Ketamine Addiction: Signs, Effects, and Treatments

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Ketamine Addiction

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 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): MAT 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 513-757-5000 today for immediate assistance with ketamine addiction.

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