It’s difficult to determine which mind-altering substance is the most dangerous of all when every drug is dangerous in its own ways; however, tramadol is surely one of the most dangerous due to its unusual nature. Compared to conventional prescription painkillers, tramadol would seem to have very little appeal to substance abusers, but statistics show that the abuse rates of tramadol have grown. Moreover, evidence points to tramadol addiction being a very real possibility, making it important for us to know about this drug and what makes it so dangerous.
What is Tramadol?
Compared to most other pharmaceutical drugs, tramadol is rather young. In fact, it was only just created in 1962 by a German pharmaceutical company. Its initial purpose was to treat pain and was testing as a painkiller for fifteen years before it was released to international market in 1977. Upon its release, tramadol was a huge success. However, it wasn’t first available in the United States until 1995, at which point it became quite popular in the U.S., too. By 2008, there were more than 23 million prescriptions written for tramadol each year; by 2012, the number of annual prescriptions of tramadol was approaching 40 million.
Tramadol is quite unusual compared to other pharmaceuticals, particularly when you compare it to other drugs used for painkillers. The first trade name under which tramadol was marketed was Tramal, released in 1977, and its release completely changed the pharmaceutical world. While other opiates bonded with opioid receptors to achieve their effects, tramadol was different because it exhibited a double mode of action. Of course, tramadol does bond with opioid receptors in much the same way as opiates like morphine and codeine, but tramadol also inhibits the reuptake of serotonin and norepinephrine. In other words, tramadol is like a hybrid of an opiate painkiller and an SSRI (selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor) antidepressant.
In 2014, the United States Food and Drug Administration moved tramadol into the Schedule IV class of controlled substances. Since then, there’s been a major increase in public awareness as to the dangers of tramadol and its abuse potential. There are other drugs that are considered more desirable by substance abusers due to the fact that their effects are more intense, but that doesn’t negate the fact that tramadol is a very dangerous and highly addictive substance. Fortunately, there are a number of recovery resources available to those who have become addicted to tramadol.
How tramadol works
Despite offering similar effects as many opiate pain medications like hydrocodone or oxycodone, tramadol is very different from substances that would widely be considered narcotics. Tramadol is intended to be used for the treatment of chronic health problems that involve moderate to severe pain, but it does so in a very particular way. Specifically, tramadol modifies the pain signals that are sent by the brain by targeting and intercepting those signals in various places throughout the nervous system, contributing to the drug’s effects. As such, many of the effects of tramadol parallel those of other pain medications.
Bonding with the brain’s opioid receptors, tramadol relieves or dulls one’s pain while also causing feelings of drowsiness, lethargy, heaviness throughout the body, and dramatically slowed body functions. However, the effects tend to be much less pronounced than traditional opiate painkillers, causing users to take the drug in even higher doses than would be advised. From a medical standpoint, tramadol’s mildness compared to other opioids is why the drug is often preferred by physicians who prescribe tramadol due to their belief that it’s safer.
What Makes Tramadol Dangerous?
Since tramadol works similarly to opiate painkillers, it should come as no surprise that tramadol has similar potential for abuse. More often than not, tramadol is prescribed for the treatment of pain, which seemed to indicate to substance abusers that tramadol has recreational value. In spite of the negative effects that often result from improper use of the drug, we have seen climbing rates of tramadol abuse. By 2011, there were more than 20,000 emergency room visits attributed to the abuse of tramadol across the country. Additionally, the state of Florida saw more than a threefold increased in tramadol overdose deaths between 2003 and 2011 with similar trends seen in most other states.
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, an individual would need to take larger doses of tramadol to experience comparable effects to smaller quantities of more conventional painkillers; as a result, the psychoactive properties of tramadol and its effects on brain chemistry — levels of neurochemicals and hormones — are significantly more pronounced. Moreover, statistics show that tramadol abuse can potentially cause seizures since the drug isn’t meant to be taken at high doses. What further distinguishes tramadol from other opioids — and arguably makes it the most dangerous opioid of all — is the fact that tramadol is only partially reversed by a drug like naloxone, which is administered to reverse an opioid overdose; this indicates that while its opiate-like qualities are an important factor in its effects, its opiate actions are not the sole or main factor.
Overcoming Tramadol Addiction at Malvern Institute
Tramadol is clearly a dangerous drug, but we can offer those who suffer from tramadol addiction the resources needed to get sober. We have created our own method of addiction treatment called the Malvern Model of Care. This model guides individuals through the entire continuum of care, beginning with detoxification before proceeding through induction, inpatient care, and outpatient care. In short, it’s a graduated program consisting of only the treatments that have been proven to work.
If you would like to learn more about tramadol addiction treatment at Malvern Institute, or if you have any other questions, please call us anytime at 610.MALVERN (610.625.8376).