Tramadol is an opioid analgesic that is used for the management of moderate to severe pain in a medical setting, and is generally considered safer than other opioids such as Vicodin and Oxycontin. It can also be abused as a drug that creates a sense of euphoria at high doses, going by the street name “ultras”. While the FDA originally recommended that Tramadol not be a scheduled substance, after reviewing the mounting evidence that supported the fact that Tramadol was being abused, the DEA classified it as a schedule IV controlled substance.
While safer than other opiate medications, Tramadol does have the potential to be abused, and the withdrawals from not using the drug after a long period of dependance can be harrowing. Tramadol increases the levels of the chemicals serotonin and norepinephrine in addition to the opiate-like effects, causing elevated mood and euphoria. For this reason, users have reported that they take more than prescribed, or take it more often than prescribed, so that they can maintain this effect. Also, when users stop taking Tramadol after doing so for a long period of time, they experience severe withdrawals categorized by symptoms of gastrointestinal pain, depression, diarrhea, agitation, hallucinations, paranoia and confusion. Tramadol is designated as a substance that is prone to abuse, and can be addicting, so it would be naive to think that because it may be safer than other opiates that there will not be consequences of abusing it.
People who are addicted to the drug will also start to experience a severe need for it aside from the physical withdrawal symptoms. “Individuals who abuse tramadol for an extended period of time and develop psychological dependence may begin to experience compulsive cravings to take the drug and to feel that they need it to cope with everyday problems.” (Tramadol Abuse).
I think it is safe to say that, though Tramadol is medically safer than other opioids, it can be abused, and can certainly lead to addiction. Just as any other drug of abuse, Tramadol has the effect of stimulating the pleasure centers of the brain, and activates the survival mechanisms of the lizard brain, which controls our base desires and needs for food, water, and sex. As with the brains of all animals, these primal needs can drive us, if not properly checked, and drugs of abuse make pleasure seems much more accessible, which makes them dangerous and easy to abuse.
The statistics concerning the rates of Tramadol abuse continue to grow, as is the case with virtually any other drug of abuse. In 2013, it was reported that over 7 million people over the age of 12 had used Tramadol for recreational purposes, which is an increase of 500,000 from 2012, and 2.8% of all adults from ages 18 to 25 reported taking the drug for non-medical reasons. Also, visits to the emergency room as a direct result of abusing Tramadol more than doubled from 2005 to 2011.
Tramadol is no different than any other drug of abuse, and is dangerous because people are under the delusion that it is not a real problem. Tramadol certainly can cause dependence, withdrawal, and can lead to a life of hopelessness and depression.