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Tramadol and Alcohol

October 7, 2021

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Opioids are a valuable tool for medical professionals, but their potential for abuse makes them a double-edged sword. On one hand, potent painkillers like Tramadol may reduce the suffering of patients who are in severe pain, but opioids are also addictive and commonly abused. Individuals who do abuse them are at risk of withdrawal, addiction, or overdose. In many cases, mixing opioids like alcohol and tramadol (intentionally or unintentionally) puts the individual at an even higher risk.

Tramadol’s Purpose, Uses, and Effects

As an opioid, Tramadol’s extent of use in the medical field stays within the realm of pain treatment. The substance’s full generic name is tramadol hydrochloride, but several branded versions exist, including extended release tablet versions, immediate release tablets, and types for intravenous (IV) administrations.

Compared to other opioids, tramadol can be helpful for patients suffering from constant pain. Versions like the extended release tablet can provide reliable and constant painkilling properties to patients. This can make tramadol specifically effective in these scenarios, where other opioids may not stay effective long enough in the body to provide constant pain-relief. 

Man holding his neck in pain: Tramadol can be helpful for patients suffering from constant pain.

However, this also means the substance remains in the body for longer than typical medications, which may cause complications if the patient consumes alcohol.

Though it can be used to treat pain on an around-the-clock basis, Tramadol itself holds little potency, at least compared to other opioids. The World Health Organization considered it to be about a tenth as strong as morphine.

Morphine itself is about a moderate painkiller, so Tramadol on the scale of opioid strength falls somewhat low on the scale. Pain-killing properties themselves are tough to measure, but the way that the substances interact in the brain usually provides insight as to how much pain can be treated by a given medication.

How Does Tramadol Work?

Though tramadol is an opioid, its action in the brain is not fully understood. Most opioids react in the brain very similarly, but tramadol has additional action that scientists are not sure about yet.

The base chemical of tramadol hydrochloride actually does little work on its own; it is not until the liver starts to metabolize the chemical that a pain-killing substance is produced. After that occurs, those substances react in the brain much in the same way that typical opioids do.

However, further study has shown that there are more things going on than just those base pain-killing effects. Until extensive study is performed on tramadol, the exact mechanism of the substance will likely remain unknown.

Even though tramadol is significantly weaker than morphine, patients who take it may be at risk of developing a dependence for it. Additionally, its status as an opioid makes it a target for misuse.

Tramadol Abuse, Dependence, and Withdrawal

Unfortunately, opioids are one of the most abused substances. Their pain-killing properties can result in addictive tendencies within patients who take them, and individuals seeking to abuse a substance may find opioids attractive simply due to their ease of access as well as their pleasant effects.

Side Effects of Tramadol Abuse

However it may develop, tramadol misuse often results in several unique symptoms and also side effects that are common across all opioids:

  • Drowsiness
  • Trouble getting to sleep
  • Headaches
  • Anxiety
  • Tremors
  • Stiff muscles
  • Mood swings
  • Heartburn
  • Dry mouth

Tramadol Withdrawal

With continued use, dependence is likely to form. If an individual develops a dependence on a drug and they suddenly stop taking it, they are likely to experience withdrawal symptoms. These can range from anywhere to being merely unpleasant to sometimes being lethal. In the case of tramadol withdrawal, individuals are likely to experience some or all of the following:

  • Muscle pain
  • Diarrhea
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Light sensitivity
  • Insomnia
  • Increased body processes like fast heart rate, quick breathing, or sweating

In some rare cases of tramadol withdrawal, psychotic symptoms emerged:

  • Hallucinations
  • Paranoia
  • Extreme anxiety
  • Panic attacks
  • Confusion
  • Numbness or tingling in limbs

These additional side effects of withdrawal may be caused by the still-unknown nature of tramadol, but since the effects do not appear in all cases of tramadol withdrawal, the symptoms may simply be unique to the individual.

Graphic of man at a desk with pills in front of him. Side effects of tramadol abuse: anxiety, drowsiness, headaches, tremors, mood swings, and heartburn.


Alcohol with Tramadol or Other Opioids

As is the case for many, many other prescription medications, alcohol interacts dangerously with opioids, tramadol included. In tramadol’s specific case, the risk may be greater than normal, especially since the substance can remain active for such an extended period of time.

This might make accidental combinations more likely, since an individual who is taking tramadol might forget about a dose they had taken earlier in the day, only to consume alcohol during the evening. 

However it may occur, if alcohol is combined with tramadol, dangerous symptoms may result. Alcohol’s depressant effects can combine to cause threateningly slowed body processes.

Additionally, tramadol’s unique psychotic side effects in some cases of withdrawal signal that it impacts more parts of the brain than currently understood, which means it could have consequences that are truly unforeseen.

Man holding a glass of alcohol. Text: Because tramadol remains active for an extended period of time, accidental combinations with alcohol are more likely.

Recognizing a Prescription Drug Problem

Opioid dependence may not be common, but there is no doubt that it is a problem. Individuals suffering from a prescription drug abuse disorder may not realize they have a problem, which is why contact can be the most crucial step.

If you think a loved one is struggling with an opioid addiction, give us a confidential call today at 928-440-0065 to get help. Addiction may end up being life-threatening, but when treated properly, real recovery is possible.