and it helps.

  5. Tramadol does not show up on any sort of drug test. It does not show up at all on drug tests that target narcotics. It is therefore not a narcotic.

  6. abbygale

    i take it nd i am 14 yrs old,nd i havent got addticed to it

  7. Christine

    I took 240mgs of oxycodone per day for 5yrs after being diagnosed with Ankylosing spondylitis….and after going through a dozen other pain meds that didn’t work. I was beyond “tolerant” but I never felt a “high” when taking it or the need to must have it. Late in the 5th year I tossed my prescription in the toilet and went to bed for 4 months. I did it on my own against my docs advice but it wasn’t too terrible…no shakes but lots of sweats and chills and running to the bathroom.

    My dilemma now is I have started taking long acting tramadol……after 4 years of being pain killer free…..I’m wondering if when I decide to stop taking it will I have the same withdrawal as I did with the oxycodone.

  8. I got Bit by a cat, the nurse in the emergency room told me be careful the Tramadol i was prescribed is a narcotic.I didnt think so.All it did was make me deathly sick .To Hell with that shit.

  9. I am supposed to take Tramadol…..2 – 50mg 2X day for Spinal Stenosis. It does nothing for the pain…..nothing!
    I was given Tramadol by a Dentist, for an abcessed tooth and it did nothing…..absolutely nothing to stop the pain…..NOTHING!
    I may take 2 one day and skip 3-4 days before taking more. It is not a pain reliever, if you have “real” pain.
    There is nothing to Tramadol, and I can not see how anyone could get addicted to it.

  10. Been taking trams for 10 yrs now up to 50 tabs a day for me its been a wonder drug fighting with depression most my life now i am diabetic with nerv pain also lost right leg below the knee with phantom pain this med works so well for me but if i run out for more than two days i get very sick i guess its a give and take and it wont let go of u i also found neurotron to stop withdraws

  11. Jason Brier

    I’ve been taking tram 100mg for close to three years now (5-6 pills a day). In the past, I got addicted to Oxy and went cold turkey. It took months for me to get back to normal. As another poster mentioned, this drug has been a wonder to me. It’s not the best at relieving pain but my feeling of well being is greatly enhanced with this drug. It relaxes me a great deal too. Unfortunately it is addictive if you take the quantities I’ve been taking over a period of time. If I am running low and cut my dosage I start feeling the effects of withdrawal which are quite unpleasant. It’s very very similar to Oxy withdrawal. I’d like to get off completely but I just don’t want to go through the horrible effects of withdrawal.

  12. Tramadol can have wildly different effects on people. My wife took it and was violently ill with nausea the first and only time. I think this is rare but she said she’s never been more sick and told me a couple times she felt like she was dying.

    I on the the other hand take it on an as needed basis for occasional headaches in combination with 2qty 200mg solubulized Advil. That’s my recipe for immediate headache GONE. No hint of it after ttak

    In no way is this addictive for me, in no way does it make me high. I go weeks without taking if I don’t have a headache and would never reach for it if I don’t have one.

    One side effect I have is a heightened sense of productivity and wakefulness with a tiny bit of happiness mixed in, but a part of this can be attributed to the absence of my headache after suffering it.

    Yes it’s controlled but from my reading, it’s definitely not a narcotic. I overheard an obstetrician prescribing it to a pregnant woman who kept returning with some form of pain. It was a last resort prescription so she wouldn’t try for something else, worse. That’s what he told me when I asked.

  13. My mom took one pill for severe arthritis pain. She took one and got so sick…nausea. .faint. horrible drug

  14. Took it, forgot to take it one time, became violently ill. No pain relief either. And no you don’t get ” high” from it.

  15. @ Angela, give me a break. How naive can you be. You realize this is an opiate pain medicine right? You know what a side effect to narcotic pain killers are? Nausea is the most common. Just because your grandma got sick with nausea doesn’t mean it doesn’t help other people or that all people get nausea. Everyone is different. I take oxycodone and methadone for pain. Your grandma would probably vomit taking those meds but guess what? I have no nausea on those meds. So please use your brain and realize all medication effects everyone differently and what may work for some people may not work for you or your grandma. You don’t have to dismiss this drug and say it’s horrible and doesn’t work and only makes people sick just because your grandma can’t handle it. Maybe she should take a lower dose. Usually nausea from opiate pain killers is brought on when a person takes too much. Speaking on 12+ years of personal experience on many different narcotic opioid pain medications to treat my chronic pain.

  16. I was addicted to vicodin for 3 years came off of it in 2009 and my doctor knows about but I have severe pain again and she gave me tramadol 50mg bid and I am pain free and not addicted. And several nurses and doctors say it is not a narcotic and it should have never been named one. They rather see n patients on tramadol then vicodin,oxy,etc anytime.

  17. I take trams i felt they helped better than percocet or norco’s however they were non narcotic in 2006, i NEVER HAD SEIZURES my hole life but in 07 ive had them all this time,my nerologist said my bran scan was so bad she said i have epilispy, she even took my drivers licence forever,so ppl be careful, im 43 and never had seizures my hole life,so i started taking them in 06 but really started taking alot in 07,

  18. Tramadol IS A NARCOTIC people. It’s a schedule 4 narcotic and is on some 12 and 15 panel drug tests for the person saying it’s not on drug tests. It was changed over and federally labeled a narcotic in 2014. And yes it is addictive and a substitute for Oxys, Vicodin, and heroine. I was addicted and prescribed oxycodone for 15 years and currently attend a methadone clinic. BELIEVE ME there are plenty of people physically and mentally addicted to ultram that would say otherwise. But Of course if you take 1-2 tablets of 50 or 100 mg for a headache your not going to get high,or feel addicted after one use or periodic uses at low doses. Wake up people! You wonder why there’s a opiate epidemic? Just read some people’s posts on here and look at the ignorance.

  19. I have been taking tramadol for a few months for a tear in my wrist that was just discovered from arthrogram/MRI. I was prescribed Tylenol 3 with codeine the first visit and then Tramadol for the next few. I am tired of this crap about it is a narcotic or it’s not. Doctors, FDA, DEA whoever make up your mind. It has helped my wrist pain and now I ran out and went to E.R and doctor said it is a narcotic and gave me two to last 3 days until I see the hand specialist doctor for the torn cartilage in my wrist. I wonder if is she going to say you can’t take that anymore for pain but then I can go to any Doctor’s Care here in SC and get a narcotic pain med. My history with my wrist is from me falling off a 3 story building and shattering both my arms fractured my skull and knee caps at the age of 13 years old. I almost died and now at 42 I am having issues with my arms which isn’t a shocker as I had 8 surgeries on them. I recently had to drop out of the radiology program as I can’t write without a good bit of pain. I don’t do drugs. I do have a glass of red wine on occasions but that’s it! I don’t get euphoric or high as it was described off tramadol. The crazy thing is all the deaths and most of the overdoses were taken from Florida as a statistic. Well do some research of the hard narcotics like oxy etc that doctors in Florida are pushing for cash payments to addicts.Your research is not correct and bias as you are selling recovery for addicts and when you only state a high number of fatalities/overdoses in one state that is yours. It this mentality is why I have to suffer and addicts stay high off norco’s oxy whatever.. Nice how you compared Tramadol to morphine.. Jeez do you have any scientific or medical background at all? Doubt it unless it’s psychology.

  20. It is not considered to be a narcotic….it is a schedule 4 drug however, because it may have the propensity for abuse. Just because a drug is “scheduled”…it does not mean it is a narcotic. It means it has potential for abuse.

  21. I hav a very addictive personality. I think that especially if you’ve been addicted to pain pills (hydrocodones) if you start taking tramadol you will mentally get addicted to it. I think it’s all in the person

  22. Tramadol is a relatively uneffective pain medication for anyone in more than average pain. I have of two extremely close friends try it and become violently ill after just one dose. I personally find it has severe fatigue related side effects and feel as if I have a flu.
    I’m in the process of finding a new rheumatology doctor as mine has moved out of state. There is now a problem for people legitimately in chronic pain. To me tramadol only takes an edge off my pain and I’m not able to function on it. This has caused a lot of problems for people in real need of pain medication. I detest anyone that would intentionally get high, it’s caused people that need medication to jump through hoops. It’s flat out ridiculous, but I’ve never known any drug abuse people. I resent them causing this, I have spent years in severe pain from a failed surgery and never once took more than was prescribed. It stinks, there’s always some selfish idiots abusing things. It never fails. Tramadol is just terrible and not effective in my opinion.

  23. I’ve used Tramadol often. It is a very mellow form of pain relief certainly not strong as Percocet but stronger than Ibuprofen. My veterinarian gives it to me for my dog who has a leg pain. I think the reason this drug and so many others are getting overly scrutinized is because greedy doctors was issuing painkillers so they could make money. Doctors lawyers and politicians they all suck.

  24. I take tramadol for chronic pain from endometriosis, as long term nsaid therapy was causing damage to my stomach lining. It should not be compared to morphine, oxycodone, hydrocodone or codeine. Ever. Tramadol is both a pain killer and antidepressant. It’s a schedule 4 drug for it’s abuse potential. Just because it can become addictive, does not mean everyone will. There’s a huge stigma against pain management medications because of addicts. Addicts don’t use medicine for medical purposes, they use it to get high and develop a tolerance and have to take more and more.

    Statistically, very few people become true addicts from medical treatment alone, they were likely already abusing alcohol or something else. If you find yourself taking pain medication when you don’t hurt, that is the gateway towards addiction and you must stop.

  25. The people saying this pill does nothing or pain and doesnt get them “high” must be ex opiate addicts or have an extremely high pill tolerence. I take two of them, the 10mg ones, which equals 20MG and I can feel them. I have been taking them for an extremely bad toothache and they DO help me. all pain is gone in 30 minutes and I do get a high from them, but its a pleasant high i find. It makes me produtive ad i can still function great. some of the feelings opiates give me are so debilitating they can ruin the day. so yeah stop saying Tramadol does nothing if your an ex jumkie or you take gobs of pills. because obviously it does nothing to you. your body is used to needing morphine to get fucked up.

  26. Cathleen

    I have nothing for pain. I have severe pain daily it is my life. I only pray for relief. But I don’t even get take home after surgery pain relief. Complain all you want and sit in my shoes.

  27. Lori Jones

    For over 10 years I was prescribed strong narcotics for a severe back injury, ie Oxy, Methadone, Dilaudid, ect.,Being a health care professional it was obvious my body was paying a stiff price. In 2006 a physician switched me from Methadone to Ultram. I know, I know….. It was a HUGE change !!!! I looked for that euphoric rush….there was none….It took a while for my body to adapt. Im not gonna fib, it was hard. However, I was able to have a clear mind, complete tasks, be a better mother and a better person. At times the pain is unbelievable and nothing helps, then sometimes the Ultram ( 50mg Q4 prn ) works just fine. In 2014 Ultram became a scheduled 4 narcotic. It works mainly by Serotonin and Dopamine receptors. With the release of these there are at times an opiate like effect. Those that replied it is not an opiate are correct, however when you have to get a new prescription the pharmacy staff sure do treat it as if it is. Good Luck to all!

  28. My MD prescribe Ultram to be taken with the Mobic I was already on. The combination helps alleviate my arthritic knee pain. I t makes it tolerable. It allows me to work without a foggy brain. I not noticed any euphoria, but as I said the pain is now tolerable.


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