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Tramadol vs. Percocet: The Ultimate Painkiller Faceoff

Peter Manza, PhD profile image
Reviewed By Peter Manza, PhD • Updated Jan 22, 2024 • 6 cited sources

Tramadol and Percocet are prescription painkillers, and they’re both opioids. Percocet is a stronger drug, and for that reason, it’s typically used for people with an injury. Tramadol is weaker, and it’s sometimes used to treat chronic pain that hasn’t responded to other medications. 

This table can help you understand both drugs at a glance:[1,2] 

What is it? Opioid painkillerOpioid painkiller 
Common side effects Nausea, constipation, dry mouth, sedation, dizziness and vomitingConstipation, nausea, sleepiness, vomiting, tiredness, headache, dizziness and abdominal pain 
Withdrawal symptomsAnxiety, sweating, insomnia, pain, nausea, shaking and diarrheaRestlessness, watery eyes, runny nose, yawning, chills and GI distress 
WarningsSeizures, higher suicide risks, allergic reactions and misuse Respiratory depression, liver failure, severe sedation and misuse 
BenefitsEffective solution for chronic painThe opioid painkiller is combined with an anti-inflammatory element
Drawbacks Misuse potential Misuse potential, with severe liver risks at high doses 

What Is Tramadol?

Tramadol is a prescription painkiller in the opioid class. It’s sold under brand names like Ultram and ConZip, but you can get generic versions too.[3] 

Some tramadol pills break down slowly within your digestive system, delivering relief for long periods. Others move into and out of your body a little quicker, bringing relief for acute pain.

Like all opioids, tramadol can be habit-forming. If you take the drug for long periods, you can develop significant tramadol withdrawal symptoms when you quit. Those symptoms include anxiety, sweating, insomnia, pain, nausea, shaking and diarrhea.[1]

Continued tramadol use isn’t always safe. Tramadol alters the body’s production and removal of serotonin — a chemical used to regulate all sorts of core functions, including your heart rate. 

Tramadol side effects are possible. Some people develop serotonin syndrome after long periods of use, and those episodes can be life-threatening.[1] Your doctor should monitor you closely if you take the drug repeatedly.

What Is Percocet? 

Percocet is a brand-name medication containing oxycodone (an opioid) and acetaminophen (an anti-inflammatory). With one dose, doctors can treat painful symptoms and address underlying conditions that cause pain.[2]

Percocet comes in doses ranging from 2.5 mg to 10 mg of oxycodone. No matter the opioid dose, the acetaminophen remains the same at 325 mg.[2] Some people misuse the drug for the opioid’s intoxicating effects. Very high doses of acetaminophen can lead to life-threatening liver damage. 

Like all opioids, Percocet can cause severe, flu-like opioid withdrawal symptoms when people quit abruptly. The syndrome begins with restlessness and chills, and as the process continues, severe vomiting and diarrhea can take hold.[2] Life-threatening dehydration is possible. 

What’s the Difference Between These Two Prescription Opioids?

As opioid painkillers, tramadol and Percocet are very similar. However, the following important differences separate them:

Use Case

Percocet is approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for moderate to moderately severe chronic pain in adults.[1] People struggling with difficult conditions like cancer or osteoarthritis can get relief through ongoing Percocet prescriptions. 

Percocet is FDA approved for moderate to moderately severe pain.[4] Typically, doctors use this medication to help patients struggling with new discomfort from an injury (like a torn muscle) or a surgery. The acetaminophen element reduces swelling, while the opioid eases pain. 

Onset of Action

Tramadol reaches peak efficacy within around 10 hours.[1] Since it’s typically used for long-term control of chronic pain, it’s designed to work slowly and persist within the body.

Percocet works much faster, as the acetaminophen is almost completely metabolized by the gastrointestinal tract when pills are swallowed.[2] This attribute makes Percocet an appropriate choice for sudden pain. 

Duration of Effects

Researchers measure how long a drug works by assessing its half-life. Tramadol has a half-life of 10 to 11 hours.[1] Percocet has a half-life of about four hours.[4]


Both medications are designed for oral use. Patients are encouraged to swallow their tablets whole. However, people with opioid use disorders (OUDs) may be tempted to crush their pills and snort or inject the powder instead. 

Side Effects 

Common tramadol side effects include nausea, constipation, dry mouth, dizziness and vomiting.[1] Percocet side effects are very similar, but some people experience abdominal pain due to the acetaminophen ingredient.[2]

Is Tramadol Stronger Than Percocet?

No, tramadol is not stronger than Percocet. In fact, it’s a slightly weaker drug that takes longer to work and lasts longer within the body. While it’s an opioid, it doesn’t enter the body as quickly and cause the intense changes associated with pure opioids like Percocet. 

What Is the Abuse Potential?

All opioid medications cause intense changes within the brain, leading to compulsive use. Neither drug is entirely safe from misuse risks, and both are issued with paperwork that describes how quickly they can cause addiction.

Years ago, researchers thought tramadol was a safer medication that wasn’t addictive or easy to misuse. Now, researchers say that people with tramadol prescriptions have a higher risk of misuse than those using other opioids.[5] 

Anyone with a prescription for these medications should use them with care. Don’t take doses too close together, don’t crush or inject the pills, and don’t take them to improve a low mood. 

If you’ve lost control over your painkiller use, a treatment program can get you back on track. 

How to Find a Medication-Assisted Treatment (MAT) Program 

A Medication for Addiction Treatment (MAT) program uses therapies like Suboxone to amend chemical imbalances from opioids.[6] With MAT, you can get sober without experiencing difficult side effects. This treatment can help you stay sober for the long term.

Bicycle Health uses telemedicine to administer MAT. You’ll meet with your doctor via telehealth services, and you can often get a same-day prescription for Suboxone. You’ll then pick it up at a local pharmacy. 

This is the safest and most effective way to get treatment without sacrificing your privacy. Contact us to get started. 

Reviewed By Peter Manza, PhD

Peter Manza, PhD received his BA in Psychology and Biology from the University of Rochester and his PhD in Integrative Neuroscience at Stony Brook University. He is currently working as a research scientist in Washington, DC. His research focuses on the role ... Read More

  1. Tramadol prescribing information. U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Published May 2010. Accessed November 9, 2023.
  2. Percocet prescribing information. U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Published July 2018. Accessed November 9, 2023.
  3. Tramadol information. U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Published April 20, 2017. Accessed November 9, 2023.
  4. Percocet patient information. Endo Pharmaceuticals. Published 2006. Accessed November 9, 2023.,040341s013,040434s003lbl.pdf
  5. Zimmerman E. Historically safer tramadol more likely than other opioids to result in prolonged use. Mayo Clinic. Published May 14, 2019. Accessed November 9, 2023. 
  6. Medications for substance use disorders. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. Published 2023. Accessed November 9, 2023.

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