Ketamine Addiction: Effects and Recovery Options

Ketamine is a dissociative anesthetic that has hallucinogenic effects. It is primarily used for starting and maintaining anesthesia. However, it is also used off-label for treating depression and as a recreational drug due to its dissociative properties. 

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Ketamine induces a trance-like state while providing pain relief, sedation, and memory loss. It is marked as a Schedule III non-narcotic substance because, although they might not require a prescription, they are only available at pharmacies.

According to the New York University, abuse and addiction of ketamine is relatively low in the United States as only about 1% of the population have a history of ketamine abuse. However, the potential for addiction is still there.

Effects of ketamine addiction include physical effects, psychological effects, financial and social consequences. Treatment options for ketamine addiction include detoxification, behavioral therapies, and support groups.

What Is Ketamine Addiction?

Ketamine addiction refers to a condition where individuals develop a dependence on ketamine.  People with a ketamine addiction compulsively seek and use ketamine despite experiencing negative consequences in their personal, social, or professional life. This dependence leads to tolerance, withdrawal symptoms upon cessation, and a cycle of cravings and drug-seeking behavior.

What Causes Ketamine Addiction?

First-time users of ketamine usually encounter the substance in social settings. According to the Department of Justice, it is popular among teens and young adults at raves and dance parties. Taking ketamine causes the increased release of dopamine, a neurotransmitter responsible for mediating the pleasure and reward pathway in the brain.

An increase in dopamine production leads to euphoria and pleasure after taking ketamine. This can be habit-forming. 

Long-term use of the substance leads to tolerance and physical and psychological dependence.

However, increased dopamine release is not the only factor that influences ketamine addiction. Here are some of the factors that increase the chances of getting a ketamine addiction:

  • Biological Factors: Some individuals are more genetically predisposed to substance addiction.  These people are more likely to get addicted to Ketamine.
  • Psychological Factors: People with stress, mental health disorders, and trauma are more likely to suffer an addiction.  Ketamine has dissociative effects that temporarily alleviate the effects of these conditions. Individuals might misuse it as a coping mechanism. 
  • Environmental Factors: Environmental influences such as peer pressure, availability of the drug, and social norms regarding substance use can play a significant role in ketamine addiction.

What are the effects of Ketamine Addiction?

The effects of ketamine addiction vary depending on factors such as the individual’s physiology, the duration and severity of their addiction, and any co-occurring mental health issues. Some common effects of ketamine addiction include:

  • Physical Health Effects: Chronic ketamine abuse can lead to various physical health problems, including cardiovascular issues, and lower urinary tract problems.
  • Psychological Effects: Ketamine addiction has significant effects on mental health including increased risks of depression, anxiety, psychosis, and cognitive impairment. Prolonged use also increases the risk of memory problems and affects decision-making.
  • Social and Interpersonal Effects: Addiction to ketamine and the behavioral symptoms it causes lead to strained relationships with friends, family, and colleagues. Individuals may withdraw from social activities and responsibilities, prioritize drug use over personal obligations, and experience social isolation and alienation.
  • Financial Consequences: Supporting a ketamine addiction is financially burdensome and leads to financial instability and debt related to using the drug.
  • Occupational and Educational Impacts: Chronic ketamine use impairs cognitive function and work performance, leading to difficulties in fulfilling academic and occupational responsibilities.
  • Legal Consequences: Ketamine is not illicit, but its misuse is illegal in many jurisdictions. Individuals addicted to ketamine stand the risk of facing legal consequences if nabbed.
  • Physical Dependence and Withdrawal: Chronic ketamine use can lead to physical dependence, characterized by withdrawal symptoms when the drug is discontinued. Withdrawal symptoms may include cravings, agitation, anxiety, insomnia, sweating, tremors, and nausea.

What are the street terms for ketamine?

Ketamine is very popular among teens and young adults. While ketamine is the clinical name, it is known among these circles with several street names. Here are the popular street names for ketamine in the country:

  • Cat Tranquilizer
  • Jet K
  • Cat Valium
  • Purple
  • KitKat
  • Special K
  • Special LA Coke
  • Super K
  • Super Acid
  • Vitamin K

What are the signs and symptoms of ketamine addiction?

Signs and symptoms of ketamine addiction manifest in various ways. It is important to recognize these symptoms early to seek appropriate help. Here is a look at the psychological, behavioral, and physical symptoms of ketamine addiction:

Psychological symptoms of ketamine addiction:

Psychological symptoms of ketamine addiction include:

  • Increased tolerance
  • Cravings
  • Paranoia
  • Nightmares
  • Delusions
  • Confusions
  • Loss of control
  • Mood swings

Behavioral and social symptoms of ketamine addiction:

Behavioral and social symptoms of ketamine addiction include:

  • Neglecting responsibilities
  • Social isolation
  • Changes in appearance or hygiene
  • Secrecy and deception
  • Financal issues
  • Risk-taking behavior

Physical symptoms of ketamine addiction:

Physical symptoms of ketamine addiction include:

  • Autonomic arousal
  • Chills
  • Low appetite
  • Seizures
  • Restlessness
  • Shaking
  • Sweating
  • Unexplained bruises
  • Tiredness
  • Watery eyes
  • Excessive salivations

What are The dangers of ketamine addiction?

Chronic use of ketamine poses significant danger to users. Its addictive potential leads to a range of detrimental effects on mental health, physical well-being, and behavior.

Mental health risks

Mental health risks associated with ketamine addiction include:

  • Depression and anxiety
  • Psychosis
  • Cognitive impairment

Physical health risks

Physical health risks associated with ketamine addiction include:

  • Urinary tract dysfunction (Ketamine-induced cystitis)
  • Cardiovascular effects (Increased nlood pressure, heart rate, and risk of arrhythmias)
  • Respiratory Depression (Shallow breathing, hypoxia, and respiratory arrest)

Behavioral risks

Behavioral risks associated with ketamine addiction include:

  • Risk-taking behavior
  • Social isolation
  • Legal and financial consequences

What does Ketamine Addiction Treatment look like?

Ketamine addiction poses a serious threat to quality life, but effective treatment options are available. Treatment options are usually of two phases:

  • Inpatient treatment plans, where users live in a safe environment, protected from triggers and temptations while they receive treatment.
  • Outpatient treatment programs, where users go home after treatment each day. It helps the patient continue with their normal life during and after treatment.

Regardless of the type of program, here is what a ketamine addiction treatment plan involves:

  • Medical Detoxification: Individuals with severe ketamine dependence require medical detoxification to safely manage withdrawal symptoms.
  • Psychotherapy: Various forms of psychotherapy, such as cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), motivational interviewing, and contingency management, help individuals address underlying issues, learn coping skills, and develop strategies to prevent relapse.
  • Support Groups: Participation in support groups such as Narcotics Anonymous (NA) or SMART Recovery provide peer support, encouragement, and accountability during the recovery process. These groups offer a sense of community and understanding among individuals facing similar challenges.
  • Continued Monitoring and Follow-up: Regular monitoring and follow-up appointments with healthcare providers and addiction specialists help track progress, address any ongoing challenges, and adjust treatment plans as needed.

What are ketamine withdrawal symptoms?

Users who abruptly stop using ketamine in an attempt to stop ketamine addiction tend to have withdrawal symptoms, especially when the process is not managed by a healthcare professional. Here are some ketamine withdrawal symptoms to look out for:

  • Intense craving and desire for the drug.
  • Emotional instabilities including depression, suicidal ideations, and anxiety.
  • Rapid breathing
  • Irregular blood pressure or heart rate.
  • Psychosis including hallucinations, paranoia, delirium, and schizophrenic-like behaviors.
  • Aggressive or violent tendencies.
  • Double vision
  • Cognitive impairments such as confusion or inability to focus
  • Problems with motor skills

How to Prevent Ketamine Addiction?

Preventing ketamine addiction involves both individual actions and broader societal efforts to reduce the availability and normalization of ketamine use. Here are some strategies for prevention:

  • Educate yourself and others about the risks associated with ketamine use, including its potential for addiction and harmful effects on physical and mental health.
  • Identify and address risk factors for substance abuse, such as mental health issues, trauma, peer pressure, and environmental influences, early on.
  • Encourage the development of healthy coping strategies to manage stress, anxiety, and other emotional challenges without resorting to substance use.
  • Restrict access to ketamine by implementing policies and regulations that control its distribution, especially in healthcare settings where it’s commonly used as an anesthetic.
  • Build strong support systems within families, schools, workplaces, and communities to help individuals resist peer pressure and navigate challenges without turning to ketamine or other drugs.
  • Treat co-occurring mental health disorders such as depression, anxiety, and trauma promptly and comprehensively to reduce the risk of self-medication with ketamine or other substances.

Ketamine Dependence vs. Ketamine Addiction

Ketamine dependence and ketamine addiction are related but distinct concepts. Ketamine dependence refers primarily to the physical presentations that occur with regular ketamine use, including tolerance and withdrawal, whereas ketamine addiction involves a broader pattern of compulsive drug seeking and drug use behavior.

How addictive is ketamine compared to other drugs?

Compared to most addictive substances, ketamine is generally considered to have a lower risk of addiction.

Is ketamine an opioid?

No, ketamine is not an opioid. It is an anti-depressant that has the potential for abuse when it is not closely monitored. 

How long does ketamine stay in your system?

On average, ketamine typically cleats the system of people who take it within one to three days. However, it can be detected in hair follicles for an extended period. These are general estimates and individual variations affect how long ketamine remains detectable in the body.

Does ketamine help with alcohol addiction?

Ketamine has shown potential in some studies for the treatment of alcohol addiction, although research in this area is still relatively limited compared to its use in other conditions such as chronic pain and addiction.

Can ketamine addiction co-occur with other substance addictions?

Yes, ketamine addiction can co-occur with other substance addictions, including cocaine addiction. Individuals who struggle with addiction may turn to multiple substances to achieve desired effects or to mitigate the side effects of one drug with another. This poly-substance use can complicate the addiction, making it more challenging to treat and increasing the risk of adverse health effects.

Addressing co-occurring addictions requires a comprehensive treatment approach that takes into account all of the substances being used. Holistic therapy can play a key role in this process, offering a range of therapeutic modalities that address the physical, emotional, and spiritual aspects of recovery. By treating the whole person, rather than just the addiction, individuals can achieve a more sustainable and fulfilling recovery.

The Grove Editorial Team is a dynamic group of professionals at The Grove, a leading addiction treatment center in Indianapolis, Indiana. Comprising experienced therapists, medical experts, and dedicated support staff, this team brings a wealth of knowledge and compassionate insight into the complexities of addiction and recovery. Their collective expertise shines through in each article, offering readers valuable guidance, the latest in addiction science, and inspiring stories of healing and transformation. The Grove Editorial Team is committed to educating, supporting, and empowering individuals and families on their journey toward a healthier, substance-free life.

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