Ketamine Addiction: Definition, Symptoms, Effects, and Treatment

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Ketamine is a drug gaining fast notoriety with America’s young population. In 2020, 1.3% of 12th graders were found to have abused the drug for recreational purposes—this number was at 0.7% only a year prior.

Widely known for its medicinal properties, ketamine’s effects have made it a popular addition to the party scene. It has also joined the ranks of GHB (gamma hydroxybutyrate) and Rohypnol (Flunitrazepam) as a date rape drug.

While ketamine isn’t the most fatal of substances when used alone, developing an addiction to this drug can greatly affect the quality of life.

There are different ways to identify a person addicted to ketamine. We’ll be examining the symptoms to look out for, and likely causes of ketamine addiction. To help with overcoming this condition, this guide will look into trusted treatment methods for a ketamine habit.

If you or a loved one are struggling with substance use or addiction, contact the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) National Helpline at 1-800-662-4357 for information on support and treatment facilities in your area.

For more mental health resources, see our National Helpline Database.

What Is Ketamine?

Ketamine is a compound with many potential benefits for the treatment of mental disorders as well as many risks, making it a "hot topic" in the field of psychiatry. Ketamine was first used in medical procedures for anesthesia in the 1960s. It has also been implicated for the treatment of psychotic symptoms in schizophrenia, treatment of depression, and treatment of addiction—although ketamine itself is a commonly misused drug.

The FDA first approved ketamine for its anesthetic property. In addition, the FDA now recognizes the antidepressant benefits of ketamine when it is combined with oral depressants.

As a Schedule III drug, ketamine is available for medicinal use with the right prescription.

Off-label use of ketamine has benefits in pain relief and can provide sedative effects. Leaning into the unofficial uses of ketamine, this drug is often abused to provide effects similar to PCP

Ketamine can produce a trance-like state in users. Coupled with its ability to produce an out-of-body experience, this drug can warp sight and sound. 

While users report feeling complete bliss on ketamine, consuming high amounts of this drug can produce effects similar to a near-death experience.

Ketamine can disrupt the senses, judgment, and motor function for up to 24 hours after use. These effects have seen a growing and worrying use of this drug for date rape.

Because of its addictive nature, this drug is more commonly used in veterinary clinics to sedate animals. Ketamine is available as an injectable liquid but is also abused in powder form. It is known by the slang names: Special K, Vitamin K, Purple, Kit Kat, Super Acid, Jet K, and more.

Symptoms of Ketamine Addiction

Users tend to form a ketamine habit very quickly. This is because of a tolerance build-up, where larger amounts of ketamine are required to produce the desired high. When a person becomes addicted to ketamine, the following signs may be observed:

  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Garbled speech
  • Tiredness and apathy
  • Lack of response to physical pain
  • Poor motor coordination
  • Skin redness
  • Trouble sleeping
  • Bladder pain
  • Difficulty holding urine
  • Excessive salivation
  • Unexplained bruises that occur during intoxication

Anyone addicted to ketamine will find it difficult to go about daily activities without their fix. When work, school, and personal relationships are being put on hold to satisfy the need for this drug, this could indicate a ketamine addiction.

Effects of Ketamine Addiction

Ketamine is a dangerous drug to build a habit around. On one hand, it is largely non-fatal when used alone—there is little on record of a lethal dose of this drug in humans. However, because it is usually combined with other substances like alcohol (which also has sedative effects), or hallucinogens like LSD and PCP, this drug can be fatal.

This is regardless of the fact that ketamine has a relatively short half-life (the time required for active substances in the body to reduce by half). Within 2.5 hours, at least half of the active ingredients in ketamine consumed will have left the body.

When a person is addicted to ketamine, it can produce dangerous effects for the body and mind. People who have used this drug report harsh flashbacks even weeks after the drug has been cleared from the body. This drug has been linked to conditions like depression, hysteria, memory loss, and high blood pressure in regular users.

What Happens During a Ketamine Overdose?

While forming a ketamine habit is easy, just as simple is experiencing a ketamine overdose. 

Because ketamine is widely consumed in liquid and powder form, or mixed in these forms with other stimulants—there is a high chance that a person using this drug has little to no idea of how much is being consumed.

This leaves plenty of room for excessive amounts of ketamine to be taken, amounts which can lead to an overdose. Likewise, because snorting and injecting ketamine are common ways to consume ketamine, this permits its quick entry into the bloodstream.

The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that, when injected, lethal doses of ketamine begin around 11 mg/kg of body weight. This could be a dosage of about 680 mg for a person around 60 kg.

When a person is experiencing a ketamine overdose, the following can be observed:

  • Nausea
  • Extreme confusion
  • Chest pain
  • Paralysis
  • Violent hallucinations
  • Loss of consciousness
  • Fluid or other objects in the airways
  • Epileptic seizures
  • High blood pressure

While ketamine overdoses are not strongly linked to death, consuming large amounts of this drug can be fatal.

Treatment for Ketamine Addiction

When ketamine becomes essential for daily functioning, a life without this drug can seem impossible. However, with ketamine being responsible for serious physical and psychological challenges, finding the strength to break free of this drug must be a top priority.

To recover from ketamine addiction, this strength doesn’t have to be found alone. Rehabilitation centers can help with different treatment options, detox programs, and other necessary assistance for overcoming dependency.

Likewise, cognitive behavioral therapy can assist with changing the patterns that encourage the cravings and use of this drug. 

In cases where withdrawal symptoms like fatigue, anxiety, and depression, irregular heartbeats, tremors, and nightmares are too much to bear, seeking hospitalization can help with managing these changes.

Where possible, the support of friends and family is also fundamental when recovering from ketamine addiction.

A Word From Verywell

Addiction, in just about every respect can be dangerous. Ketamine, whose abuse only encourages more of its use is no exception. If you think you may have a ketamine addiction, reaching out for help is not a weakness. Getting support from friends, family, and professional facilities can assist you in overcoming addictive behaviors.

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14 Sources
Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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