Tramadol Withdrawal: Understanding the Process and Coping Strategies

More than 10 million American adults misused prescription opioids in 2019. During that same year, an estimated 1.6 million American adults struggled with opioid use disorders, and over 70,000 individuals across the nation died from drug overdoses.

Tramadol is one of the medicines that is contributing to the opioid epidemic in the United States. Use our guide to learn more about the signs of tramadol addiction and the steps you can take to get help for yourself or a loved one.

What Is Tramadol?

Tramadol is a pain reliever that belongs to a class of medications called opioids. It binds to mu opioid receptors, and it is believed to block the reuptake of serotonin and norepinephrine. Tramadol can be taken as a capsule or a tablet.

Due to regulatory changes in 2014, tramadol was classified as a controlled substance. Although it is not as strong as heroin, oxycodone, codeine or methadone, using it may result in dependence and addiction.

When people use tramadol, they may notice changes in mood and behavior. For example, tramadol might make people feel very relaxed, and they may experience euphoria or confusion.

In terms of physical side effects, the medicine could cause fatigue, dizziness, itching, vomiting and sweating. It will reduce a person’s respiration rate.

What Is the Difference Between Tramadol Dependence and Tramadol Addiction?

Dependence means that the body is physically dependent on a drug. When this happens, a person will need larger and larger doses to reach the same level of pain relief.

In this state, the body needs tramadol to function well. If a person reduces his or her dose or stops taking tramadol, withdrawal symptoms will occur.

While dependence on tramadol is a physical state, tramadol addiction involves psychological and behavioral changes. Physical dependence is a common symptom of addiction, but it does not occur in all cases of addiction.

What Are the Major Symptoms of Tramadol Addiction?

When people are struggling with tramadol addiction, they’re preoccupied with finding and using tramadol. Obtaining the drug becomes the most important priority in their lives. They may spend most of the day finding and taking tramadol, and they could experience cravings for the drug.

In most cases, this behavior leads to family and relationship conflicts, poor performance at work or school and loss of interest in hobbies. In addition, tramadol users with addiction could use the drug in high-risk situations. For example, they may drive while they are under the influence of the drug.

What Happens During Withdrawal From Tramadol?

When people who are physically dependent on tramadol try to stop taking it, they will enter a process called withdrawal. For most people, withdrawal symptoms begin within 12 hours of taking the last dose of tramadol. In general, it can take two to three weeks to complete the withdrawal process.

Withdrawal causes physical and psychological symptoms. While most of these are somewhat mild or moderate, roughly 10% of users will experience severe withdrawal symptoms. These may include panic attacks, hallucinations and paranoia.

The following is a typical timeline for withdrawal from tramadol:

  • 6-12 hours: Minor withdrawal symptoms begin during this period, and they tend to be similar to flu symptoms. Watery eyes, body aches, a runny nose and sweating are common.
  • Days 1-3: Most people experience intense withdrawal symptoms during this stage. Vomiting, chills, diarrhea and stomach pain are likely, and people may have uncontrollable cravings for tramadol. Psychological symptoms, including depression, could appear at this time.
  • Days 4-7: Since most of the tramadol has been removed from the body at this stage, many people find that their withdrawal symptoms decrease during this time. This tends to make it easier to sleep, but patients could struggle with stomach issues, fatigue, anxiety, mood swings and cravings.
  • Weeks 2-3: Usually, physical withdrawal symptoms are over by this point, but people continue to experience psychological symptoms, including mood swings. The risk of relapse is high, so it is important that patients have professional support.

Withdrawal symptoms vary from person to person, and each patient’s withdrawal experience will be unique. Age, overall health, tramadol dosage, duration of tramadol use and level of tramadol tolerance are some of the factors that influence withdrawal length and the severity of withdrawal symptoms.

Why Is It Important To Have Medical Supervision During Withdrawal?

The withdrawal process is unpredictable, and the physical and psychological symptoms of withdrawal can endanger a person’s overall health. Symptoms that begin as minor issues could escalate rapidly.

Having medical supervision during the withdrawal process helps to reduce the risk of these dangerous escalations, and it can make withdrawal much more comfortable. When people go through withdrawal in a medical setting, this is known as medically supervised detox.

What Types of Support Are Provided During Medical Detox?

During medical detox, nurses and physicians will provide the patient with medications that ease withdrawal symptoms. Buprenorphine may be given to reduce general symptoms of withdrawal, and ibuprofen could be used to treat muscle and body aches.

Clonidine might be prescribed to relieve anxiety and sweating. Metoclopramide helps to alleviate nausea and vomiting.

Patients will be monitored regularly during their time in medical detox. Clinicians will ask patients about any new or worsening symptoms that develop. Medication dosages can be adjusted to provide as much relief as possible.

What Happens After Medical Detox?

Medical detox is the first phase of treatment for tramadol addiction. After patients complete detox, they should receive medical and psychological treatment to prevent relapse. Inpatient, outpatient and intensive outpatient treatment programs are available, and patients can choose the programs that work for their needs.

All programs include counseling, and medication is provided for patients who need it. In general, treatment lasts for one to three months.

During inpatient treatment, patients live at the treatment facility, and they receive 24-hour care from specialists. This type of treatment is recommended for people with moderate to severe addiction.

Inpatient treatment provides individual and group counseling sessions. Patients learn coping skills to help with avoiding high-risk situations and preventing relapse.

Outpatient treatment may be recommended for patients who aren’t able to attend inpatient treatment. Patients receive the medicines and therapy sessions that they would receive as inpatients, but they are able to live at home and continue to work.

Instead of living at the treatment facility, they have appointments for medication and therapy a few times a week. People who participate in intensive outpatient programs have more frequent appointments for care.

What Medicines and Counseling Techniques Are Used During Treatment?

While medication may not be necessary in cases of mild addiction to tramadol, clinicians may prescribe maintenance medications to help those with moderate to severe addiction. These medicines help patients maintain sobriety after detox. They work by stopping tramadol’s activation of opioid receptors.

When a person is on maintenance medication, taking tramadol won’t produce euphoria or pleasant sensations. Methadone, naltrexone and buprenorphine-naloxone are some of the most frequently prescribed medicines for maintenance.

Cognitive-behavioral therapy and contingency management are two of the main counseling methods used in treating tramadol addiction.

Cognitive-behavioral therapy teaches patients to identify the negative thoughts and behaviors that have caused them to use tramadol. Once these patterns have been identified, therapists help patients learn healthy coping mechanisms to control tramadol cravings, avoid triggers, reduce stress and maintain sobriety.

Contingency management rewards patients for staying off of tramadol and other drugs. When patients present proof of negative drug tests, they can receive cash, gift cards and other prizes. High-value prizes are available for patients who remain sober for long periods of time.

During the first few weeks of treatment, patients attend therapy on an intensive basis. As patients make progress, therapy sessions may become less frequent in the later stages of treatment.

Where Can I Find Treatment for Tramadol Addiction?

Primary care doctors and local addiction support groups can provide information on treatment facilities that may meet your needs. With proper treatment, the cycle of addiction can be broken, and you can live a happy, fulfilling life.

If you are looking for treatment in the Long Island area, you may want to consider contacting Long Island Treatment Center. We provide inpatient and outpatient treatment options for tramadol addiction. Specialized programs are available for seniors and young adults, and we offer evening treatment programs, dual diagnosis care and aftercare resources.

Our team members will be happy to answer all of your questions, and we are honored to be part of your recovery. Reach out to us today to start your treatment journey.

Reviewed for Medical & Clinical Accuracy by Long Island Treatment Center