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tramadol addiction veterans

Tramadol is a prescription opioid medication used to treat moderate to severe pain. At approximately one-tenth the potency of morphine, it’s considered to be one of the weaker opioid options. Because of this, this tramadol has been widely distributed while tramadol addiction risk has flown under the radar. However, tramadol addiction is a prominent issue, and the veteran population is among the most affected.

What Is Tramadol?

Tramadol Addiction

Tramadol is a synthetic (man-made) opioid, similar to methadone, U-47700, or fentanyl. While it’s used to treat moderate, severe, or chronic pain, it is considered a much less powerful alternative to other opioids. In turn, this has led to the misconception that it is less addictive, which encouraged many physicians to prescribe it as a “safer” option. On the contrary, tramadol is frequently abused and can lead to tolerance, dependence, and addiction.

The tramadol brand name is usually Ultram, although ConZip, QDOLO, and Enova RX are also tramadol brands. As tramadol increased in popularity in the 2000s, tramadol-specific ER visits skyrocketed. This became a precursor to widespread tramadol addiction and the classification of tramadol as a Schedule IV drug, which is monitored by the DEA.

Tramadol vs Other Opioids

Tramadol works similarly to other opioids by attaching to opioid receptors in the brain. This changes the way the body perceives pain. However, unlike other opioids, tramadol also affects serotonin and norepinephrine. Therefore, tramadol may also affect moods, similar to antidepressants.

Tramadol use has increased at a disproportionate rate compared to other prescription opioids. This is likely due, at least in part, to its less stringent schedule classification. And while the risk of severe respiratory depression during an overdose is lesser with tramadol, its particular mechanism of action makes it harder than other opioids to reverse. Therefore, Narcan (naloxone) is not always an effective tramadol anecdote.

Tramadol Interactions

Tramadol Interactions

Used alone, tramadol has many of the same side effects as other opioids. These include things like constipation, nausea, dizziness, and drowsiness, to name a few. On the other hand, side effects that are unique to tramadol in comparison to other opioids include:

  • Cold-like symptoms (congestion, sore throat, headache)
  • Itching
  • Muscle weakness
  • Seizures

When considering drug combinations, tramadol has hundreds of moderate to severe interactions listed from interactions with natural ingredients (e.g., sage or eucalyptus) or other medications (e.g., Xanax). In addition, tramadol and alcohol are also a dangerous combination due to the depressant effect each has on the body. The best course of action when taking tramadol is to be honest with your practitioner about which other substances you are taking before taking the medication.

Veterans and Tramadol Use

Chronic pain is a major issue among active and veteran military members. Historically, the short-term solution for this has been to prescribe opioid medication to veterans, sometimes at alarming rates. In fact, since tramadol was deemed less potent, at one point in time it was given to veterans by the VA without regulation and usually free of cost. This contributed to significant addiction issues among the veteran population.

However,  in  2014, the VA finally began implementing restrictions on veteran tramadol use. Unfortunately by this time tramadol addiction had already become a widespread issue. A first-hand account of veteran tramadol addiction explains the ease at which tramadol could be acquired and the overdose that ensued for this veteran.

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The stricter tramadol regulations were meant to serve as a warning to its addictive potential. However, it made prescriptions more difficult to obtain by those who were experiencing chronic pain as well as to those who had developed tramadol dependence. This scenario is sometimes blamed for encouraging veterans to find medication elsewhere, like the black market.

Tramadol Abuse and Addiction

Tramadol is habit-forming. Therefore, those who abuse this pain reliever or use it for any length of time could develop an opioid addiction. Once a drug dependency or addiction has been established, tramadol withdrawal will occur if the drug is abruptly stopped. To avoid tramadol withdrawal symptoms, it is important to recognize signs of tramadol abuse before an addiction sets in.

Many signs of tramadol abuse can be indicative of any addiction. These include things like:

  • Drug-seeking behavior,
  • A change in routines or peer groups,
  • Changes in nutrition or personal hygiene, or
  • A lack of interest in previously enjoyable activities.

Intoxication or a tramadol high is also an indication of misuse. These symptoms of tramadol abuse include:

  • Drowsiness
  • Slurred speech
  • Pinpoint pupils
  • Vomiting
  • Clumsiness
  • Seizures

Seizures are a serious risk of tramadol abuse. In addition, any other medication that affects serotonin in the brain, such as anti-depressants, can cause significant adverse reactions with tramadol (e.g., serotonin syndrome). Over time, the chemistry of the brain will change and expect the presence of this opioid. At this point, tramadol addiction has been established.

Florida Veteran Substance Abuse Program

Veteran Opioid Addiction

Fortunately, tramadol addiction treatment is an effective method of breaking the cycle of substance abuse. Usually, this begins with drug detox, followed by drug rehab. At Heroes’ Mile addiction treatment center, our Central Florida facility is specially equipped with veteran substance abuse treatment. Our addiction treatment center is run for veterans, by veterans in order to promote recovery through common ground.

In order to meet the needs of each individual, Heroes’ Mile offers several comprehensive treatment programs to address tramadol addiction and other substance use disorders. These include:

At Heroes’ Mile, we want you to know that you do not have to suffer from substance abuse or feelings of despair. Our veteran rehab center is dedicated to helping people just like you recover from tramadol addiction and other substance abuse issues. If you’re ready to talk about your options, call our admissions specialists at 888-838-6692 or ask your questions online with our confidential contact form.


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Please note: For medical emergencies, please call 911. For other urgent matters, please call our admissions line 888-838-6692. Submissions after-hours, weekends, or holidays may experience a longer response time.

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