Tramadol and Its Side Effects

By: Lakeview Health Staff
Published: February 19, 2024

In the United States, 1.6 to 1.8 million people misuse tramadol. Like other opioids, tramadol helps relieve pain, but it can also cause feelings of euphoria that could lead to dependence on the drug. If you’re struggling with a tramadol use disorder, entering a treatment program can be the best way to find your sobriety once more. 

Understanding Tramadol Use: What It Is and What It Can Help With

Tramadol is a synthetic opioid analgesic and serotonin and norepinephrine reuptake inhibitor (SNRI) that is available in extended and immediate-release formulas. It’s structurally related to codeine and morphine.  

Tramadol can help people who are dealing with various types of pain, including those experiencing:

  • Neuropathic pain
  • Lower back pain
  • Post-operative pain
  • Osteoarthritis pain
  • Fibromyalgia pain
  • Cancer pain
  • Labor pain 

Tramadol acts on the central nervous system, working directly on the opioid receptors to reduce feelings of pain. It does this by interrupting how nerves signal pain between the brain and the body. Because of its SNRI activity, the drug also has anti-shivering, antidepressant, and anxiety-reducing properties. 

Although it’s not as potent as other opioids, tramadol still affects your brain’s reward system, flooding it with dopamine. This reinforces the use of tramadol as a pleasurable activity that your brain will urge you to repeat. 

Some non-opioid, over-the-counter alternatives to tramadol include ibuprofen, aspirin, and acetaminophen. 

Short-Term Effects of Tramadol Use

Tramadol slows the central nervous system, and the majority of its short-term effects reflect its depressant nature. Some of the symptoms that you might notice as soon as you start taking tramadol include:

  • Headache
  • Drowsiness
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Constipation 
  • Dizziness
  • Irritability
  • Feeling cold
  • Dry mouth
  • Itchy skin
  • Runny nose
  • Muscle aches
  • Concentration problems
  • Loss of interest in favorite activities

Furthermore, if you take other medications, it’s also essential that you work closely with your doctor to ensure you don’t face dangerous interactions. 

Specifically, carbamazepine is one drug you shouldn’t take with tramadol. It can make tramadol less effective while also putting you at risk of seizures. 

Certain antidepressants should also not be combined with tramadol, especially those that act on your serotonin levels, like sertraline, citalopram, and fluoxetine. This is because using them together can lead to a condition called serotonin syndrome, which is a potentially fatal condition caused by too much serotonin in the brain’s synapses. 

If you take any other types of drugs that impact serotonin levels, including some kinds of headache medications, you could face uncomfortable side effects. 

Although less common, some people may experience symptoms like:

  • Bladder pain
  • Cloudy or bloody urine 
  • Changes in hearing
  • Blisters under the skin
  • Blurred vision
  • Severe cramping

Some people may also see, feel, or hear things that are not there. If you experience any unusual side effects, you must reach out to your doctor. 

Long-Term Effects of Tramadol Use 

Long-term effects of tramadol use can be severe, especially if you’re using the drug for longer than your doctor recommends. It’s possible to experience:

  • Sleep disorders
  • Respiratory depression 
  • Seizures
  • Serotonin syndrome

Organ damage is also a concern. Your liver breaks down tramadol, so if you’re using more of the drug than you should, your liver can struggle to keep up. Over time, this can lead to liver damage. 

Long-term use can also lead to structural changes in the brain. It can affect memory, general cognition, and even learning. Because tramadol also depresses respiration, your brain may not be getting enough oxygen to function at its best. 

You can also experience chronic constipation, which can harm the intestines in the long run. You may have appetite loss, vomiting, and nausea, which can lead you to lose weight and suffer nutritional deficiencies that put other organs at risk. 

Long-term tramadol use can also affect your endocrine system by damaging the thyroid gland. This means that you could experience a reduced sex drive, changes to appetite and metabolism, and fertility issues. 

Using tramadol for a long time also puts you at risk of dependence and addiction. This occurs when your body needs to keep using the drug to function normally. Your neurotransmitter function changes because of the presence of tramadol, which means that if you stop using it, you can experience withdrawal symptoms. 

The more you use tramadol, the more likely you are to need to increase the dose to get the same effects. This puts you at risk of taking too much of the drug, leading to an overdose that can present with symptoms like headaches, drowsiness, respiratory depression, and a dangerously low heart rate. 

Health Conditions That May Affect Tramadol Use

If you have chronic liver or kidney disease, tramadol use can put your organs at risk. Opioids of any type cause more damage to already struggling livers. This can occur even more easily if you take tramadol with acetaminophen

For people who have kidney disease, tramadol and its metabolites accumulate in the kidney and increase the risk of seizures and respiratory depression, along with serotonin syndrome.

People who have depression and are taking SSRIs or MAOIs (monoamine oxidase inhibitors) can also increase their risk of serotonin syndrome. 

Can You Become Addicted to Tramadol?

You can become dependent on tramadol and then develop an addiction. Even though tramadol is not as powerful as other opioids, it affects the same areas of the brain. 

Once your brain experiences a release of dopamine because of tramadol use, especially when mixed with alcohol and other substances, it’ll want to repeat its use. This leads to cravings and the potential of developing a substance use disorder. 

Some of the most common signs that you may have an opioid addiction (including tramadol) are:

  • Being unable to stop using tramadol despite negative consequences
  • Worrying about when you can use the drug next
  • Doctor shopping
  • Neglecting responsibilities to use tramadol
  • Hiding your tramadol use
  • Experiencing negative social interactions because of tramadol use
  • Experiencing withdrawal symptoms if you stop using tramadol

The more you use tramadol, the more your body adjusts to having the drug in its system. Its effects become less powerful, and your brain encourages you to take more of the drug.

Tramadol Addiction: Turning to the Right Treatment Programs

If you’re struggling with an addiction to tramadol, it’s essential that you consider getting help at a treatment program. One of the most crucial steps in this process is going through a safe detox

When you stop using a drug like tramadol, your body has a difficult time stabilizing. This means that you can experience withdrawal symptoms that can make it more difficult to focus on your recovery. 

Treatment programs allow you to go through the detoxification process under medical supervision so that you can begin treatment on the right foot. 

The level of care you receive depends on how long you’ve had a tramadol use disorder, the dose you usually use, and whether you’ve attempted to get sober before. For many, residential treatments are the best choice because they let you step away from your daily life and focus on treatment. 

For those who are struggling with co-occurring mental health conditions, a dual diagnosis program is essential. By treating both conditions at the same time, you have the best chance of getting and staying sober. 

Getting the Help You Deserve at Lakeview Health

Sometimes, people assume that because tramadol isn’t as potent as other opioids, dependence and addiction are not a concern. In fact, a tramadol use disorder could happen to anyone who relies on the drug to deal with pain. 

At Lakeview Health, we help you reveal the underlying cause of the addiction so that you can obtain lasting sobriety. Contact us today to learn more about our tramadol addiction treatment programs.