Pain medications or “painkillers” are drugs provided by medical providers to help patients manage pain and discomfort. There are several reasons you may take pain medication, including chronic and acute pain management needs. Living with pain is emotionally draining, and the psychological impacts of pain conditions cannot be understated. However, using pain medications like tramadol and others for long-term relief of chronic pain may be equally harmful to your mental health.
What are Painkillers, and When are They Used?
Pain medications are drugs prescribed by medical providers to manage pain. In some instances, patients might use them to address post-surgical pain or another form of pain resulting from acute illness. For others, certain pain medications are a part of a treatment program used to address long-term pain conditions, also referred to as chronic pain. There are many painkillers available, and each works in a specific way to help patients manage their symptoms.
Painkillers come in various forms, including pills, capsules, tablets, injectables, suppositories, and patches that are applied to the skin. Despite the wide range of brands and methods of administration, there are two common types of painkillers. Each achieves pain relief in slightly different ways.
The first type is non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs or NSAIDs. Examples of NSAIDs you may recognize include ibuprofen, diclofenac, and naproxen. Aspirin is also an NSAID. However, it is mainly prescribed (in low doses) to help keep the blood from clotting – for example, for people who have had a heart attack in the past- rather than for pain management purposes.
The second type of pain killer is opioids. There are two types of opioid painkillers, weak and strong. Common examples of weak opioids include familiar medications such as dihydrocodeine and codeine. Although these drugs are described as ‘weak,’ their effects are notable, and they remain highly effective pain medications. Also, misuse of these drugs can lead to harmful side effects and addiction, so patients should not underestimate their potency and risk. Strong opioids include drugs like pethidine, oxycodone, morphine, and tramadol. Many people who need strong opioids are already in the hospital; however, some strong opioids are prescribed for a short course of treatment outside of the hospital setting.
What are the Mental Health Effects of Chronic Pain?
Living with chronic pain can have a significant impact on one’s emotional health. While the physical effects of chronic pain are generally apparent, many do not realize how deep the psychological challenges of living with chronic pain go. Chronic pain is a difficulty that extends far beyond the actual pain. Some statistics show that people who live with chronic pain conditions are up to three times more likely to develop depression. They are also at risk of developing other mental health conditions.
Pain is a sign to the body and brain that something is wrong. When you experience pain, the body sends signals to the brain to prepare for some type of reaction. This is called the “fight or flight response,” and it is a vital survival skill. This stress response leads to changes in the chemical composition of the brain as well as changes to the body. When you experience pain, you also experience stress responses, including increased heart rates, increased blood flow to your muscles, and other responses. All of these reactions are precautions your body takes to protect itself in the presence of pain. With temporary pain such as a cut, bruise, or injury, everything returns to normal in a short time. With chronic pain, however, it is different.
When you struggle with a chronic pain condition, the changes that occur throughout the body persist. Because there is always pain present, your body is always on the alert, always preparing to defend itself. With time, this state of high alert can impact how the brain functions and how you “feel” overall. Chronic pain can lead to emotional changes, anxiety, depression, and several other mental health concerns. Also, chronic pain conditions can lead to struggles with addiction and other mental health challenges related to using self-medication or ongoing use of prescription pain medications like tramadol to find relief from the pain.
What is Tramadol?
Tramadol is a synthetic opioid prescribed for pain management. Synthetic opioids are manufactured drugs. This means, unlike other opioid pain medications made from naturally derived ingredients like plants, synthetic opioids are “created” in a lab using chemical products with a chemical structure similar to natural opioids drugs. Despite being manufactured, these drugs have many of the same qualities and effects as natural opioids.
Tramadol is prescribed to treat moderate to severe pain, including post-surgical pain concerns. When used to manage chronic pain, extended-release capsules help limit the amount of the drug taken with each dose. While effective as a pain management tool, tramadol is not without risk. When used for a long time, tramadol can become habit-forming, leading to physical and psychological dependence. Tramadol is classified as a Schedule IV controlled substance by the United States Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA). Drugs in this category are considered to have a moderate potential for abuse and may result in the development of physical dependence with ongoing use.
How Tramadol Addiction Effects Mental Health?
Tramadol addiction can cause several physical effects. However, it can also lead to significant mental health challenges. Like other opioids, long-term Tramadol use can have a notable impact on emotional health and will cause withdrawal symptoms when you try to reduce or stop using. The most common mental health effects of tramadol are agitation, anxiety, and hallucinations. Some people may experience cognitive difficulties, powerful sensory hallucinations, and overwhelming nightmares. Mental health challenges such s anxiety, sleeping disorders, and depression occur in as many as 10% of cases.
The Dangers of Mixing Tramadol and Alcohol
Tramadol and alcohol both act as central nervous system depressants. A central nervous system depressant or CNS depressant slows the function of the brain, related nerves, and other essential life-sustaining body functions. Combining tramadol and alcohol could intensify both substances’ sedative and respiratory depressing effects, quickly leading to respiratory difficulty, unconsciousness, coma, respiratory arrest, overdose, and death. Long-term oxygen deprivation can lead to long-term brain damage and organ damage.
Mixing tramadol and alcohol can also lead to various new or worsening mental health impacts. Both substances typically have depressive implications for users. When someone abuses alcohol, they often experience new or worsening symptoms related to mental health, such as depression and anxiety. Similarly, tramadol and many other opioid drugs lead to depressive symptoms. Although the exact mechanism for how mental health disorders are impacted by substance is unclear, data indicates individuals who regularly engage in polysubstance (more than one) abuse are at a greater risk for developing or being diagnosed with various mental health disorders.
Drinking alcohol while using the extended-release form of tramadol generally prescribed for chronic pain management can interfere with the extended-release mechanism of the drug. Extended-release tramadol is designed to release medication over time, allowing the effects of the medication to last longer. When taken with alcohol, it can lead to a “dumping effect,” meaning the entire dose of the drug is released much more quickly. Also, using alcohol with opiate drugs like tramadol may alter the absorption rates and distribution of the drug throughout the body. When using alcohol and tramadol in high amounts, it can increase the absorption rates of tramadol, increasing its central nervous depressant effects.
Getting Help at The Hills
Trying to quit alcohol or tramadol on your own is challenging, and it can be dangerous in many cases. Suppose you are struggling with an addiction to alcohol and opioids. In that case, it is best to seek treatment at The Hills, where professional, medically supported detox services are available to ensure your health and safety throughout the detox process. Alcohol and opioid addiction treatment require intensive and comprehensive treatment to increase the chances of recovery.
The first step in the treatment process for many struggling with polysubstance abuse (abusing two substances at the same time) is detoxification or detox. The detox process from opioid painkillers and alcohol can be life-threatening. For this reason, it is essential to begin detox and get treatment in a setting where medical supervision is available. Although challenging, the detox process is a vital first step on your journey to recovery. Only after your body is cleansed of all substances can you fully immerse yourself in an addiction treatment program.
Polysubstance abuse is a struggle that can have significant mental and emotional health impacts. As you begin your treatment journey, your treatment team at The Hills will work with you to design a treatment plan around your unique treatment needs and goals. The design of your treatment program will depend on various factors, including your history with addiction and addiction treatment, your history of relapse, and the duration and severity of your addiction. For an addiction treatment program to succeed, treatment providers must tailor the program to your individual goals and needs. This means providing therapy that addresses the addiction and the client’s physical, emotional, and spiritual needs. In the case of those struggling with polysubstance abuse, this also requires identifying the reasons in circumstances that led to the desire to abuse any substance and then dealing with those issues appropriately.
At The Hills in Los Angeles, we understand the decision to seek treatment is challenging. We will work with you to develop a comprehensive treatment plan based on evidence-based therapies that have been proven effective in addiction treatment. Our caring and compassionate staff will be here to guide you throughout each step of your journey, beginning with detox and ending with a robust, uniquely designed aftercare plan. If you or a loved one struggles with an addiction to alcohol and tramadol, today is the day to begin your journey to healing. Contact our Los Angeles admissions team today to learn how The Hills can help you overcome addiction.