Tramadol acts in the central nervous system and is used to treat moderate to severe pain. It’s a prescription-only painkiller and is illegal if bought without one.

Although tramadol is not as strong as heroin, it shares many of the same effects and is still addictive.

It’s used to create an intense feeling of calm, relaxation and euphoria but it can also induce unpleasant sensations of nausea, dizziness and drowsiness.


Tramadol is one of the least potent opiates. As such, many people believe it’s not addictive. Even when the drug is used under medical supervision however, users can experience adverse reactions.

Using tramadol without a prescription or taking it in higher and more frequent doses than prescribed, can be dangerous and puts the user at risk. In some cases, even people who adhere to their prescription can become addicted to the drug.

After prolonged tramadol use, people may develop a tolerance and need to take more of the drug to feel its effects. They may also start to mix tramadol with other substances or graduate to harder painkillers or illicit drugs.

Over time, the brain and body adapt to function with tramadol in your system and if you try to quit, you may experience unpleasant withdrawal symptoms, such as irritability. Many people end up caught in a cycle of abuse trying to avoid these symptoms.

While considered to have a relatively low potential for abuse and addiction, problems with tramadol do nevertheless occur. When taken in high doses or mixed with other substances, tramadol can cause serious problems.

With prescription medication, there is a fine line between use and abuse and many people may end up abusing tramadol without realising.


While many cases of tramadol addiction have occurred in people who are already dependent on illicit substances, dependence is rising in those without prior substance abuse history.

There are factors at play however, that may influence the likelihood of becoming addicted to tramadol. Spending time around people who abuse drugs can be influential. Parental guidance also plays a big part in the likelihood of someone developing an addiction. Children who are exposed to drug abuse at a young age are more at risk of developing their own problem later in life.

Peer pressure can result in recreational drug use and teens are especially prone to engaging in risky behaviours, as the areas in their brains that control judgement and self-control are still developing.

Different psychological factors can increase the risk of substance misuse. Drugs are often used to suppress emotional stress and relieve the symptoms of a range of mental health issues. Repeatedly turning to tramadol to ease emotional pain or trauma increases tolerance. Over time, self-medicating in this way can become habitual and co-occur with a mental health disorder or poly-substance abuse.

While some people may be able to use tramadol appropriately, others will feel a strong impulse to consume it to excess. Drugs, such as tramadol, induce feelings of pleasure which trigger the brain’s reward centre and encourage repetition of use.

Neuroscience has shown that people have varying levels of ability and brain function to control impulsive urges. If these genes are passed down through generations, family members are more prone to developing drug problems.

Repeated use of tramadol can lead to changes in the brain that challenge self-control.

Over time, the brain’s reward system becomes less responsive to the drug. This effect is known as tolerance. The high felt initially becomes much less intense and you’ll need to take more tramadol to achieve the same feeling.

Long-term tramadol use affects the brain’s chemical systems and functions.

Despite the terms often being used interchangeably, there are distinctions. The term abuse means you are using tramadol in a dangerous manner and potentially, without even realising.

While abuse is thought to be less severe than addiction, in reality, long-term abuse of controlled drugs can be equally harmful to your health.

The term addiction usually refers to a physical dependence but it can also include a psychological one.

An inability to refrain from using tramadol is the first symptom of addiction. You may feel that you’re unable to cope with everyday life without it and are likely to feel anxious if you’re unable to get hold of it.