Ketamine abuse can lead to the development of dependence and addiction, as well as a host of serious health conditions, like ketamine bladder and ulcerative cystitis, which can cause serious or even permanent damage.
Knowing the signs and symptoms can help you discover whether you have an issue or help you give the necessary push a loved one needs to get diagnosed and professionally treated.
Why Do We Need to Understand the Symptoms of Ketamine Addiction?
Ketamine is used as an off-label medicine for chronic pain and the treatment of mental health disorders. It also finds limited use in the treatment of alcohol withdrawal and is a “party drug” taken in clubs and social gatherings.
Not only will the unsupervised use of ketamine potentially lead to addiction due to its powerful psychological effect, but persistent consumption can cause severe damage to a person’s health. Since the dangers of addiction and the health risks are so large, it’s essential to understand the signs for any of them to take action as quickly as possible.
If you suspect that you, a loved one, or somebody in your community is struggling with ketamine addiction and abuse, then greater awareness of the symptoms and problems that arise can be a life-changing force for good.
The Unique Signs of Addiction, Abuse and Dependence
The terms addiction, abuse and dependence are often described interchangeably, but there are some differences you should be aware of.
Addiction to a substance describes a mental and emotional state where the person’s brain chemistry has been altered due to the constant use of a substance. As a result, the person struggling with addiction will experience intense cravings for the drug and become much more impulsive, irrational, and desperate to get a dose of the substance no matter what.
Abuse of a substance, like ketamine, describes a scenario where a person goes against medical advice and the prescription they’ve received. Ketamine is sometimes prescribed to treat major depressive episodes, bipolar, other mental health disorders and cases of chronic pain. Ketamine abuse would happen if a person takes doses higher than the recommended or continues after the prescription is over.
Dependence on a substance can be both physical and psychological and usually refers to developing tolerance to the drug, which makes the body dependent on future use. With ketamine, a person can become physically dependent and experience withdrawal symptoms if they stop, and they can also be psychologically dependent, craving the drug due to its short-lasting coping effect.
Physical Signs of Ketamine Dependence
Ketamine has a powerful effect, altering brain chemistry and even changing brain structure. Once the body gets adapted to the current dose, it builds tolerance and dependence that ought to be maintained to function normally.
The physical signs of ketamine dependence can be seen in the withdrawal symptoms that arise if the substance is stopped and the harm to one’s health due to the harmful chemicals.
Physical signs of ketamine dependence:
- Nausea and vomiting
- Dizziness and disorientation
- Muscle weakness and impaired motor function
- Sweating and shivering
- Stomachaches and constipation
- Heart palpitations and increased blood pressure
- Slurred speech
- Blurred or double vision
- Spasms, contractions and even seizures
- Brain fog
- Forgetfulness and memory issues
- Urination issues (ketamine bladder)
Psychological Signs of Ketamine Addiction
Ketamine is very often used recreationally in group settings as a party drug because of its highly intoxicating effect. The drug has a relatively short-lasting effect, which is why many people take multiple doses, one after the other, to maintain and enhance the “high” they get and avoid any potential crash.
Taking the drug will create a powerful feeling of tranquillity and peace, create hallucinations, and even give an illusion of being detached from yourself.
The effect arises from how ketamine encourages the production of brain chemicals like endorphins, serotonin, and dopamine. Chronic use can disrupt optimal cognitive function, mask other psychological problems, and exacerbate symptoms of other mental health conditions.
Psychological signs of ketamine addiction:
- Symptoms of depression
- Restlessness and agitation
- Sleep issues and insomnia
- Numbness and apathy
- Loss of interest in passions, hobbies and other people
- Lack of motivation
- Mood swings
- Reduced ability to feel physical pain
- Delirium and hallucinations
- Detachment from the self and reality
Behavioural and Social Consequences of Ketamine Abuse
Ketamine abuse not only changes a person’s physiology and mental health condition but can also lead to significant behavioural changes. The changes arise as a consequence of the direct effect ketamine has on a person, various improvised strategies to maintain the addiction and hide its effects, and the irrationality which comes due to the intense cravings for the substance.
Although those changes may make a person appear impulsive, desperate, irrational, and excessively risk-taking, treating them with empathy and understanding is essential. Ketamine abuse is a destructive cycle where the effects of the drug disrupt support networks and other sources of fulfilment and purpose like work and hobbies, which can further entrench a person into addiction.
The behavioural and social consequences of ketamine abuse:
- Lying to doctors and fabricating reasons for another prescription
- Contacting multiple GPs to provide more supply of the substance
- Stealing or borrowing from friends and relatives
- Social distancing and isolation from friends and loved ones
- Taking a dismissive and defensive stance whenever confronted
- Impulsive and obsessive behaviour to get another dose
- Loss of passion and motivation for previously loved activities
- Issues with concentration and productivity at university or at work
- Taking the substance in dangerous situations (driving, biking, etc.)
- The constant need to go to the bathroom
- Complaints about urinary tract issues
Symptoms of Ketamine Withdrawal
The unfortunate reality of ketamine abuse is that after a certain point, it’s not the effect that keeps a person addicted but the fear of the severe withdrawal symptoms they may experience. Since the substance leads to significant changes in brain chemistry, the body not only gets dependent on the continuous use of ketamine but goes into a state of shock and chaos if it suddenly stops receiving the needed dose.
Withdrawal symptoms will vary in intensity based on the severity of the addiction, current health condition, and what remedies are offered during the withdrawal period. The symptoms are both physical and psychological, likely exacerbating other mental health disorders and conditions a person may have.
Symptoms of ketamine withdrawal:
- Heart palpations
- Chest pains
- Fatigue and lethargy
- Gurgling sounds and vomiting
- Muscle spasms and shaking
- Constipation and stomachaches
- Sweating and increased body temperature
- Brain fog
- Mood swings
- Intense and overwhelming cravings
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Symptoms of Ketamine Overdose
The longer a person abuses ketamine, the higher the chance of overdose. Since the body builds tolerance to the drug, higher and more frequent doses are required to achieve the same “high”, which increases the chance of consuming more than the body can handle in a short period of time.
Furthermore, trying to stop and deal with withdrawal symptoms can create a “yo-yo” effect where the person relapses with a huge dose that can also risk overdose.
It goes without saying that an overdose is a life-threatening situation that can end with the person dying or receiving severe organ damage that can be permanent in some very serious cases. Knowing the symptoms of ketamine overdose can be essential to act as quickly as possible and get the necessary help.
Symptoms of ketamine overdose:
- Complete detachment from reality and hallucinations
- Shallow breathing and slowed heart rate
- Chest pains
- Gasping and inability to breathe
- Clammy skin and sweating
- Severely impaired motor function and muscle weakness
- Muscle spasms and seizures
- Loss of consciousness
- Ulcerative cystitis
How Is Ketamine Dependence Treated?
Ketamine dependence and addiction can be treated with an inpatient or outpatient programme with the support of addiction experts.
Some people choose an outpatient programme due to the lesser time commitment, higher financial accessibility, and a belief that they can handle the issue mostly on their own.
Although it could be effective in some cases, serious cases of ketamine addiction, especially ones with other co-occurring conditions and dependence on more than one substance, will require enrolment into a residential centre to ensure a maximum chance of defeating addiction.
Committing fully to rehabilitation, being isolated from triggers and stressful environments, and getting support 24/7 creates the environment necessary to foster recovery.
A rehabilitation programme in a residential centre involves an evidence-based detox process where physical dependence is treated and eliminated, various therapeutic options to alleviate mental health, address the true reasons behind addiction, discover coping mechanisms, and various other productive, and recreational activities.
A comprehensive plan will likely include an option for aftercare so the person can stay accountable and motivated even after leaving the clinic.
- Lahti, Adrienne C, et al. “Effects of Ketamine in Normal and Schizophrenic Volunteers.” Nature News, Nature Publishing Group, 20 Feb. 2001, https://www.nature.com/articles/1395686.
- Anderson, Danyon J, et al. “Ketamine-Induced Cystitis: A Comprehensive Review of the Urologic Effects of This Psychoactive Drug.” Health Psychology Research, U.S. National Library of Medicine, 15 Sept. 2022, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC9476224/.
- Strous, Jurriaan F. M., et al. “Brain Changes Associated with Long-Term Ketamine Abuse, a Systematic Review.” Frontiers, Frontiers, 10 Jan. 2022, https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fnana.2022.795231/full.