Ketamine Addiction: Definition, Common Signs & Options For Help


Is ketamine addiction disrupting you or a loved ones life? Thousands of Americans are stuggling with this issue too.

Ketamine is a dissociative drug typically used as an anesthetic during surgeries and procedures. However, over the years, this drug is now more widely prescribed by medical professionals to patients suffering from depression, chronic pain, anxiety disorder, and bipolar disorder.

If you’re not sure where to start, learning to identify the signs can be the first step in helping a loved one or yourself get the treatment necessary to recover.

What Is a Ketamine Addiction?

Ketamine is an anesthetic and sedative drug used in medical professional situations, such as for surgeries and short procedures.

However, it is now a recreational drug due to its hallucinogenic effects and dissociative qualities. Those who take ketamine will experience disconnection, amnesia, pain relief, detachment, and dissociation.

The increase in ketamine prescriptions has led to the increased prevalence of ketamine addiction in patients. Ketamine is a low-cost alternative to other stimulants and substances, such as cocaine, growing its popularity rapidly in recent years.

Although the use of ketamine in the United States is still relatively low at 0.7% of the population, the prevalence of ketamine addiction is a severe issue plaguing society.

Full-blown drug addiction is a serious issue due to the psychological, mental, or physical dependence. People who use ketamine do so to receive short-term euphoria and hallucinogenic properties, which make it a problematic drug to stop.

The short-term lifespan of the drug means that people who are addicted to ketamine may have to consistently get more to receive the same after-effects.

Do Ketamine Addiction Urges Go Away?

Over time, the desire and urge to use ketamine will go away. However, for those who are addicted to ketamine, they may find that the initial withdrawal phase can vary depending on the addiction severity and concentration of the drug.

For long-term users who frequently use ketamine, the withdrawal period can be a few weeks long. For short-term users who have a high dose of ketamine, like at a festival, the withdrawal period can be shorter.

The initial withdrawal phase is typically between 12 hours and seven days long. After the withdrawal period has ended, people’s urges will usually subside drastically. After three weeks without using the drug, the urges should be much lower than the initial withdrawal.

The usual withdrawal symptoms include anxiety, cravings, urges, depression, sweating, or shaking.

Forms of Ketamine Addiction

There are different types of addiction that can alarm a loved one.

Social Addiction

Some people may only take ketamine during social situations, whether it is out at a party or a festival. Although this may manifest itself in a ‘functioning’ method, it can usually spiral out of control.

Users may make excuses to consistently get or do ketamine during social situations, prioritizing the drug over having fun with their friends.

Closet Addict

If a person uses ketamine on their own or with people who they are not familiar with, this is a form of addiction.

A person may hide their ketamine use from their friends and family so they can continue to do so without any judgment or worry from their social groups.

Ketamine Addiction Statistics

  • The highest recorded prevalence of recreational ketamine use was 0.9% in 2019 (NYU).
  • Less than 1% of teens and adults use ketamine (NYU).
  • Ketamine is a mind-altering drug that has a <1% serious complication rate (National Library of Medicine).
  • There is no FDA-approved medicine to treat a ketamine overdose (National Library of Medicine).
  • Ketamine used together with alcohol can increase the risk of slow breathing, low blood pressure, heart attack, seizure, or coma (National Institute on Drug Abuse).

What Are the Signs of a Ketamine Addiction?

There are different stages of change in addiction. Understanding certain signs of ketamine addiction shows red flags to loved ones:

  • Large amounts of drugs consumed — One of the main signs of ketamine addiction is that the user will have to take more ketamine to feel the same effects. Suppose a person has been prescribed ketamine but has to take more to have the same benefits. In that case, this is a red flag that they are extending the period of use or the quantity due to misuse.
  • Desire to obtain the substance — If a person was prescribed ketamine but is no longer prescribed this drug, this inability to access the drug can make the person irritable and anxious. A person who is resorting all their resources and efforts to finding the drug may be addicted to the substance.
  • Cravings — Cravings, urges, and a ‘need’ to use the drug are signs of ketamine addiction. The need to use the drug can either be psychological or physical.
  • Continued use — If a person continues to use ketamine regardless of the negative consequences of drug use, this is a sign of ketamine addiction. A person may experience failing relationships, missed obligations, personality issues, or physical deterioration from drug use.
  • Abandoning responsibilities — A person previously responsible in terms of obligations, like school, work, or family commitments, may find that they are putting drug use and finding ketamine ahead of everything else in their life.
  • Higher tolerance — For those who are addicted to ketamine, they will find they have to take more of the drug to achieve the desired benefits.
  • Use in hazardous conditions — Using ketamine can lead to risky behavior or unsafe decisions. Suppose a person uses ketamine despite being in dangerous conditions, such as vulnerable scenarios or operating heavy machinery. In that case, this is a sign of reckless behavior and addiction.
  • Depression — Ketamine addiction can lead to depression. This could be due to the higher tolerance to ketamine, which means the drug is not working as an antidepressant, or the user cannot access more ketamine as they wish.
  • Irritability — A person addicted to ketamine will become anxious if they are constantly thinking about the drug, unable to access ketamine, or cannot fulfill their next ketamine prescription.
  • Relationship issues — Lastly, a person with ketamine addiction might have problems maintaining healthy relationships. If a person gives up their previous relationships, such as romantic partners, friends, co-workers, and family, this is a red flag.

Types of Unhealthy Ketamine Behavior

There are a few types of unhealthy behavior typically attributed to someone who is suffering from ketamine addiction:

  • Lying — Lying to friends and family about your whereabouts can be a red flag that you are lying to cover up your addiction.
  • Stealing money — STealing money can help a person pay for more drugs if their prescription runs out.
  • Missing work or school — Putting drugs ahead of work or school is a warning sign that a person is prioritizing ketamine over their previous obligations.
  • Frequent use — A person who uses ketamine in any social situation or by making excuses might put drug use above the other benefits of spending time with friends or family.
  • Risky behavior — Doing risky things to obtain ketamine, such as fraternizing with an unsafe group of people, doing illegal things to get money, or breaking the law, can all be signs of ketamine addiction.

What Is the Main Cause of Ketamine Addiction?

One of the main causes of ketamine addiction is prescribing this medication for depression to individuals with an addictive personality disorder or a history of drug use.

Healthcare professionals should avoid prescribing ketamine for depression or anxiety treatment if the person has misused drugs in the past.

Another situation in which a person may become addicted to ketamine is after surgery. Ketamine is often used as an anesthetic during surgery, so even healthy individuals who have never tried drugs can become addicted to the pain relief.

Some individuals, even high-level athletes, may find that taking ketamine post-procedure can numb pain, which can lead to a reliance on the drug.

How Ketamine Addiction Affects the Brain

Ketamine can affect the brain by changing the spatial memory within the brain and altering the hippocampal nerves.

Ketamine changes glutamate, which helps the brain with memory, perception of pain, regulation of emotions, and long and short-term memory. Plus, studies have shown that ketamine can influence how the GABA receptors work, which controls a person’s anxiety levels and fear.

Taking too much ketamine, or becoming addicted to ketamine, can lead to changes in cognitive behavior in the prefrontal cortex, sensory information processing in the parietal lobe, processing of visual information in the occipital lobe, memory retention in the limbic system, and heart rate/body temperature regulation in the brain stem.

Furthermore, studies have shown long-term ketamine use can lead to a degradation of brain cells 4+ years after use.

What Is the Personality of a Ketamine Addict?

Typically those who are addicted to substances have characteristics that can indicate a person might have trouble with ketamine or substance use in the future.

Those with ketamine addiction might have impulsivity. Those who are impulsive might be less likely to say ‘no’ to offers or lack the responsibility and discipline it takes to stop using ketamine after the prescription runs out.

A ketamine addict might also have an anxious personality. An anxious personality might cause a person to need medication for depression or anxiety, which can lead to a ketamine prescription. Since ketamine can help calm someone down and lead to relaxation, it might entice a person with chronic anxiety to continue using or abusing the drug.

Thirdly, a ketamine addict might be apathetic toward how others feel. Sometimes, those who are addicted to substances put their own needs, wants, and lifestyle consistently above their acquaintances, friends, or family.

Lastly, a person addicted to ketamine might not have the coping skills or personality to self-regulate.

Is Ketamine Addiction a Mental Health Issue?

Yes, ketamine addiction is a serious mental health issue. Addiction is a severe mental condition that affects a person’s ability to do anything else besides take a substance or find ways to procure it. Addiction eclipses everything in the person’s life that was previously enjoyable or necessary for a well-rounded lifestyle.

One of the first ways to seek help or get help for a loved one is to have an intervention. This can either be an intervention for yourself to convince yourself why you should work on finding a therapist or you can speak with a loved one and describe why you think they may need help.

Next, attending rehab and addiction counseling is often the best way to combat ketamine addiction. This can be an inpatient or outpatient program, depending on the severity of the person’s addiction.

What Mental Illnesses Go Hand in Hand With Ketamine Addiction?

Ketamine is often used to treat depressive disorder, bipolar disorder, anxiety, or suicidal ideologies. People with co-occurring disorders can find treatment centers specifically tailored to those with multiple diagnoses by using medication and behavioral therapy.

How Do I Stop My Ketamine Addiction?

There are certain ways to stop or cure a ketamine addiction to avoid long-term health problems.

Can Ketamine Addiction Ever Be Cured?

Ketamine addiction can be cured. Individuals who find themselves, or their loved ones, suffering from addiction need to seek help from medical professionals. The best way to help someone with an addiction is to attend inpatient or outpatient treatment.

Ketamine addiction is typically treated by first having an intervention with the individual. This can help the person realize they need help and they have resources to use to get clean.

Next, a person with ketamine addiction will benefit from attending a rehab facility. Since ketamine addiction is largely psychological due to how it affects the brain, it can have drastic withdrawal symptoms. Being in an inpatient facility during the initial rehab can help a person avoid relapsing or hurting themselves during the tough withdrawal.

Along with inpatient therapy, a person addicted to ketamine might benefit from cognitive behavioral therapy, family therapy, attending outpatient programs, and learning coping skills.

What Is the Most Common Treatment for Ketamine Addiction?

The most common treatment for a person with a ketamine addiction is usually the following steps:

  • Medical detoxification
  • Behavioral therapy
  • Psychosocial interventions
  • Medication
  • Family counseling
  • Support groups for help

What Can I Replace Ketamine With?

There are a few alternatives that can work similarly to ketamine:

  • NMDA receptor — An NMDA receptor antagonist helps with depression in patients, offering a similar alternative to ketamine.
  • Lanicemine — Lanicemine is an NMDA receptor antagonist that provides short-term antidepressant qualities.
  • Nitrous oxide — This NMDA receptor antagonism improves depressive symptoms at 2 hours and 24 hours compared to a placebo.
  • Memantine — This noncompetitive NMDA antagonist does not have the stronger side effects or detoxification effects as ketamine but may not be as effective as increasing the neurotrophic factor as ketamine.
  • D-cycloserine — This functional NMDA receptor works well in helping with antidepressant effects and does not provide any psychomimetic side effects.
  • Rapastinel — This partial agonist reduces depression between 2 hours and seven days and provides no harmful side effects.
  • 4-chlorokynurenine — This selective antagonist provides antidepressant effects but does not provide any rewarding effects as ketamine.

Additional Addictions To Be Aware Of

There are a few more addictions to be aware of that can coincide with ketamine addiction or occur on their own.

  • Hydrocodone Addiction: Hydrocodone is a pain-relief narcotic that minimizes pain in the central nervous system. Hydrocodone addiction occurs when a person develops a dependence after taking the drug for a long period of time.
  • Tramadol Addiction: Tramadol is a short-term medication used for relieving pain. If a person stops taking Tramadol cold turkey, they may develop withdrawal symptoms, which can increase the likelihood of long-term use and addiction.
  • Morphine Addiction: Morphine is used as a chronic pain analgesic. Long-term use of this drug can lead to dependence and addiction.

Wrapping Up

Understanding ketamine, its uses, side effects, withdrawal symptoms, and addiction signs can help loved ones keep themselves and others safe. By noticing the signs and symptoms of addiction, loved ones can seek the proper help to get clean and avoid long-term health complications.


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