Ketamine Addiction and Abuse

Ketamine is a party drug with a high potential for psychological dependence and addiction, that is widely abused by teenagers and young adults for its out of body sensation.

Ketamine addiction | Table of Contents

Understanding Ketamine

Ketamine is an anesthetic meant for animals that are widely abused by people for recreational purposes. Ketamine, also referred to as Special K, Vitamin K, Dorothy, cat valium, and Kit Kat, is mostly popular amongst club-goers and young adults.

Although it is regarded as an anesthetic for animals, Ketamine is sometimes used to sedate children who have shown allergic reactions to other anesthetics. The drug is sometimes used during burn and radiation therapy, as well as instances where the general anesthetic is deemed too much for an individual to handle.

Ketamine is available as a pill, a liquid form to inject, or as a white or off-white powder to be snorted or mixed with water and drunk. It is also known as a ‘Date Rape Drug’ since it is tasteless, odorless, and colorless, and is capable enough to render a victim completely helpless and vulnerable.

Sold under the brand name Ketalar, Ketamine is a schedule-III-controlled substance that falls into the same category as anabolic steroids and codeine. Although most schedule III substances cause physical dependence, Ketamine consumption can also cause psychological dependence, unlike the rest. Using Ketamine without a doctor’s prescription is considered illegal.


What is Ketamine?

Ketamine is a drug generally used for initiating and maintaining anesthesia. It creates a trance-like condition and provides relief from pain.

Where can you get Ketamine?

Ketamine is approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) only to be used as an anesthetic in medical procedures, and thus cannot be bought over the counter at a pharmacy.

Ketamine Effects, Abuse, and Addiction

Ketamine is a potent dissociative hallucinogenic tranquilizer that makes the user undergo a full-body high that then leads to a state of relaxation. The intense high experienced by the user generally lasts less than an hour. Ketamine can also distort the user’s perception of sight and sound and render the user immobile.

At extreme levels of Ketamine consumption, users may experience a state of extreme euphoria or a feeling of near-death, also referred to as ‘K-Hole.’ During this episode, users may experience a disconnection from themselves and their surroundings, which is generally described as an out-of-body experience.

The anesthetic properties of the drug can render the user numb, resulting in severe injuries and accidents as the person no longer feels physical pain while under the influence of the drug.

Sings of Ketamine abuse are:

  • Slurred speech
  • Insomnia
  • Irritability
  • Rapid eye movements
  • Antsy behavior
  • Depression
  • Loss of co-ordination
  • Redness of the skin

Prolonged use of Ketamine can cause the development of psychological dependence and tolerance. Resulting in the individual no longer being able to function as normal and requiring higher and higher doses to feel the desired effects. This is caused by chemical changes in the user’s brain, making the user unable to stop drug use despite many attempts. Individuals who have formed an addiction to Ketamine through prolonged use are usually cognitively impaired.

Signs of addiction to Ketamine include:

  • Obsessing over the next hit
  • Failing to fulfill day-to-day responsibilities at work, school, or home
  • Building up a tolerance
  • Developing a dependence on the drug
  • Spending more money on the drug
  • Neglecting family and friends

Psychological addiction to Ketamine is manifested through a strong desire to experience the drug’s effects, such as the “K-hole/out-of-body” experience, intense psychedelic high, and vivid hallucinations. Excessive use of Ketamine can also result in psychotic and Schizophrenic-like tendencies and behaviors.


How does Ketamine work?

Ketamine functions by blocking the NMDA receptor in the brain, which affects pain and depression.

How well does Ketamine work?

Ketamine is an effective treatment option for patients with MDD. However, further studies administering multiple infusions for acute treatment and maintenance are necessary.

What are the side effects of Ketamine?

The most common side effects associated with Ketamine during medical use are nausea, vomiting, dizziness, diplopia, drowsiness, dysphoria, and confusion. There is also the risk of HIV, hepatitis, and other infectious diseases from shared needles.

How Ketamine is given?

Ketamine is generally administered via an IV into a vein, which is the fastest way for the medicine to get to the brain. Most individuals begin with roughly six doses over a period of 1 to 2 weeks and then obtain booster IVs once every 3 to 5 weeks. Continuation of treatments for a year or more is recommended to see long-term results.

The Ketamine Comedown

Comedown is a condition that is highly possible to occur even after a brief period of Ketamine use. This condition is a drug-induced version of a hangover that can be extremely intense and dangerous.

As Ketamine is a sedative drug, it is very likely for users to face intense confusion and delirium after its effects of extreme high disappear.

These users may also experience symptoms such as:

  • Anxiety
  • Feelings of hopelessness and helplessness
  • Physical and muscle weakness
  • Severe confusion
  • Impaired vision
  • Numbness that often results in aggressive behavior
  • Amnesia and delirium.

These symptoms usually appear during the consumption of high doses or when Ketamine is used repeatedly over many hours or when combined with other substances such as alcohol or other drugs.

Although Ketamine causes a series of adverse side effects, thousands of Americans still continue to take it due to its ability to form psychological dependence and addiction. The severe withdrawal symptoms and its psychological dependence make it difficult for users to quit Ketamine.

Common Ketamine Drug Combinations

Many users combine liquid Ketamine with alcohol, marijuana, or other tobacco products. As Ketamine itself is a CNS depressant, combining it with other CNS depressants, such as alcohol, can lead to lethal outcomes. A serious reduction in heart rate and respiratory function are a few of the adverse complications of combining Ketamine with other CNS depressants.

Users may combine the powdered version of Ketamine with other powdered substances, such as MDMA (Ecstasy), and press them into tablet forms or place them within capsules. Mixing Ketamine and Ecstasy in this manner is dangerous, as Ketamine is a CNS depressant, and ecstasy is a stimulant, which could result in devastating effects. Psychedelics, such as DMT and LSD, are also usually combined with Ketamine.

The Dangers of Ketamine

Most of the drugs in this class (schedule III substance) can lead to psychological and physical dependence as well as serious side effects, such as:

  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Slowed movement
  • Numbness
  • Raised heart rate and blood pressure
  • Slurred speech
  • Psychotic episodes and hallucinations
  • Impaired judgment
  • Impaired cognitive function
  • Impaired motor function
  • Distorted perceptions of sight and sound
  • Disorientation
  • Respiratory distress

Even short-term consumption of Ketamine at small doses can cause physical side effects that can remain for around 24 hours since the last dose. Some of these prolonged side effects are:

  • Stumbling
  • Muscle weakness
  • Loss of co-ordination

Bladder damage is a common risk amongst Ketamine addicts. About 25 percent of individuals who misuse Ketamine complain about pains when emptying their bladders and spotting blood in their urine. Even the users who take Ketamine occasionally experience “ket cramps” when passing urine due to the abrasive effect of chemicals passing through the kidneys and urinary tracts. The bladder can easily be destroyed within just a few months of heavy use.

Brain damage, kidney damage, and impaired cognitive function caused by Ketamine use can sometimes be permanent, while increased heart rate and respiratory failure can result in death.

Ketamine is a substance that includes unpredictable properties, making the user unable to comprehend how much of it is too much. An overdose can occur even at low doses, especially if the user combines it with other substances, such as alcohol. Accidental overdose is quite common when the user attempts to experience the K-hole. Since Ketamine is a tranquilizer, an individual on overdose may not be able to seek help due to the complete loss of mobility caused by the drug. Death is generally the consequence of Ketamine overdose.

Ketamine Abuse Statistics

  • 74%: Individuals between the ages of 12–25 represented 74 percent of the Ketamine emergency department visits in the US in 2000 (Department of Justices National Drug Intelligence Center (NDIC).)
  • 2.3 Million: Over 2.3 million US citizens aged 12 and older have used Ketamine in their lifetime. The figure was 203,000 users in 2013 (2013 National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH) in the United States.)
  • 3%: Around 3 percent of high school seniors used Ketamine at least once a year in 2006 (University of Michigans Monitoring the Future (MTF) survey.)

What is Ketamine Withdrawal?

When an individual addicted to Ketamine attempts at quitting or reducing the drug use abruptly, withdrawal symptoms can set it. The main reason for the emergence of withdrawal symptoms is the alteration of opioid receptors in the brain caused by ketamine use.

Ketamine withdrawal symptoms are predominantly psychological. Certain users have also reported facing physical symptoms, but this has not been backed up scientifically. The psychological symptoms caused by quitting Ketamine use are more dangerous. One of the most adverse psychological symptoms caused by Ketamine withdrawal is depression, which can lead to suicidal thoughts in the user.

Some of the common symptoms of Ketamine withdrawal are:

  • Confusion
  • Loss of motor skills
  • A decrease in respiratory and cardiac functions
  • Insomnia
  • Psychosis, including self-deception and hallucination
  • Shakes
  • Nausea
  • Rage
  • Hearing loss
  • Fatigue
  • Cognitive impairment
  • Agitation

Most users may begin to get emotionally unstable during the withdrawal stage and require isolation to help protect those around them.

Duration of Withdrawal

Even though Ketamine withdrawal is generally not fatal, the whole process can be quite distressing for the user. Ketamine withdrawal symptoms usually occur between 24-72 hours since the last Ketamine dose and may last from 72 hours to several weeks, depending on factors such as:

  • The amount of drug present in the user’s body
  • The duration of Ketamine abuse
  • The user’s tolerance levels
  • Whether the user had used any other drug with Ketamine

Ketamine Withdrawal Timeline

Days 1-3

Acute Ketamine withdrawal symptoms usually occur within 24 hours since the last dose. Double vision, shakes, rage, depression, fatigue, rapid breathing, hearing loss, tremors, and delusions are few of the common withdrawal symptoms to emerge during the first 24 hours of discontinuing the drug use.

Days 4-14

Withdrawal symptoms can last for about two weeks, but their intensity would taper off when reaching the 2-week mark.

Days 15+

Most of the distressing withdrawal symptoms would fade at this stage. Nevertheless, the nerve cell damage in the brain caused by Ketamine use can last indefinitely, along with certain other psychological issues.

Ketamine Addiction Treatment

Overcoming an addiction to Ketamine is challenging for many patients. However, many effective treatment plans are in place to help one achieve a full recovery. Medically-assisted detox and inpatient and outpatient treatment programs help patients overcome their addictions to Ketamine.

Ketamine Detox

Medically-assisted detox is the first stage of Ketamine addiction treatment. The process involves removing all traces of the drug out of the user’s body.

Ketamine addiction is best when done cold-turkey, but it can result in a very distressing detox phase for patients. Intense cravings can occur during the detox phase while the patient goes through psychological discomforts. Thus, medical professionals may prescribe certain medications to alleviate withdrawal symptoms.

Medical staff monitors the patient’s heart rate and respiratory function during the initial stage of Ketamine detox to ensure the patient’s safety.

Ketamine Inpatient Rehab

Patients with severe addictions to Ketamine highly benefit from inpatient rehabs. Medical experts within these facilities customize the treatment program, according to the user’s individual requirements, while also considering the age, gender, any underlying mental health conditions, the severity of the addiction, and the duration of drug use.

Inpatient rehabs typically last between twenty-eight days to six months. The length of the residential program is highly dependent on the patients’ condition. Patients with underlying mental health conditions generally require extended treatments to achieve full recovery.

Detoxing the patient’s body and eliminating traces of the drug is the first step of inpatient treatment. Breaking the dependence on Ketamine, treating any underlying mental health disorders, improving behavior, stress management, relapse prevention, withdrawal symptoms management, and motivating the user to maintain a Ketamine-free life are also some of the main components of inpatient rehab.

Some of the standard programs in professional residential treatment include:

  • Family therapy
  • Group therapy
  • 12-step program education and access to meetings
  • Anger management
  • Holistic therapies, such as yoga, art, meditation, and music
  • Medication management
  • Neurofeedback and/or biofeedback
  • Recreational therapies, such as planned outings and exercise facilities
  • Individual therapy

Ongoing Treatment and Relapse Prevention Strategies

Staying sober is easier when one is under the supervision of medical experts in a residential treatment facility. The patient does not come across any triggers, and the controlled environment lets the patient fully concentrate on their recovery. However, newly-recovered patients may find it harder to maintain sobriety once they leave the rehab facility. Thus, outpatient treatment helps recovered patients maintain their sobriety without relapse by providing therapy and access to support groups on a weekly or monthly basis.

Below are some tips on avoiding relapses:

  • Develop healthy habits – Maintain a schedule, get regular exercise, develop healthy eating habits, and get enough sleep.
  • Have a support system in place – Choose a support group that suits you the most, and attend meetings a few times a month. Meet people who care and who have your best interest in mind.
  • Identify your triggers – Counseling helps you understand and identify triggers that can lead to a relapse. These triggers could be places, people, events, and stressors that keep you attached to Ketamine use.
  • Avoid people associated with drug use – This may be easier said than done, but it is vital. Meeting up with old friends who use Ketamine or other addictive substances can easily lead you back to your old habits.
  • Keep busy – Keeping your mind occupied is necessary to avoid triggers. Healthy habits, such as quality family times, exercise, and hobbies, keep your mind active.
  • Have a therapist, counselor, or sober coach on hand – These experts are here to help. Talk to them regarding any concerns and underlying issues that stress you out.
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