Tramadol vs. Oxycodone: Comparison of Side Effects and Effectiveness

If you want to see a comparison of tramadol vs. oxycodone, you’ll notice there are quite a few similarities between these two prescription drugs, along with a few differences.

First, some key takeaways, and then below we’ll go into more detail about tramadol vs. oxycodone and what each drug is.

  • Tramadol is the generic name of a prescription drug used for the treatment of pain ranging from moderate to severe.
  • Generic tramadol is relatively inexpensive among prescription opioids, and common brand names include Rybix, Ryzolt, Fuse Paq and also Ultram ER.
  • Oxycodone is also an opioid, and it’s in prescription drugs like OxyContin, and it’s also available on its own.
  • Oxycodone is a Schedule II controlled substance and tramadol is Schedule IV.
  • There is a slight risk of abuse with tramadol, and generally, oxycodone is more likely to lead to abuse and addiction, although every individual is different.
Tramadol vs. Oxycodone: Comparison of Side Effects and Effectiveness
Tramadol is a prescription pain reliever that tends to be slightly weaker than most other opioids. It is an opioid pain reliever, which means that when someone takes tramadol, it binds to their opioid receptors and influences their central nervous system. The interaction of tramadol and other opioids with the central nervous system lowers how people perceive pain, and tramadol can also improve mood, which is one way it’s unique from oxycodone.

While tramadol isn’t necessarily as potent as some other opioids, it still works well as a pain reliever even for severe pain, and an extended release version of the drug is available for severe pain requiring around-the-clock treatment.

Some of the characteristics of tramadol include:

  • It’s classified as a centrally acting synthetic analgesic
  • It’s schedule IV
  • It can treat chronic pain with the extended-release version
  • Tramadol usually starts working within an hour and lasts for about four to six hours
  • One of the big differences in tramadol vs. oxycodone is the fact that oxycodone is around 1.5 times more potent than morphine, while tramadol is negligible in how much stronger it is than morphine

One of the riskiest side effects of tramadol is seizures. There have been seizures reported even when people have taken minimal prescribed doses.

Some of the side effects both tramadol and oxycodone have in common include headache, sweating, constipation, dizziness, and dry mouth. These side effects are common among opioids in general.

Oxycodone is a strong, semi-synthetic opioid that is closely regulated by the DEA because of the risk of addiction and abuse. Much like tramadol, oxycodone works on the user’s central nervous system, altering how they perceive pain. Unlike tramadol, oxycodone doesn’t have the impact of norepinephrine and serotonin reuptake inhibition, so it doesn’t have the mood-enhancing element of tramadol unless someone takes large doses and achieves a euphoric high.

Oxycodone functions as a pure opioid agonist, and it has a more rapid onset time than tramadol. For example, when comparing tramadol vs. oxycodone, you’ll see that oxycodone will usually start working with 20 to 30 minutes after taking it, with peak effects occurring in around one hour. The half-life of oxycodone is 3.5 to 4 hours, and the half-life of tramadol is 6.3 hours.

These numbers are important because they highlight some of the reasons there is a lower risk of abuse with tramadol vs. oxycodone. Usually, the more fast-acting an opioid is, the more likely it is to be abused. Of course, tramadol can be abused and can become addictive, but the risk is lower. In general, oxycodone is considered to have a high risk of physical and psychological dependence, while tramadol is considered to have a low risk. That’s why oxycodone is schedule II, and tramadol is schedule IV.

To further compare tramadol vs. oxycodone:

  • Regarding effectiveness as a painkiller, oxycodone is usually more potent, and oxycodone has more rapid onset of pain relieving effects
  • Tramadol does have a higher risk of seizures than oxycodone, particularly in people who already have a history of seizures.
  • Oxycodone has a higher potential for abuse and addiction than tramadol.

Something else important to recognize when comparing tramadol vs. oxycodone is that tramadol isn’t associated with significant depression of the respiratory system. One of the most dangerous aspects of opioids like oxycodone is that they can cause significant and sometimes deadly respiratory depression, but tramadol doesn’t have a high risk of that occurring.

Also different when comparing tramadol vs. oxycodone is the potential interactions they have with other drugs. For example, with oxycodone people shouldn’t combine it with other central nervous depressants because it will further depress respiration. With tramadol, it’s important to avoid serotonin-based medicines because of the risk of serotonin syndrome.

To sum up the comparison of tramadol vs. oxycodone: oxycodone is stronger at relieving pain, but also more likely to lead to addiction and dependence. Tramadol has mood-boosting properties, but a lower risk of respiratory depression and tramadol also carries the risk of seizure.

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.

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