Tramadol and alcohol do not mix well, as both substances are central nervous system depressants.
A synthetic opioid, tramadol is sometimes prescribed for the treatment of moderate to severe pain. First appearing in the United States in the 1990s, tramadol is the thirty-fifth most prescribed drug in the US (almost 20 million prescriptions per 2019 data).
Like all opioids, tramadol has the potential for abuse, and it can be addictive. As such, tramadol is a Schedule IV controlled substance. Drugs in this class are deemed to have moderate abuse potential, with physical dependence potentially developing after repeated use. If prescribed tramadol for pain relief, take this medication only as directed.
So, while tramadol was initially marketed as a safer alternative to opioids like Vicodin and OxyContin, it remains classified as a Schedule IV controlled substance and there are treatment options like Huntington Beach rehab to help all those struggling.
How about mixing alcohol and tramadol, then? Why can this be so dangerous?
Tramadol and Alcohol Interaction
Tramadol shares a similar mechanism of action to other opioid narcotics. The substance will attach itself readily to specific groups of endogenous opioid neurotransmitters in your brain.
What are these neurotransmitters or chemical messengers?
Well, they include endorphins and enkephalins, substances that help you to efficiently deal with pain, stress, and exertion.
It is believed that tramadol can also spike the availability of serotonin and norepinephrine, neurotransmitters associated with pleasure and stress.
In the same way as other opioids and opiates, tramadol is a CNS depressant, causing fewer neurons to ping around your CNS – your spinal cord and brain.
Alcohol, by contrast, is the primary substance of abuse in the United States, legal and widely tolerated, despite NSDUH 2020 data showing over 28.5 million adults in the US have alcohol use disorder.
Just like tramadol, alcohol is classified as a central nervous system depressant, although it attaches itself to different neurotransmitters, including:
SAMHSA (the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration) recommends that the safe use of tramadol includes not consuming alcohol while taking the medication.
Using the two CNS depressants in combination is not considered safe in any scenario.
Mixing different central nervous system depressants triggers a synergism of the effects of both substances. Oftentimes, the effects of these drugs are magnified and much more intense than when using either substance in isolation.
The enhanced effects of using tramadol and alcohol include:
These immediate effects of the combined use of alcohol and tramadol are noticeable even at low doses.
What about the possible side effects of tramadol and alcohol used in combination?
Side Effects of Mixing Tramadol and Alcohol
Alcohol and tramadol taken in isolation both induce suppression in the following areas:
- Heart rate
- Blood pressure
Both alcohol and tramadol cause the neurons in the brain stem controlling the above functions to slow down.
Now, when you use alcohol and tramadol together, the suppression of these neurons occurs to a much higher degree, with the decrease in these functions potentially becoming dangerous.
If you take the substances in larger amounts, either or both substances can suppress heart rate, respiration, and blood pressure to such an extent that a fatal coma is triggered.
Even if you avoid the worst outcome of mixing tramadol and alcohol – coma – even the slowing of the neurons taking place can be enough to cause organ damage. Decreased blood flow and lack of oxygen to the brain is called hypoxia, and this can lead to brain damage in areas associated with concentration, memory, problem-solving, and learning.
Tramadol and alcohol side effects might also manifest when you consume alcohol while taking the medication in extended-release form. Some researchers feel a dumping effect can occur if you drink alcohol while using this form of tramadol, causing the whole dose to be prematurely released. Research in this area is ongoing.
Beyond this, if you consume large amounts of tramadol while drinking alcohol, the absorption rate of the medication can be increased, as well as the effects it induces on your central nervous system.
When you take tramadol in combination with alcohol, you are at heightened risk of developing atypical responses to the medication.
There is also a strong interrelationship between substance abuse and the development of mental health disorders – dual diagnosis or co-occurring disorder. Anyone abusing more than one substance is at increased risk of developing substance-use disorder.
The chronic use of CNS depressants leads to a heightened tendency to suicidal ideation, suicide attempts, and self-harm.
The chronic combination use of alcohol and tramadol can hasten the development of dependence on one or both substances.
Overdose Risk Mixing Alcohol and Tramadol
It is possible to overdose on tramadol and alcohol, both independently and in combination.
95,000 deaths each year in the United States are linked to alcohol. Tramadol, like other opioids, can also cause overdose in isolation. Unlike other opioids, though, tramadol overdose cannot be completely reversed by naloxone.
As with all the effects of alcohol and tramadol, the risk of overdose is also increased when you abuse the substances in combination, resulting in an FDA Black Box warning alerting you to this heightened danger of tramadol overdose.
Overcome Addiction at The District
Whether you are addicted to alcohol, prescription medications, or illicit drugs, we can help you break the chains of addiction here at The District Recovery Community.
When you engage with our evidence-based outpatient treatment programs for substance use disorder or alcohol use disorder, you’ll get the support and structure of residential rehab, but without the cost of restrictions.
For anyone requiring more intensive therapy, we offer IOPs (intensive outpatient programs) and PHPs (partial hospitalization programs), both involving more time commitment on your part. Here at TDRC, we also offer dual diagnosis treatment programs for anyone suffering from addiction with a co-occurring mental health condition.
Through a combination of MAT (medication-assisted treatment), psychotherapy, counseling, and holistic therapies, we’ll help you build a solid foundation for sustained recovery. When you complete your treatment, we ensure you have the right aftercare in place to maximize your chances of ongoing recovery without relapse.
You can do the hardest part now by reaching out to The District at 844.287.8506.