How Does Tramadol Affect The Body?
Tramadol is prescribed for moderate and severe pain management, and it’s part of the painkiller or “opioid” class of drugs. Unfortunately, people who take tramadol may end up with a mental and physical dependence on the drug after taking it for some time. A mental dependence can lead to feelings of desperation and agitation between doses, where they crave more and more of the drug. A person who has become mentally dependent on tramadol may be unable to focus on other activities and begin to panic when they see that they’re getting low on supply.
Meanwhile, physical dependence on tramadol manifests itself in the form of negative bodily symptoms as the drug leaves the system or if they go longer than usual without taking tramadol. Those symptoms range from shivering and sniffling to muscles pains, abdominal pain, and more. It could feel like you’re suffering from a very bad case of the flu.
Depending on how much tramadol a person usually takes and how long they’ve been taking it, their symptoms can range from mildly bothersome to severe and even life-threatening. Chronic tramadol users may find themselves completely consumed by the drug’s effects and can begin displaying severe symptoms within just hours of their last dose.
What’s important to understand is that dependence on its own doesn’t mean that a person is addicted to tramadol. For instance, someone taking tramadol every day under the safe guidance of their doctor may naturally form a dependence. That dependence will only translate into addiction if the person begins giving in to their urges and taking tramadol more often than prescribed, in greater amounts than prescribed, or in a manner different than prescribed, such as by potentiating the medication. Typically, a person who is experiencing tramadol addiction will suffer from both physical and mental dependence.
The Dangers of Potentiating Tramadol
Prescription medications are the most commonly abused drugs out there. More than 54 million people have used prescription medications for non-medical purposes at least once in their lifetime. Out of all prescription medications, painkillers or opioids are the most commonly misused.
Misuse occurs in many forms, and it can happen whether you’ve been prescribed tramadol or found it on the black market. Misuse includes taking more tramadol than prescribed, taking tramadol without a prescription, and taking tramadol more frequently than prescribed. Misuse is dangerous because it leads to dependence and tolerance over time.
Drug tolerance occurs when the body grows accustomed to the prescribed dose a person has been taking. In the case of opioids, tolerance can develop relatively quickly, especially for people taking high amounts of tramadol. Once tolerance develops, the same dose of tramadol no longer produces the same effects. For instance, what once made a person feel happy and relaxed may, after repeated doses, have little or no impact on their mood at all.
Whether someone is taking tramadol to manage their pain or for recreational purposes, tolerance is dangerous. Once a person becomes tolerant to their dose, they’re likely to increase the quantity or number of doses to continue experiencing the relief or other effects they’re after. However, increasing the quantity isn’t always possible, and that’s when an individual might turn to potentiate tramadol.
If a person wants to experience stronger effects from tramadol without increasing their dose, they might try to potentiate it. Potentiation allows a person to take the same amount of tramadol but with a bigger reaction in the body. It’s best described as a drug/drug reaction, and it works by taking a secondary drug to amplify the effects of tramadol. The “helper” drug makes tramadol feel that much stronger within the body.
The biggest issue with potentiating tramadol is that adding a helper drug only sustains an addiction. The helper drug allows a person to continue taking tramadol and experiencing a high effect without increasing their dose, which allows them to stretch their supply. Meanwhile, many people believe that potentiating doesn’t pose a danger because they aren’t taking more tramadol. However, adding a second drug puts a person at a higher risk of side effects and even overdose.
Side Effects of Tramadol Misuse
Regardless of whether a person potentiates tramadol or misuses it in some other way, it can lead to a long list of uncomfortable and dangerous side effects. The most common side effects of tramadol begin with confusion, rapid heart rate, high blood pressure, twitching/rigid muscles, shivering, diarrhea, and headaches.
Tramadol increases the amount of serotonin in the body, which is a chemical responsible for elation and relaxation. However, too much serotonin can induce seizures. Seizures are also likely to be caused by potentiating tramadol. In a study that reviewed 83 cases of tramadol-related seizures, it was found that more than half of the patients used tramadol in conjunction with another drug (most often an antidepressant).
Antidepressants increase a person’s risk of seizures with taking tramadol because they act as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs). SSRIs work by blocking the brain’s ability to reuptake serotonin. Meanwhile, serotonin works to increase the amount of serotonin produced by the brain. In combination with SSRIs, tramadol creates an over-abundance of serotonin in the body, which amplifies its effects.
Antidepressants are not the only drugs used to potentiate tramadol. Other prescription drugs, like amphetamines, can also lead to potentiation. Using amphetamines along with tramadol increases the effects of opioids within the body. Amphetamines are also stimulants, which can counteract the sleepiness and lethargy that opioids can induce. This means the combination of amphetamines and tramadol creates an increased sense of alertness, which is particularly addicting.
Recognizing and Managing a Tramadol Addiction
Frequently, people misuse tramadol and other prescription drugs because of the misconception that they are safer. While tramadol and other opioids are considered safe and effective when prescribed by a medical professional for a legitimate purpose and taken as intended, they can be dangerous in the wrong hands. Potentiating tramadol also creates new risks, and it represents an addiction to the drug.
Ultimately, addiction is characterized by persistent use and misuse of a drug, even when a person knows that it’s not beneficial or safe for them to take it. Tramadol and other opioid addictions are particularly difficult to overcome because they alter the brain’s chemistry and lead to both physical and mental dependence with time. The changes opioids make to the brain induce cravings and encourage a person to continue using the substance, no matter what rational thought tells them to do.
As such, recovering from a tramadol addiction is not easy, and simply taking tramadol away from an addicted individual is not helpful or wise. A person who has become dependent on opioids can die because of withdrawal complications, which means a guided medical detox is the safest way forward. During a medical detox, a person will be given the monitoring and support needed to gradually reduce their tramadol consumption and manage the uncomfortable symptoms accompanying withdrawal.
Withdrawal and Detox
If a person tries to quit tramadol suddenly, they’re likely to experience severe symptoms like diarrhea and vomiting, which can lead to dehydration. Trying to drink fluids to rehydrate can be impossible because it creates a cycle of vomiting again and becoming more dehydrated. That dehydration can then contribute to organ failure and delirium, either of which could be life-threatening.
Given the life-threatening symptoms of tramadol withdrawal, it’s essential for anyone with an opioid addiction to place themselves into a medical detox. A medical detox will help soothe withdrawal symptoms and monitor a person’s health to ensure they do not experience any serious complications. Distress therapy is also used to help a person manage the mental side effects of withdrawal and recognize that the detox process is only temporary and is necessary to recovery.
Ultimately, the detox process is uncomfortable, but it’s entirely unavoidable. A medical detox is a critical step in the recovery process, and it makes the first stepping stone towards a brighter future. Generally, the symptoms of withdrawal will peak within the first week of detox. However, the mental symptoms of withdrawal can continue for up to months after the last tramadol dose, especially in cases where a person misused tramadol for years.
Following the initial detox process, a person is not “cured” of their addiction. The detox is just the first step used to get a person safe and sober enough that they’re ready to begin the physical and mental treatment for their addiction. The rehabilitative program may incorporate a variety of techniques, including talk therapy and peer support groups. During rehabilitation, a person will discover all the tools needed to help manage their symptoms and avoid relapse.
Throughout rehabilitation, a person is likely to experience some ongoing triggers, and part of the process is learning how to respond to those triggers in a healthy manner. Examples of triggers include exhaustion, depression, anger, and hunger. Not only will rehabilitation help a person deal with these states of being, but it can also help them learn healthy habits and routines to avoid them whenever possible.
The goal of rehabilitation is multi-faceted. First and foremost, the goal is to help a person understand why they misused tramadol in the first place and what triggered the misuse over time. They’ll also speak with a professional to understand what needs to change so that they don’t fall into the same cycle of misuse in the future. If the person began using tramadol for a legitimate reason, such as pain management, they’d be directed to therapies that can manage it without medication.
Treating co-occurring disorders is another significant part of rehabilitation. A co-occurring disorder is any disorder a person is suffering from, like stress or depression, whether or not they feel it directly impacted or prolonged their substance use. All co-occurring conditions must be addressed because rehabilitation aims to restore whole-body health and wellness, setting an individual up for success.
The third and final phase of tramadol addiction treatment is continuing care. Continuing care begins at the end of structured rehabilitation, and it can last for as long as necessary. Continuing care helps a person gradually transition from the structured treatment program they were involved in and re-focus on personal goals and home life. Continuing care plays a significant role in avoiding relapse and ensuring that a person has the loving support they need to succeed in the long term.
Often, continuing care involves follow-ups with the care staff to help a person stay focused on the goals they laid out for themselves during rehabilitation. Beyond staying drug-free, a person may be guided to set nutritional, wellness, career, and educational goals. These goals will help them live a more enriching life moving forward, which in turn helps them manage triggers and stressors with motivation and commitment.
At Windward Way Recovery, we are particularly committed to the continuing care portion of recovery because we believe it is a major preventative tactic for avoiding relapse. We also find that continuing care helps us meet our mission of guiding individuals to a fulfilling life after addiction. That’s why our caring team remains completely available for talk therapy, meetings, and other assistance even after a person exits their structured treatment program.
Are You Seeking Help?
Opioids are incredibly potent, and it’s impossible to overcome an addiction to tramadol or another substance on your own. Aside from the detox process being uncomfortable, quitting “cold turkey” or without medical guidance can put your life at risk. Don’t try to take this journey alone. The caring professionals at Windward Way Recovery are standing by and waiting to support you on your path to life after addiction.
Are you interested in learning more about Windward Way Recovery and the treatment programs that we have available? We customize every research-backed program to meet the needs and timeline of the individual. We also provide additional resources to help ensure long-term success long after you’ve completed structured treatment. The hardest part is taking the first step towards recovery. Contact Windward Way Recovery today to get on the path to addiction treatment.