The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration maintains that tramadol possesses less addiction and abuse potential than Vicodin. Tramadol was originally developed as a less addictive painkiller. Tramadol is classified as a schedule IV controlled substance, whereas Vicodin was reclassified as a schedule II controlled substance in 2014, explains the DEA.
Tramadol was originally unscheduled in the United States, but due to reports of abuse and serious withdrawal effects, the DEA moved tramadol to schedule IV in 2014. Tramadol is now recognized to be an addictive substance but less so than hydrocodone, which is associated with more drug abuse than any other opioid painkiller, according to Healthline.
Although both tramadol and hydrocodone are used to treat moderate to severe pain, they possess different mechanisms of action in the brain, according to Healthline. Hydrocodone acts on opioid receptors, whereas tramadol acts on both opioid receptors and behaves as a serotonin-norepinephrine reuptake inhibitor. Therefore, tramadol can have more severe withdrawal symptoms resembling antidepressant withdrawal. These include electrical shock sensations, tremors and mood swings, as reported by SubstanceAbuse.org.