Pain Home > What Is Tramadol?

Tramadol is a type of opioid medication used to treat moderate to moderately severe pain in adults. This prescription medication works in a similar way as morphine and affects certain brain chemicals. Although not classified as a narcotic or a controlled substance by the DEA, tramadol does have significant potential for both psychological and physical dependence and abuse.

An Introduction to Tramadol

Tramadol hydrochloride (Ultram®) is a prescription pain medication. It is licensed for the treatment of moderate to moderately severe pain in adults. Tramadol is an opioid (morphine-like) medication and is considered a controlled substance by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) (see Is Tramadol a Narcotic?).
(Click Tramadol Uses for more information, including possible off-label uses.)

How Does Tramadol Work?

Tramadol is classified as a centrally acting opioid analgesic. This means that it works in the central nervous system (the brain and spinal cord), acts much like morphine in the body, and relieves pain. Much like morphine, tramadol binds to certain opioid receptors in the body known as μ ("mu") receptors.
Tramadol also affects certain brain chemicals (specifically, norepinephrine and serotonin), and this may contribute to its pain-relieving properties, as well as to its side effects (see Tramadol Side Effects) and drug interactions (see Tramadol Drug Interactions).

Abuse Potential

Tramadol has a significant potential for both psychological and physical dependence and abuse, similar to morphine. Initially, this drug was marketed as a pain medication with little potential for abuse. However, healthcare providers quickly recognized that many of their patients had become addicted to tramadol. Now, the prescribing information for this medication contains several different warnings about the potential for abuse.
Because tramadol can be a desirable drug of abuse, people often try to buy it through illegal means, such as from foreign countries or online sources that do not require a prescription.
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