Addiction is an extremely complicated and enigmatic disease that we’ve only just begun to understand. It used to be that society saw addiction as being a conscious choice; addicts were viewed as bad people who were weak-willed and consciously choosing not to control themselves. Nowadays, we know that the brains of those who suffer from addiction have been high-jacked by chemical substances like alcohol, marijuana, heroin, and prescription painkillers. Of course, these are just a few of the substances that continue to pose a threat today, and many of the substances to which millions and millions of Americans are addicted were actually created with the purpose of helping people rather than harming them. This is the case with a substance called tramadol. But what, exactly, is tramadol? What are the effects of this drug? Perhaps most importantly, how can a person who’s addicted to tramadol overcome this disease?
Tramadol is quite an interesting substance, especially when you compare it to other drugs and even other opiates. In fact, there’s been some debate as to whether or not to consider tramadol an opiate at all since its effects are primarily achieved in ways that are different from opiates like morphine, oxycodone, and codeine; however, tramadol is, in fact, used to treat pain, which is surely the characteristic that most closely links it to other painkillers. And like most other opiates, tramadol was created in Germany in the twentieth century.
Founded in 1946, Grünenthal GmbH was a German company greatly interested in treating pain. At the time, Germany was trying to be independent from the rest of the world, including when it came to medicine and the treatment of pain. Officials of Grünenthal GmbH had long since noticed that many of the most effective painkillers — specifically the opiate family — were often expensive to produce and cost patients a lot of money, so there was a great need for effective pain medications that were inexpensive or at least less expensive than opiates. In fact, following World War II, there were a number of German soldiers who didn’t have the money to pay for medications to treat the pain they were experiencing from wounds sustained while fighting the war, which added urgency to the need for inexpensive pain medications.
For the most part, researchers with Grünenthal GmbH leased some land on which they could cultivate a variety of herbs. Many of the herbs that the researchers cultivated were ones that were known to have some type of medicinal properties. These herbs were largely what they used when experimenting with new medications and producing new types of treatments. Grünenthal GmbH had its first big break in 1948 when it was able to bring the first penicillin medication to market in Germany, which helped to establish credibility and authority for the young company. The outcome was being able to establish cooperative partnerships with other pharmaceutical companies, which greatly expanded access to resources.
In 1962, Grünenthal GmbH develop tramadol, but the company would test and investigate the substance for 15 years before it was ever released to market. It’s trade name was Tramal, released in 1977, and its release completely changed the pharmaceutical world. While other opiates bonded with opioid receptors to achieve their effects, tramadol was different because it exhibited a double mode of action. Of course, tramadol does bond with opioid receptors in much the same way as opiates like morphine and codeine, but tramadol also inhibits the reuptake of serotonin and norepinephrine. In other words, tramadol is like a hybrid of an opiate painkiller and an SSRI (selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor) antidepressant.
Although these two ‘modes’ would seem to be unrelated, tramadol’s opiate and antidepressant characteristics are actually quite complementary. As well, when paired with acetaminophen, tramadol’s efficacy increases, making it an even more effective pain reliever. But it’s most effective as an opiate due to the fact that, upon being administered, tramadol is metabolized to O-desmethyltramadol, which is a much more potent opiate and lends to the drug’s ability to treat pain. However, one of the factors that further distinguishes tramadol from other opiates — and which makes it quite a lot more dangerous — is the fact that tramadol is only partially reversed by a drug like naloxone, which is administered to reverse an opioid overdose; this indicates that while its opiate-like qualities are an important factor in its effects, its opiate actions are not the sole or main factor.
Tramadol is much less popular than other opiates, but it has still proven to be prone to abuse. Similar to other opiates, some of tramadol’s main effects include a warm and tingly sensation throughout the body, intense relaxation, drowsiness, reddened or flushed skin, feeling as if one’s limbs have become much heavier, and itchiness. However, there are a number of negative side effects attributed to tramadol, too, including dizziness, difficulty maintaining consciousness, headache, constipation, nausea, vomiting, anxiety, and/or paranoid.
When someone who has been taking tramadol consistently over a period of time is unable to obtain or consume tramadol, he or she will experience a number of unpleasant symptoms known as tramadol withdrawal. Some of the most characteristic symptoms of tramadol withdrawal include sweating, intermittent hot flashes and cold chills, headaches, trembling or shaking, shock-like sensations in the brain, insomnia, nightmares, nausea, diarrhea and/or vomiting, anxiety, depression, mood swings, aggressiveness, unusual or racing thoughts, and possibly even hallucinations.
It can be quite scary to be addicted to tramadol, but there are many resources available to help. Typically, tramadol addiction recovery will begin with detox treatment, which will allow a person to overcome physical addiction before beginning the actual treatment phase. In the treatment phase of recovery, the patient will participate in individual psychotherapy, group therapy, relapse prevention education, life skills treatment, and other important components. The idea is to help meet the individual’s unique recovery needs so he or she can achieve long-lasting sobriety.
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