Ketamine Addiction: Signs, Effects, and Treatments

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Ketamine is a medication approved by the FDA as a general anesthetic to induce sedation and loss of consciousness. Ketamine addiction is a growing issue in America today, and can have severe, and even fatal, side effects from long term use.

If ketamine is administered in a clinical setting, this Schedule III controlled substance triggers sedation and reduces sensitivity to pain. Although research is ongoing for the potential use of ketamine for treating depression, the medication is only approved for use in humans as a general anesthetic.

While ketamine is generally safe when used in a controlled clinical setting, any abuse of ketamine can be dangerous and could be life-threatening.

Learn about the risks and effects of ketamine addiction and discover how to connect with evidence-based treatment if you have been abusing this potent drug.

What is Ketamine?

Ketamine is a dissociative anesthetic and Schedule III controlled substance that is prescribed to induce general anesthesia when a medical procedure does not call for muscle relaxation.

A dissociative anesthetic like ketamine induces a deep sleep-like state. Beyond its sedating effects, ketamine also triggers feelings of intense disconnectedness. Taking large doses of ketamine is associated with anecdotal reports of near-death experiences.

In the United States, ketamine (Ketalar) has been used as an anesthetic in humans and animals since 1969. Ketamine is available in the following forms:

  • Off-white powder
  • Nasal spray
  • Clear and colorless liquid
  • Intravenous injectable

Ketaset is a branded form of ketamine used for surgical anesthesia in animals.

In 2019, the FDA approved Spravato (esketamine). Spravato is a nasal spray indicated for adults diagnosed with treatment-resistant depression who are experiencing suicidal ideation.

Ketamine – often referred to as K or special K –  is abused for its dissociative effects. Like all dissociative drugs, ketamine induces distortions of sights, sounds, and colors, as well as distorting your sense of self and your sense of your surrounding environment. When abused, the drug is typically smoked or snorted. Ingesting ketamine in any form may trigger hallucinations similar to those associated with PCP (angel dust) or LSD (lysergic acid diethylamide).

Is Ketamine Addictive?

Any use of ketamine may lead to the development of addiction. Like all Schedule III controlled substances, ketamine is associated with abuse and addiction in spite of its medical utility.

Ongoing ketamine use will cause tolerance and physical dependence to develop over time, often but not always leading to addiction.

If you become addicted to ketamine, you will feel compelled to use the substance regardless of negative outcomes. Like all substance use disorders, ketamine addiction is a chronic brain condition that typically worsens if untreated but responds positively to evidence-based treatment in an inpatient or outpatient setting.

How Addictive is Ketamine?

While ketamine may cause dependence and addiction, the risk of addiction is considered to be lower than the risk associated with other drugs of abuse like opioids or stimulants.

That said, ketamine can be addictive, especially when used in high doses or for sustained periods. Chronic use of ketamine can lead to the development of tolerance, meaning that you need to take more of the drug to achieve the desired effects. Additionally, sudden discontinuation of ketamine can cause withdrawal symptoms that include intense cravings, anxiety, and insomnia.

Ketamine Addiction Symptoms

Ketamine addiction is diagnosed according to the criteria in DSM-5-TR, (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders). The DSM criteria for ketamine addiction are:

  1. Experiencing cravings for ketamine.
  2. Tolerance forming so you need more ketamine than previously.
  3. Withdrawal symptoms presenting in the absence of ketamine.
  4. Taking more ketamine than intended or using the drug for longer than you intended.
  5. Repeatedly failing to stop using ketamine.
  6. Spending lots of time using ketamine and recovering from its effects.
  7. Ongoing use of fentanyl even though drug use is causing problems in your personal relationships.
  8. Spending less time doing things you once enjoyed due to ketamine use.
  9. Abusing ketamine in dangerous situations.
  10. Continuing to use ketamine even though the drug is causing or worsening a physical or mental health condition.
  11. Failing to satisfy personal and professional commitments due to ketamine abuse.

Ketamine addiction is diagnosed as mild (2 or 3 criteria), moderate (4 or 5 criteria), or severe (6 or more criteria).

Signs of Ketamine Addiction

If you are concerned about a loved one abusing ketamine, some common signs of ketamine addiction include:

  • Insomnia
  • Problems with focus
  • Frequent distractedness
  • Fatigue
  • Loss of motor control and coordination
  • Persistent drowsiness
  • Slurred speech
  • Reduced sensitivity to pain
  • Red tinge to skin
  • Incontinence
  • Reduced motivation
  • Withdrawal symptoms
  • Tolerance
  • Social isolation
  • Financial problems
  • Issues developing at work

If you notice a cluster of these signs in a loved one who you suspect is abusing ketamine, voice your concerns to them and educate them about the effects of ketamine abuse and the ketamine addiction risk they run if they do not seek professional help.

Ketamine Addiction Effects

These are the most common ketamine addiction effects:

  • Paranoia
  • Hallucinations
  • Flashbacks
  • Depression
  • Long-term cognitive impairments
  • Impaired coordination
  • Loss of motor control
  • Muscle rigidity
  • High blood pressure
  • Rapid heart rate
  • Muscle weakness

One of the most damaging effects of ketamine addiction occurs if the substance is abused in high doses, triggering an effect called the K-hole. If you enter a K-hole when abusing this drug, you will be rendered temporarily unable to interact, either with other people or your surrounding environment. You will experience significant impairments to motor control and could experience life-threatening respiratory depression.

Ketamine Addiction Treatment Options

Ketamine addiction can have serious consequences and typically requires professional treatment to overcome. Some ketamine addiction treatment options include:

  • Inpatient rehab: Inpatient rehab, also known as residential rehab, involves remaining at a treatment facility for 30 days or more while receiving intensive treatment for your ketamine addiction. Inpatient rehab usually involves a combination of MAT (medication-assisted treatment), behavioral therapies, counseling, and holistic treatments.
  • Outpatient rehab: Access the same treatments in intensive outpatient rehab while still living at home. You will attend counseling and therapy sessions at a treatment center several times a week. This treatment option may be best for those with mild ketamine addictions or those who need to remain anchored to their personal or professional commitments.
  • MAT (medication-assisted treatment): Medication-assisted treatment combines medication with behavioral therapy to help you overcome ketamine addiction. MAT can help to manage withdrawal symptoms and reduce cravings. Medications like naltrexone and buprenorphine have been shown to be effective in treating ketamine addiction.
  • Behavioral therapy: Behavioral therapies like CBT (cognitive-behavioral therapy) can help you understand the underlying cause of your addiction and develop strategies to overcome them. CBT has been shown to be effective in treating ketamine addiction.
  • Support groups: Peer support groups like NA (Narcotics Anonymous) can provide a sense of community and support during your recovery journey. These groups provide a safe space for you to share your experiences and receive encouragement from peers with lived experience of addiction.

Ketamine Rehab at Ohio Community Health

If you are addicted to ketamine, Ohio Community Health specializes in the outpatient treatment of all drug addictions in Cincinnati.

If you need a supervised medical detox to streamline ketamine withdrawal, we can connect you with a licensed medical detox center near you. After a week, you will be ready to engage with one of our intensive outpatient treatment programs for ketamine addiction.

At Ohio Community Health, you can address the psychological side of ketamine addiction with behavioral therapies like counseling and psychotherapy.

During your ketamine addiction treatment at our treatment center in Cincinnati, you will discover what triggers you to use ketamine, and you will create healthier coping techniques to use when confronted by stressors in everyday life. All Ohio Community Health treatment programs include a comprehensive aftercare component to mitigate the risk of relapse derailing your recovery.Call (877) 679-2132 today for immediate assistance with ketamine addiction.

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Joseph Gilmore

Joseph Gilmore has been working in the addiction industry for half a decade and has been writing about addiction and substance abuse treatment during that time. He has experience working for facilities all across the country. Connect with Joe on LinkedIn.
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Christopher Glover CDCA

My name is Christopher Glover, and I am from Cincinnati, Ohio. I am currently in school and working to grow in competence to better support our community. As a recovering individual I know the struggles that you or a loved one can go through and that there is help for anything you may be struggling with.

The hardest part is asking for help and we are here as a team to best support you and your decision to start your journey towards a better future. Connect with Chris on LinkedIn

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Amanda Kuchenberg PRS CDCA

I recently joined Ohio Community Health Recovery Centers as a Clinical Case Manager. I am originally from Wisconsin but settled in the Cincinnati area in my early 20s.  My career started in the fashion industry but quickly changed as I searched to find my drive and passion through helping others who struggle with addiction. 

As someone who is also in recovery, I wanted to provide hope, share lived experience, and support others on their journey.  I currently have my Peer Recovery Support Supervision Certification along with my CDCA and plan to continue my education with University of Cincinnati so I can continue to aid in the battle against substance addiction. Connect with Amanda on LinkedIn.

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Patrick McCamley LCDC III

 Patrick McCamley (Clinical Therapist) is a Cincinnati native who has worked in substance use disorder/co-occurring mental health disorder treatment since 2019. Patrick received his bachelors degree in psychology from University of Cincinnati in 2021 and received his LCDC III (Licensed Chemical Dependency Counselor) license from the Ohio Chemical Dependency Professionals Board in 2022. Patrick has worked in Clinical Operations, Clinical Case Management, and Clinical Therapy throughout his career.

Patrick has tremendous empathy and compassion for the recovery community, being in recovery himself since 2018. Patrick is uniquely qualified to be helpful because of the specific combination of his academic background and his own experience in recovery.

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Bill Zimmerman CDCA

Bill Zimmerman is a Greater Cincinnati Area native who has worked in substance use disorder/co-occurring mental health disorder treatment since 2018. Bill received his (Chemical Dependency Counselor Assistant) license from the Ohio Chemical Dependency Professionals Board in 2020.

Bill has worked in Clinical Operations in both support and supervision, and Program facilitating and 12 step recovery support during his career. Bill has a passion for the recovery community, having been in recovery himself since 1982. Connect with Bill on LinkedIn

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Taylor Lilley CDCA, PRS

Growing up in Louisiana with addiction running rampant on both sides of my family. A life away from drugs and alcohol seemed impossible for someone like me. I remember what it was like sitting across from someone thinking there is no way they could ever understand what I was going through.

Sharing my experience offers a credibility and a certain type of trust with clients that only someone who has walked down this road can illustrate. To immerse myself further into the field of addiction, I am currently studying at Cincinnati State for Human and Social Services.  I hope I never forget where I came from, if I can do it, so can you!

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Thomas Hunter LSW

Hello my name is Thomas Hunter. I was born and raised in Cincinnati, Ohio. I am a licensed social worker.In my scope of practice I have worked in the areas of mental health and recovery for thirty years. The clients I have worked with in my career have ranged in age from seven to seventy.

I strive each day to serve my purpose of helping those in need and I believe I do so by utilizing all of my experiences to accomplish my goal of supporting those who desire to establish their sobriety and maintain it in their recovery. Connect with Thomas on LinkedIn.

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Mary D.Porter,LICDC

 My name is Mary D. Porter. I received my Masters of Social Work in 2008 from The University of Cincinnati. I received My Licensed Independent Chemical Dependency Counselor Licensure in 2001. I retired from The Department of Veteran Affairs Medical Center on April 14, 2014. Currently, I am the Associate Clinical Director for The Ohio Community Health Recovery Centers in Cincinnati.. Due to the fourth wave of the Opioid Epidemic in 2019,  I decided to enter back into the workforce to assist the addicted population.

The overdoses were astounding and I wanted to help.  I consider myself  to be an advocate for the addicted population. My compassion, resilience, empathy, wisdom, knowledge, experience and  love I have for this forgotten population goes beyond words. I consider what I do for the addicted population as a calling versus a “career,” because I too was once an “addict and alcoholic.” Today I am 45.5 years alcohol and substance free.

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Ben Lemmon LCDC III

Hello, my name is Ben Lemmon, and I’m the Vice President and Clinical Director at Ohio Community Health Recovery Centers. I’ve been working in the addiction and mental health field since 2013 and decided to enter the field after overcoming my own challenges with addiction.

When I first meet a client, I always explain to them that the reason we are meeting is because they are not capable of obtaining or maintaining sobriety, and my goal is to create a person that can maintain sobriety. I believe a person’s personality is made up of their thoughts, feelings and actions and my job is to help clients identify the thoughts, feelings and actions that have them disconnected from recovery and provide them with the tools to live a healthy and happy life. Connect with Ben on LinkedIn