It doesn’t matter if you are an occasional drinker or one who regularly has “one too many,” it is crucial to understand that certain prescription medications can interact adversely with alcohol. If you have been prescribed tramadol, you may have already been informed by a medical provider that drinking while using it is risky and not recommended.
So, what are the potential risks of mixing tramadol and alcohol? And what should you do if you’re struggling to overcome an addiction to tramadol, alcohol, or both?
Whether it’s prescription medication or alcohol, these substances should be used responsibly and only as directed. Engaging in substance-using behaviors other than those prescribed by a doctor can lead to chronic abuse, dependence, addiction, severe health complications, and overdose.
What Is Tramadol?
Tramadol (brand name Ultram) is a synthetic opioid agonist commonly prescribed to treat various levels of pain. This function is related to its action on the brain and body that induces analgesic effects by altering pain perception. Some individuals who use tramadol do so mostly on an as-needed basis for pain, while others may be directed to use it on a regular basis for chronic disorders.
Although tramadol is thought to have a lower potential for dependence and addiction than many other opioids, it can still be habit-forming and lead to various adverse side effects. For this reason, it is classified by the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) as a schedule IV substance.
Side Effects of Combing Tramadol and Alcohol
Most prescription drugs come with the potential for some side effects, particularly when misused. Both alcohol and tramadol act in the central nervous system (CNS) to reduce activity and, as a result, induce sedating effects.
When used in conjunction, these substances’ effects can be compounded, meaning that each intensifies each other’s effects. Their combined impact can lead to profound CNS depression, overdose, and death. Note that the interaction and complications of mixing tramadol and alcohol are far greater than either substance’s individual effects.
Side effects of tramadol misuse may include the following:
- Slowed or difficult breathing
- Slowed pulse
- Heart palpitations
- Impaired cognition
Side effects of alcohol abuse may include the following:
- Impaired memory
- Mood swings
- Blacking out
There are many reasons why an individual would decide to combine prescription drugs and alcohol. One of the most obvious is to experience feelings of being “high” or euphoria. Another would be for self-medication purposes. That is, a person who is suffering from chronic pain or a mental health disorder may turn to drugs or alcohol to relieve physical or emotional pain or both.
Finally, when an individual becomes addicted to either substance, that person may be more likely to use or abuse other substances and be at a higher risk of becoming dependent on them.
The following are some of the dangers of mixing tramadol and alcohol:
- Using tramadol with alcohol can increase the risk of overdosing on one or both substances.
- Both substances are depressants, which means they may slow down the central nervous system to the point of overdose and death, especially when combined.
- Combining tramadol and alcohol can cause or exacerbate depression, which may result in suicidal ideations or behaviors.
Other Side Effects of Combining Tramadol and Alcohol
Most people will experience at least some of the following side effects due to using tramadol in conjunction with alcohol:
- Gastrointestinal issues
- Intracranial pressure
- Liver disease
- Impaired kidney function
- Eccentric or erratic behavior
- Impaired memory
- Impaired coordination
- Shallow or slow breathing
- Loss of consciousness
Many people will notice that alcohol’s effect is compounded after using tramadol, even after using just a small amount. This amplified effect is why tramadol comes with a warning label indicating that those under the influence of alcohol should not ingest it until their body is free of alcohol.
It is vital to understand that both tramadol and alcohol can lead to profound respiratory depression. This condition is life-threatening, and it is characterized by laborious, slow, and/or shallow breathing. In short, the mixture of tramadol and alcohol can result in many health problems, some of which can prove lethal.
Tramadol Overdose Symptoms
Consuming alcohol while using tramadol has been found to have a high potential for being detrimental to one’s health, and perhaps even life-threatening. An overdose of tramadol is considered to be a medical emergency. If you or someone you know is exhibiting the following symptoms, please call 911 or visit a local emergency department immediately:
- Severe lethargy
- Cold, clammy, or bluish skin
- Dizziness when standing
- Pinpoint pupils
- Heart palpitations
- Slow pulse
- Muscle rigidity
- Respiratory depression
- Unconsciousness or coma
Recognizing tramadol overdose symptoms is essential in life-threatening situations. Any overdose in which respiration is severely impaired can lead to death or induce permanent brain damage. Brain damage may happen if hypoxia occurs—when oxygenated blood is unavailable for a prolonged period.
Alcohol Overdose Symptoms
An alcohol overdose, more commonly referred to as alcohol poisoning, may produce many of the symptoms of opioids. These symptoms may include the following:
- Nausea and vomiting
- Slowed or irregular breathing
- Bluish or pale skin
- Low body temperature
- Blacking out (memory loss)
- Passing out
As with an opioid overdose, alcohol poisoning is often life-threatening, and 911 should be contacted immediately to avoid the worst complications. If an individual has used tramadol with alcohol, they could be overdosing on one or the other, or both. It is vital to know what substances they have used because the treatment for an opioid overdose is much different from alcohol poisoning.
When a person becomes chemically dependent on a substance, they will inescapably encounter withdrawal symptoms when they suddenly stop using it. In severe alcoholism cases, withdrawal can be hazardous, and the person will experience seizures and psychosis—a condition known as delirium tremens. For this reason, a professional medical detox is strongly recommended by most medical professionals.
Although withdrawal from opioids like tramadol is not usually life-threatening, it can be highly uncomfortable and painful. Nausea, diarrhea and flu-like symptoms may manifest and drive the person to relapse to avoid this process. Whether a person is dependent on alcohol, tramadol, or both, health providers should monitor them around-the-clock to ensure their safety and comfort during the detox phase.
Treatment for Tramadol and Alcohol
You may be reading this as a person who has been misusing tramadol and alcohol and hoping to find help. Or, you may be a loved one who is concerned for the health and well-being of a friend or family member and are trying to determine what treatment options are available.
Just Believe Recovery offers professional help and hope for persons who are motivated to break free from the disease of addiction and reclaim their lives for good. We accomplish this by using a comprehensive approach that includes evidence-based programs and services clinically proven to increase the likelihood of a successful recovery, such as the following:
- Cognitive-behavioral therapy
- Individual and group counseling
- Group support
- Health and wellness programs
- Substance abuse education
- Experiential activities
- Relapse prevention
- Aftercare planning