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Is Ketamine Addictive?

Ketamine is an anesthetic (pain-relieving) drug, and in recent years, it has become commonly abused. Street names for ketamine (usually referred to by these names when the drug is being abused) include Special K, Green K, Super K, Super acid, Jet, Kit Kat, Dorothy, Vitamin K, and Cat Valium. Ketamine is a dissociative drug, meaning that it is a psychedelic, and is characterized “by distorted sensory perceptions and feelings of disconnection or detachment from the environment and self.” A dissociative drug gives the user a feeling of being detached from reality. Because of ketamine’s dissociative and anesthetic properties, the drug is used in surgery and veterinary medicine. When used in these situations, the patient experiences both amnesia (memory loss) and analgesia (pain relief). The effects of ketamine depend on the dose, as small doses surface stimulant effects, and medium to large doses produce an out-of-body experience. If the dose is high enough, there is a risk of death.

Ketamine Abuse

Ketamine can be taken in a liquid or powdered form, “taken in pill form or smoked but it is usually injected or snorted. Ketamine may be administered orally, rectally, intranasally, IV, IM, or intrathecally.” The liquid and powder forms of ketamine are the most dangerous because they can be disguised in a drink and become a “date-rape” drug. Ketamine is frequently abused, despite its unpleasant side effects. Many people continue to use ketamine simply because it is addictive, and they feel they need it to survive. Systemic symptoms that arise from ketamine abuse can include GI troubles, depression, amnesia, and respiratory distress. It is common for ketamine users to experience severe urinary tract symptoms.

While ketamine is used in a medical setting to reduce pain in patients, ketamine use turns into abuse when it is used without physician consent or medical reasons. Once ketamine abuse begins, it is imperative to get help immediately to prevent addiction. Health professionals can provide the best support for ketamine abuse through counseling and immediate neurobiological treatment.

Effects and Dangers of Ketamine

When ketamine enters the body, it distorts “the perception of sight and sound while producing a feeling of detachment from one’s self and surrounding.” The sudden onset of ketamine’s effects explains why it is often used as a date-rape drug. Ketamine gained a notorious reputation as a “club drug” in the 1990s when it was used to induce delirium. Ketamine users are easily identified because they are usually immobile and numb. If you see someone at a club or party displaying this behavior, help them right away. One reason that ketamine frequently leads to overdose is its strong and sudden effect on the body, which causes the individual to feel out of control and disconnected from reality. The potency of ketamine has led to many accidental overdoses. In fact, “accidental overdose is fairly common as some users underestimate its potency.” There is also a tendency for “individuals who abuse ketamine…to binge on ketamine which is a behavior frequently seen in cocaine addicts.” If even a small dose of ketamine is combined with alcohol or other drugs, it may result in an overdose.

Signs and Symptoms of Ketamine Addiction

Recognizing the role of addiction is critical in understanding the dangers that ketamine users expose themselves to. What is most interesting about ketamine addiction is that many users are drawn to the drug for its psychological effects rather than its physical effects. Like codeine and anabolic steroids, ketamine is a schedule III controlled substance. Schedule III drugs may cause physical dependence, but they are more likely to lead to psychological dependence. Ketamine is classified as a schedule III substance because of its potential for addiction and abuse.

The cognitive deficits that come with ketamine drug use make it difficult for its users to realize how harmful their addiction is. The user may not recognize their addiction, but there are signs and symptoms for family members to look out for, including:

  • Constant distraction
  • Consistent drowsiness, fatigue, and nodding off
  • Trouble concentrating
  • Lack of motivation
  • Lethargy
  • Decreased sensitivity to physical pain
  • Numbness
  • Immobility
  • Lack of coordination
  • Slurred speech
  • Rosy, blotchy, or red skin
  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Insomnia
  • Frequent UTIs
  • Bladder pain
  • Urinary incontinence (loss of bladder control)

Ketamine carries a risk for addiction. Financial burden, family dynamics, and legal consequences can make it difficult for someone to quit ketamine. Fortunately, at Boardwalk Recovery Center, we can help combat all aspects of addiction, including those involving ketamine.

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