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Article Summary

A Guide To Ultram Addiction

Also referred to as Tramadol, Ultram is typically a prescription for the treatment of chronic, severe, and moderate pain. According to the NIH (National Institute of Health), this drug is an opioid agonist ranked among other controlled substances because it can be addictive.

The drug acts like other opiates by slowing the patient's heart rate and depressing respiration to calm the body's pain receptors. However, if you abuse it, you may also feel elements of relaxation and euphoria along with pain relief.

In case you experience these effects after using your Ultram prescription, you may want to ask your doctor to start you on a tapering program. On the other hand, if you find you are abusing the drug and unable to quit, the best solution is to seek addiction treatment.

As an abuser, you might have difficulty stopping your abuse because Ultram is physically addictive. While trying to withdraw from the drug, therefore, you are highly likely to experience nervousness, heart palpations, increased pain, or other withdrawal symptoms.

Although some doctors consider this drug as having a relatively low potential for abuse and addiction, the withdrawal symptoms for those who try to quit are quite noticeable. In these cases, psychological cravings for the medication, abuse, and dependency are also likely.

For instance, a Journal of Family Practice 3-year study found that 28% of patients who receive Ultram prescriptions tend to become addicted to it. Further, the abuse of the drug is on the rise, with most users taking Ultram in excess to stimulate the euphoria resulting from using other stronger opiates.

Read on to learn more about Ultram addiction:

Understanding Ultram

Ultram is the brand name for Tramadol, an opioid painkiller/analgesic. Doctors prescribe it for the treatment of moderate to severe pain and many consider it safer than other narcotic painkillers like methadone and hydrocodone (Lortab, Vicodin).

Other medications that contain tramadol include Ultracet (a combination of acetaminophen/Tylenol and tramadol) and Ultram ER (an extended release formula for around the clock pain relief).

Initially, Ultram was considered safer than such opioid analgesics as hydrocodone and morphine. In 1995 the U.S. FDA (Food and Drug Administration) approved it for everyday use going so far as recommending that the government does not classify it as a controlled substance.

Mounting evidence of frequent abuse, dependence, and addiction in the general populace, however, added to severe withdrawal symptoms caused the DEA (Drug Enforcement Administration) to publish revised rules. In 2014, this body made Ultram a federally-controlled Schedule IV drug.

Ultram Uses

Doctors have a wide variety of prescription medications to choose from for the treatment of pain. Among these drugs are narcotics and opiates with similar effects depending on the choice the doctors pick.

However, Ultram has long been considered relatively safe and efficient for the treatment of moderate, chronic, and severe pain. It is also used in dealing with other health issues.

Even though this drug generates narcotic-like pain relief, it is still an opiate. More specifically, this centrally acting analgesic has opioid agonist properties. The oral medications come in the form of pills, capsules, and tablets (the most common system of administration). However, it is also available for intravenous, rectal, and intramuscular administration.

As we mentioned, the effects of Ultram are similar to those generated by narcotics, which is why the drug is commonly compared to hydrocodone and morphine. It has also been proved that this medication is equivalent in potency to Meperidine. Further, it is about 1/5 as potent as nalbuphine.

When administered through IV at doses of between 50 and 150 mg, the drug generates an analgesic efficacy that is equal to that of a post-surgical administration of morphine. Via epidural, however, this potency is just 1/30th. Among all these systems of administration, oral delivery is the most effective.

Ultram is beneficial in the sense that it works both long and short-term. Similarly, most people (of every age) find it tolerable, and there are different systems of delivery. Further, Ultram is considered a non-narcotic, therefore the Federal Government does not need to regulate or monitor it.

When you take the pill form, your liver will metabolize the substance in various chemicals such as O-desmethyltramadol, which might prove more potent than Ultram. On the other hand, if you take high oral doses, you might experience euphoric effects quite similar to Oxycontin (oxycodone), another opiate medication with a high potential for abuse.

Ultram Effects

When used in the short term, Ultram produces various effects that you may enjoy and eventually get used to. With time, you could find yourself abusing the drug to simulate the effects listed below:

  • Euphoria
  • lowered inhibitions
  • Mellowness
  • Pain relief
  • Relaxation
  • Sense of happiness and well-being
  • Sleepiness

However, the drug also causes other undesirable effects. These include but are not limited to:

  • Constipation
  • Diarrhea
  • Dizziness
  • Dry mouth
  • Headache
  • Heartburn
  • Insomnia
  • Itching
  • Nausea
  • Panic attacks
  • Shaking
  • Sleepiness
  • Sweating
  • Vomiting
  • Weakness

You may also experience the following adverse effects:

  • Difficulty breathing
  • Difficulty swallowing
  • Hallucinations
  • Hives
  • Seizures
  • Swelling of the throat and face

Other adverse effects that the drug causes include:

  • Anxiety whenever you run out of the drug
  • Depression
  • Drug-seeking behavior
  • Suicidal thoughts
Serotonin Syndrome

In some abusers, the drug might elicit Serotonin Syndrome, which is a drug reaction. This is because Ultram increases the activity of serotonin (a neurotransmitter), which can lead to such unpleasant effects as:

  • Agitation
  • Cognitive changes, including confusion
  • High body temperature
  • Increased blood pressure
  • Sweating

Ultram Side Effects

Apart from its usual effects, the active tramadol ingredient in Ultram could cause some side effects, some of which require immediate medical attention. Check in with your doctor immediately you experience any of the following effects after taking Ultram:

  • Absent or weak leg pulses
  • Bloating
  • Blurred vision
  • Change in balance and walking
  • Chest discomfort or pain
  • Chills
  • Darkened urine
  • Decreased or abnormal touch sensation
  • Difficult urination
  • Fainting
  • Fast heartbeat
  • Feeling, hearing, or seeing things that might not be there
  • Frequent need to urinate
  • Gaseous stomach or abdominal pain
  • Increase in blood pressure
  • Indigestion
  • Irregular heartbeat
  • Lightheadedness or dizziness when you get up from a sitting or lying position
  • Loss of memory
  • Pain in the lower back, legs, neck, jaw, arms, heels, or calves upon exertion
  • Pale blue or cold feet or feet
  • Problems with performing routine tasks
  • Recurrent fever
  • Seizures or convulsions
  • Severe cramping
  • Severe itching, swelling, and redness of the skin
  • Severe nausea
  • Shaking and trembling of the feet or hands
  • Skin blisters
  • Stomach or abdominal fullness
  • Sweating
  • Tingling, pain, and numbness in the toes, fingers, or face
  • Urinary blood
  • Yellow skin or eyes

Ultram Addictive Qualities

For a vast majority, Ultram is quite useful over the first 6 months of use. At this point, however, the drug's efficacy levels might start tapering off, and that is how the potential for addiction starts setting in.

There is a broad misconception that Ultram is non-addictive because it is considered a non-narcotic medication. However, even though the potential for addiction is smaller compared to other pain relievers, the truth is that anyone can misuse and abuse any drug. This is why it is so important that you learn the facts before you start taking your prescription.

The longer you use Ultram, to this end, the higher your risk of addiction and dependence. Since it is a synthetic opioid (opiate), it generates effects that are similar to hydrocodone and morphine.

By so doing, it binds to the brain's pain receptors. In turn, this will block the pain signals sent through the reflex sympathetic and central nervous systems. However, this effectiveness might soon wane.

To compensate, you could start increasing your dosage instead of getting your doctor to prescribe another drug. This means that Ultram is likely to serve as the gateway through which you start using narcotics and other hard opiates.

Where possible, ask your doctor to use caution while prescribing Ultram if you match any of the profiles listed below:

  • Depression
  • Emotional disturbance
  • Feeling suicidal
  • Prone to addiction
  • Taking antidepressants
  • Taking tranquilizers
  • Using alcohol in excess

Ultram Overdose

As a habitual user, you may become tolerant to the drug and feel the need to increase the frequency or amount of the doses you use to achieve the effects you desire. This, with time, may increase your risk of suffering an accidental overdose.

In some cases, you may miss the symptoms of addiction. However, abusing the drug is quite dangerous and can even prove to be life-threatening. Therefore, you should learn to recognize the basic signs of an Ultram overdose. These signs include but are not limited to:

  • Change in consciousness
  • Cold and clammy skin on the feet and hands
  • Coma
  • Decreased awareness
  • Decreased body temperature
  • Decreased heart rate
  • Decreased respiration
  • Decreased responsiveness
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Dizziness
  • Extreme drowsiness
  • Hallucinations
  • Irregular or slow heartbeat
  • Itching
  • Lack of muscle tone
  • Lightheadedness
  • Loss of consciousness
  • Miosis/pinpoint pupils (or decreased eye pupil size)
  • Seizures
  • Severe sleepiness
  • Skin rash
  • Slow breathing
  • Unusual tiredness

Ultram Withdrawal

Physical addiction to Ultram is accompanied by withdrawal symptoms when you abruptly stop using the drug. In some cases, you might not even realize that you are addicted until after your prescription runs out and you start experiencing these symptoms:

  • Agitation
  • Anxiety
  • Chills
  • Confusion
  • Decreased respiration
  • Depression
  • Diarrhea
  • Ear ringing
  • Gastrointestinal pain
  • Hallucinations
  • Insomnia
  • Nausea
  • Numbness in the body's extremities
  • Paranoia
  • Perspiration
  • Tremors
  • Vomiting

When doctors deal with these withdrawal symptoms, they may classify you as high risk due to your overall health, age, and underlying medical conditions. As a high-risk patient, the best solution is to undergo medical detoxification where the doctors will use supplemental drugs to minimize these adverse withdrawal symptoms.

Ultram Dangers

Even if you use Ultram correctly according to your doctor's prescription, you can still suffer severe reactions, including dizziness and nausea. However, abusing the drug can make it even more dangerous and may increase your risk of overdose and other severe effects. Further, combining this drug with other substances (in what doctors call polydrug use) also increases the risk of suffering severe and (sometimes) fatal effects.

SAMHSA (the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration) reports that between 2005 and 2011, the number of visits to emergency departments involving Ultram misuse or abuse increased by close to 250 percent. This figure shows just how dangerous the drug is.

When you take higher doses or combine it with another substance, Ultram is even more dangerous. As mentioned above, abusing this medication might also cause serotonin syndrome, which is sometimes life-threatening if you do not get it treated. This condition will occur when Ultram releases serotonin (a chemical used to relay brain signals) in excess and the chemical remains lodged inside the brain. Serotonin syndrome mostly affects patients who combine antidepressants with tramadol.

Signs And Symptoms Of Ultram Abuse

If you notice the following signs and symptoms of Ultram use, abuse, tolerance, dependence, and addiction, seek medical attention:

1. Physical Symptoms
  • Bloodshot eyes
  • Changes in appetite
  • Changes in sleep patterns
  • Disregard for physical appearance, hygiene, and grooming
  • Abnormally small or large eye pupils
  • Unstable or impaired coordination
  • Slurred or incoherent speech
  • Seizures when you have no history of epilepsy
  • Sudden weight gain or loss
  • Unexplained accidents and injuries
2. Behavioral Symptoms
  • Becoming withdrawn or silent
  • Regularly reporting lost prescriptions
  • Continuing to use the substance even in light of the psychological and physical harm it causes
  • Craving the drug when you don't use it
  • Decreased motivation
  • Doctor shopping
  • Drug seeking behavior
  • Frequent involvement in illegal activities, accidents, arguments, and fights
  • Loss of interest in exercise, sports, hobbies, and extracurricular activities
  • Neglecting responsibilities in favor of obtaining and using the drug
  • Reduced performance at school, home, and work
  • Stealing or borrowing money to buy the drug
  • Stealing or borrowing Ultram from friends and family
  • Sudden change in friends, hobbies, favorite hangouts, and relationships
  • Sudden mood swings
  • Suffering tolerance effects that require you to take larger doses or increase the frequency of dosage
  • Tampering with prescriptions and medical records
  • Unexplained changes in attitude or personality
  • Using Ultram for nonmedical purposes
3. Psychological Symptoms
  • Believing that you need to the drug to go about your day-to-day business
  • Inability to control your Ultram use
  • Intense drug cravings

Treatment For Ultram Addiction

If you are addicted to Ultram, the best solution is to get medical attention. In the process, you will undergo detox to get rid of the drug from your system, before checking into rehab (inpatient or outpatient) for therapy. With time, you should kick the habit and return to normalcy.

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