Tramadol Side Effects, Symptoms & Signs of Abuse

Tramadol is an opioid painkiller that is prescribed to help manage moderate to severe pain. Doctors may prescribe tramadol for short- or long-term management of acute or chronic pain. The drug, marketed under brand names such as Ultram and Ultracet, has been available in the U.S. since 1995 and is classified by the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) as a Schedule IV Controlled Substance.

As a narcotic, tramadol impacts your brain’s reward centers, prompting you to desire more of the drug. Even if you use tramadol in accordance with your doctor’s orders, the drug can still cause problems — including addiction.

Whether you are concerned about your own use or the use of someone you love, learn and watch for the signs of tramadol abuse and addiction.

Although tramadol addiction does not always accompany tramadol abuse, it is often among the earliest stages of addiction. If you cannot stop taking the medication — despite negative life consequences and efforts to quit — then you’re seeing the most telling sign that abuse has burgeoned into a bigger problem.

Behavioral Signs

  • Nonmedical use of the drug
  • Visiting multiple doctors to get more prescriptions
  • “Drug-seeking” behaviors such as emergency doctor visits and lying about loss of prescriptions
  • Continued use despite negative consequences

Psychological Signs

  • Belief that the drug is necessary to get through the day
  • Craving the drug
  • Lack of control over tramadol use
Prescription tramadol provides several benefits, including pain relief, mood enhancement and anti-anxiolytic (anxiety reduction). However, many undesirable side effects can occur as well, whether you are using or misusing this drug. Though some (like skin redness) may simply be bothersome and last only for a short time, other effects are quite dangerous and can last longer.

Long-term tramadol side effects may include physical dependency, whether or not addiction is present. However, as you continue taking tramadol, your risk of addiction to the drug increases. Even if you don’t develop addiction, long-term use of this drug will likely cause withdrawal symptoms when you detox from tramadol. The following are some of the minor and major side effects:

Minor Tramadol Side Effects

Some of the most common short-term, minor side effects of tramadol are listed below. Many of these effects require no medical attention, as they disappear on their own after the body adjusts to the medication. However, if any of these side effects continue, or if you simply have questions or concerns about them, consult your health care provider:

  • Abdominal or stomach pain
  • Tiny pupils
  • Anxiety, nervousness or irritability
  • Constipation or diarrhea
  • Perceived body temperature changes
  • Drowsiness
  • Nausea
  • Shivering
  • Weakness
  • Skin itching or redness
  • Back pain
  • Headache
  • Sadness
  • Loss of appetite

Major Tramadol Side Effects

Tramadol can also cause more serious problems, though they occur less frequently than the aforementioned side effects. If you experience any of the following side effects, consult your doctor as soon as possible:

  • Blisters under the skin
  • Seizures
  • Withdrawal symptoms
  • Severe cramping
  • Irregular or slow heartbeat
  • Chest pain
  • Hallucinations
  • Erectile dysfunction
  • Irregular menstruation
  • Dizziness or lightheadedness
  • Memory loss
  • Death by overdose
  • Severe nausea
  • Fainting

Tramadol side effects aren’t something that should be taken lightly, especially when a serious side effect is involved. Have your health care provider’s information handy at all times, should you ever have an immediate question or concern.

Taking too much of this drug can result in death, especially if you are using alcohol or other opioids at the same time. If you or a loved one is habitually overdosing on painkillers, you must seek professional help now.

Due to the gravity of this situation, it’s important that you know the symptoms of tramadol overdose. They are as follows:

  • Unconsciousness or coma
  • Slowed or stopped breathing
  • Muscle flaccidity
  • Cold and clammy skin
  • Seizures
  • Heart attack
  • Death
You may not know how to tell if someone has an opioid addiction, whether you are concerned for yourself or someone you love. Keep an eye out for the signs of tramadol abuse — both behavioral and psychological — as mentioned earlier. Put simply, if you or your loved one cannot stop taking tramadol despite efforts to stop, addiction is likely present in some capacity.

The latest Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, DSM-V, measures addiction severity using a criteria count from 2–11, with two being the least severe level of addiction and 11 being the most severe level of addiction. Criteria include factors such as the amount and frequency of your substance use, the level of impairment you experience due to your substance use, and more. The more criteria that you meet, the higher your count.

Tramadol addiction severity is determined numerically like so:

•Mild (2–3 criteria)

•Moderate (4–5 criteria)

•Severe (6+ criteria)

Tramadol Intervention
It is often difficult for a person with addiction to recognize their problem and seek help on their own. Thus, if someone you love has addiction disease, it is time to take steps to help them detox from painkillers and enter recovery.

Consider holding a tramadol addiction intervention. This event should be carefully planned to meet the following three goals:

    1.Give specific examples to your loved one of how their addiction has hurt you.

    2.Offer treatment options that you have already researched and vetted.

    3.States what you will do if your loved one does not agree to do treatment.

Because interventions can be difficult and emotional, you may want to consult an intervention specialist or another addiction professional to help with the planning and executing processes. They may recommend you begin by writing an intervention letter to your loved one. Whether you opt to intervene along or with outside help, remember that your primary objective is to bring your loved one back to health.

“ULTRAM- Tramadol Hydrochloride Tablet, Coated.” DailyMed, National Institutes of Health, 28 July 2014, Accessed 12 Jan. 2017.

Mayo Clinic Staff. “Intervention: Help a Loved One Overcome Addiction.” Mayo Clinic, 26 Sept. 2014, Accessed 13 Jan. 2017.

Medical Disclaimer: The Recovery Village aims to improve the quality of life for people struggling with a substance use or mental health disorder with fact-based content about the nature of behavioral health conditions, treatment options and their related outcomes. We publish material that is researched, cited, edited and reviewed by licensed medical professionals. The information we provide is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It should not be used in place of the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare provider.