Perhaps you or a loved one have been prescribed a painkiller like tramadol and want to drink alcohol on a night out. What harm could that do?
This blog may help you understand what happens when someone mixes tramadol and alcohol and when it is time to seek professional help.
What Are Tramadol and Alcohol?
Tramadol, a controlled substance sold under the brand name Ultram, is one of the prescription drugs used to treat moderate to severe pain, and sometimes chronic pain when other drugs are not effective.
It is an opioid pain medication, belonging to the group of medicines called opioid analgesics, meaning it acts in the central nervous system by interfering with pain messages between the body and the brain. As a central nervous system depressant, tramadol blocks nerve impulses that go through the brain that cause a headache, by attaching to opioid receptors. In this way, it can relieve severe pain.
Alcohol in its drinking form, ethanol, is made from fermented grains, fruits, or other sugars. Alcohol stimulates the inhibitory neurotransmitter GABA (Gamma-Aminobutyric Acid). By stimulating GABA receptors, alcohol dampens the activity in the brain. That is why it is thought to reduce anxiety almost immediately. Even though alcohol may feel energizing, it is actually also one of the central nervous system depressants.
What Happens When Mixing Alcohol With Tramadol?
Even though tramadol is usually thought of as a mild sedative, it can be just as dangerous as any other opioid, especially when taking it in combination with alcohol. The adverse consequences of combining the two will require a call for medical help.
Tramadol and alcohol work differently in the brain but produce similar effects. As both are central nervous system depressants, both alcohol and tramadol interact with chemicals in the brain that affect our way of coping with pain or stress and regulate our mood. These effects, such as relaxation or euphoria, make both of them addictive. When mixed, tramadol and alcohol have higher or enhanced individual effects, placing a person at higher risk of addiction and an overdose.
While tramadol can slow breathing rate, heart rate, and blood pressure, alcohol further suppresses brain activity. Combining the two substances can result in feeling drowsy, dizzy, or having less coordination. It can lessen a person’s judgment and ability to think while impairing body movement.
Even if a person drinks moderately while taking tramadol, there are dangerous risks involved. The fact that tramadol and alcohol have a drug interaction that leads to additive side effects, means that the risk for a potential overdose is much higher.
Signs of Alcohol and Tramadol Use
People may take alcohol with other drugs in an attempt to experience a stronger high or become more deeply intoxicated, but this comes with a set of symptoms that are unpleasant and dangerous to a person’s health.
Combining these two central nervous system depressants will present a person with the following symptoms:
- Abdominal issues
- Memory loss
- Lack of energy
- Irregular breathing
- Development of addiction to tramadol, or alcohol addiction
Often mixing tramadol and alcohol for a long duration can make a person suffer withdrawal symptoms when attempting to stop or reduce their dosage. These include panic attacks, hallucinations, agitation, confusion, and numbness or tingling of the skin.
Signs of a Substance Use Disorder
Someone who takes substances over a long period of time is more likely to become addicted to them and being dependent on one or more substances can easily lead to a substance use disorder. This requires addiction treatment from drug rehab.
A substance use disorder is a mental disorder, which influences someone’s brain and behavior. It causes a person to lose control over their use of a substance. In the case of having a substance abuse issue over a long time, a person may present the following symptoms:
- Strong cravings or urges to take tramadol or alcohol
- Developing tolerance, where more and larger amounts are needed to achieve previous effects
- Spending much time in acquiring, using, or recovering from the use of the substances
- An inability to quit or reduce the amount of use
- Experiencing withdrawal symptoms when attempting to quit
- Using regardless of harmful consequences
Dangers of Mixing Tramadol and Alcohol
Combining alcohol and opioids result in several physical health problems. Both substances can cause damage to the central nervous system. The effect of sedation and respiratory depression will increase when taking alcohol and tramadol in combination, often resulting in lowered blood pressure, respiratory arrest, unconsciousness, coma, or potential death.
In combining opioids with alcohol or other central nervous system depressants, respiratory depression could lead to long-term brain injury. If the brain receives blood that is low in oxygen, it could suffer permanent damage.
As both tramadol and alcohol affect chemicals in the brain that are responsible for our mood, combining these can worsen psychological or mental health. Some people may drink to cope with symptoms of depression or anxiety, while alcohol abuse worsens these symptoms. If a person has a history of depression and is taking tramadol while drinking alcohol, they are at an increased risk of suicide.
Mixing tramadol and alcohol can have long-term effects on mental health and could lead to developing a mental health disorder. Someone may need to seek professional treatment for dealing with substance abuse and mental health disorders.
Alcohol and Tramadol Overdose
Anyone taking tramadol over a long period of time will find that it can become a habit and lead to mental or physical dependence. Tramadol addiction can develop, and more dangerously an overdose can occur. Similarly, alcohol abuse can lead to alcohol overdose.
In both cases, the best treatment is addiction treatment before a person reaches the stage of an overdose, as it could be fatal.
The warning signs of a potential overdose on tramadol include cold, sweaty skin, excessive sleepiness, pinpoint pupils, or a loss of muscle control. Other common symptoms of an overdose are:
- Nausea and vomiting
- Slowed breathing or respiratory depression
- Low blood pressure
- Slowed heart rate
- Cardiovascular collapse
The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Administration (SAMHSA) reports that alcohol abuse is the most common form of substance abuse in the United States, while the Centers for Disease Control estimates that more than 140,000 people have died from excessive alcohol use between 2015 and 2019.
When a person overdoses on alcohol, their body temperature, breathing, and heart rate greatly decrease. Signs of this overdose include:
- Slowed breathing
Alcohol and Opioid Overdose
Mixing alcohol with tramadol can cause a combined overdose which is a medical emergency.
An overdose on tramadol is one of the few opioid overdoses that can not be reversed by Naxolone, a medication commonly used to oppose decreased breathing in an opioid overdose. Combining tramadol with another central nervous system depressant places a person at very high risk for overdose, and that is why the alcohol-tramadol combination should always be avoided.
A person undergoing an opioid and alcohol overdose may experience the following combined effects, and should seek medical attention immediately if they experience any of them:
- Pale skin
- Purple or blue lips and fingernails
- Extreme drowsiness
- Slow heart rate or loss of consciousness
There are many addiction treatment options for co-occurring alcohol and tramadol addiction. Treatment programs could be inpatient or outpatient, but usually, a treatment process involving a medically supervised detox is needed.
Treatment facilities that offer options for drug and alcohol addiction provide a setting where medical professionals monitor a person’s health while they undergo detox. This provides a safe and supervised environment for someone while they experience withdrawal symptoms. A detox may require the use of other medicines or drugs during withdrawal, and thus a medical professional is vital when attempting detox.
Treatment programs can offer care based on individual circumstances, such as which drug was used, for how long it was used, and the intensity of someone’s addiction. Anyone suffering from drug abuse would need substance abuse treatment, which often involves more than a medical detox. While the detox rids the body of the substance and its toxins, it is also important to address the effect alcohol or drug abuse has on mental health.
A treatment process for substance abuse may include addressing mental health disorders that may have developed. Usually, individual therapy provides an opportunity for a person to address these, as well as underlying causes for developing an addiction in the first place. This gives someone the chance to undergo treatment and leave the rehab center with ways of knowing how to stay sober, and avoid potential relapse.
Where Can I Find Treatment Options?
Seeking treatment is the first step to your recovery, and Alina Lodge can provide you with treatment programs catered to your needs. We have one of the best residential addiction treatment options are available for anyone dealing with drug abuse or addiction.
We understand that addiction is individual and very challenging. That is why substance abuse treatment at Alina Lodge involves individualized treatment, with experienced and caring medical professionals who focus on your health as a whole. That includes a family therapy program and our relapse prevention therapy program, which can help someone remain sober after treatment.