Tramadol has become a topic of intense debate among healthcare professionals and patients alike.

As its usage in the UK continues to rise, many are left confused about the true nature of this drug, with many wondering – why is tramadol dangerous?


What Is Tramadol?

Tramadol, commonly known under the brand name Ultram, is an opioid pain medication primarily used to treat moderate to severe pain. It operates within the central nervous system, altering the way the body perceives and responds to pain.

As it’s a synthetic opioid, it is a controlled substance that’s classed as similar to morphine but is considered less potent. This medication is available in various forms, including immediate-release and extended-release tablets, catering to different pain management needs.

Tramadol works by binding to the brain’s opioid receptors, but it also increases the levels of neurotransmitters like serotonin and norepinephrine, contributing to its pain-relieving effects. This dual mechanism sets it apart from traditional opioids, offering a unique approach to managing moderate to severe pain.


What Is Tramadol Used For?

Tramadol can be particularly beneficial for severe pain and people requiring continuous, around-the-clock pain management. 

It’s often used when other pain relievers are not effective, or other medicines cannot be used due to medical reasons. It can also be recommended as part of a comprehensive treatment plan, including physical therapy and other medications.


Who Can and Can’t Take Tramadol?

In the UK, tramadol can be prescribed to most adults and adolescents over the age of 12 for pain relief. However, it’s not appropriate for everyone.

Children younger than 12 should never consume Tramadol. Anyone with a history of substance abuse, severe respiratory issues, or hypersensitivity to opioids should avoid taking tramadol.

Additionally, it’s contraindicated in individuals with certain medical conditions, such as uncontrolled epilepsy or those who are concurrently taking certain antidepressants, due to the risk of serotonin syndrome – a potentially life-threatening condition.

Pregnant or breastfeeding women should also avoid tramadol, as it can pass into the breast milk and may harm the baby. Elderly patients, particularly those with a kidney disease or other liver disease or impairment, may require dose adjustments or may be advised to avoid tramadol due to the increased risk of side effects.

With a prescription drug such as tramadol, it’s really important to follow the prescription provided by a doctor. Dosage should never be altered without consulting a doctor, and it should never be shared with others, especially with individuals with a history of drug abuse or addiction.


What Are the Typical Doses of Tramadol?

Tramadol dosages vary depending on the individual’s medical history, condition, response to treatment, and pain severity.

It typically comes in immediate-release and tramadol extended-release tablet forms. The immediate-release tablets are usually taken every 4-6 hours as needed for pain, while the extended-release form is for around-the-clock treatment of chronic pain, and should not be taken on an as-needed basis.

The dosages can range from 50 to 100 mg for immediate-release tablets and up to 300 mg for extended-release forms. It’s essential to follow the instructions given closely and not to adjust the dose, frequency, or duration of use, as improper use can increase the risk of side effects and addiction.


Is Tramadol Dangerous?

Yes, it’s dangerous. Although it’s used to treat pain, it’s highly addictive and side effects can be severe, resulting in life-threatening problems. It’s also possible to have an allergic reaction to this prescription drug, but it’s rare.

It’s important to understand that a prescription drug addiction can occur even when tramadol is taken as prescribed. So, it may not be a case of taking too much tramadol. Instead, an individual could follow the guidance given by a doctor or pharmacist and still develop a dependency. Find out how to avoid developing a painkiller addiction here.


Why Is Tramadol Addictive?

As tramadol is a powerful prescription painkiller that falls into the category of opioids, it has the potential to cause addiction.

The reason behind its addictive nature lies in how it interacts with the brain. When taken, tramadol binds to opioid receptors in the brain, similar to other narcotics.

This action not only alleviates pain but also triggers the release of serotonin and norepinephrine, neurotransmitters that are responsible for feelings of well-being and happiness.

Over time, the brain starts relying on tramadol to stimulate these feelings, leading to a dependency. Additionally, as a person continues to use tramadol, they may develop a tolerance, meaning they need higher doses to achieve the same effect, further increasing the risk of addiction. They may also experience withdrawal symptoms when trying to limit their intake.


What Are The Risks Associated With Tramadol?

While tramadol is effective for pain management, it comes with several risks. The most significant is the potential for addiction and abuse, as highlighted above.

Other risks include life-threatening breathing problems. Respiratory depression, where breathing becomes dangerously slow and shallow breathing, particularly when used in high doses or combined with other depressants like alcohol.

There’s also the risk of what is known as serotonin syndrome, a potentially life-threatening condition caused by too much serotonin in the brain. This can happen if tramadol is combined with certain medications, such certain drugs such as antidepressants.

What’s more, tramadol can cause seizures, especially in those with a history of seizures or who take other medications that lower the seizure threshold. Finally, tramadol use in pregnancy can lead to withdrawal symptoms in the newborn, a condition known as neonatal opioid withdrawal syndrome.


The Side Effects of Tramadol

Like any medication, tramadol has a range of common side effects. These include:

  • Nausea
  • Constipation
  • Dizziness
  • Headache
  • Drowsiness

Some people may also experience dry mouth, sweating, lack of energy or weight changes. While these side effects can be unpleasant and uncomfortable to experience, they are generally not serious and often subside as the body adjusts to the medication.


Serious Side Effects of Tramadol

Tramadol’s side effects can range from mild to severe, and understanding them is incredibly important for anyone taking this medication. Serious side effects may include:

  • Seizures, particularly in individuals with a history of seizures or taking other medications that lower the seizure threshold.
  • There’s also a risk of serotonin syndrome, a rare but potentially life-threatening condition caused by excessive levels of serotonin.
  • Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease or respiratory depression is another serious side effect, where breathing becomes dangerously slow and shallow, especially when tramadol is taken in high doses or combined with other depressants.
  • Taking tramadol can increase the risk of suicidal thoughts or actions in some users, particularly those with a history of depression or mental illness.
  • Tramadol can lead to physical dependence and withdrawal symptoms if use is suddenly stopped or reduced.


What Should You Not Mix With Tramadol?

Here are some things you should definitely avoid mixing with Tramadol:

  • Don’t drink alcohol: Mixing alcohol with tramadol can lead to dangerous side effects, such as drowsiness, dizziness, and even more serious issues like respiratory problems.
  • No other opioids: Mixing Tramadol with other opioid medications can increase the risk of side effects like sedation and respiratory depression.
  • Benzodiazepines: These are drugs like Xanax or Valium. Combining them with tramadol can lead to extreme drowsiness, respiratory depression, coma, or even death.
  • Serotonin-boosting medications: These include certain antidepressants like SSRIs and SNRIs. When mixed with Tramadol, they can increase the risk of a condition called serotonin syndrome, which can be life-threatening.


Signs of Tramadol Addiction

Recognising the signs of tramadol addiction can make all the difference in relation to early intervention and effective treatment.

See below for several signs that a dependency on tramadol has developed.

  • Needing more of the drug to achieve the same pain relief or effect indicates a growing tolerance to tramadol.
  • They experience withdrawal symptoms when not using the drug, such as nausea, sweating, anxiety, or irritability.
  • Using tramadol more often or in larger amounts than intended, or unsuccessfully trying to cut down or control use.
  • Spending a lot of time obtaining, using, or recovering from the effects of tramadol.
  • Finding it difficult to meet obligations at work or with home life due to tramadol use.
  • Continuing to use tramadol even when it causes or worsens physical or psychological problems.
  • Taking tramadol in dangerous situations. This may include when you’re driving or mixing it with alcohol or other drugs.
  • Developing a strong desire or urge to take tramadol.


Find Help for Tramadol Addiction Today

If you or someone you know is showing signs of tramadol addiction, it’s important to tell your doctor or seek some form of professional help.

Addiction is a medical condition that requires treatment, which can include therapy, medication, and support groups. Early intervention can lead to a more successful recovery.

Our clinic has helped many who have struggled with an addiction to opioid drugs and prescription drugs, including tramadol. Call us directly at 0800 880 7596 or fill out one of our enquiry forms at a time that suits you.

John Gillen - Author - Last updated: November 24, 2023

John is one UK’s leading professionals in the addiction recovery industry. Pioneering new treatment techniques such as NAD+ and ongoing research into new therapy techniques such as systematic laser therapy, John is committed to providing the very best treatment for people throughout the UK and Europe. During his extremely busy schedule, John likes to regularly update our blog section with the latest news and trends in the industry to keep visitors to our site as well informed as possible on everything related to addiction treatment.