Ketamine Abuse & Addiction
Ketamine is a hallucinogen with dissociative effects.1, 2 It is a Schedule III drug, which means that it has medically accepted uses but also has potential for abuse, including physical and psychological dependence.1 While ketamine has a low to moderate risk for physical dependence, it has a high risk for psychological addiction.1
Ketamine can be dangerous; its use can be a risk factor for sexual assault, falls, accidents, and the development of addiction.1,2,3,4Ketamine addiction can have long-term negative effects on the body and brain.3, 4 Combining ketamine with alcohol or other drugs can increase the risk of side effects or overdose, which can be fatal.3
What is Ketamine Used For?
Ketamine can be used for several medical purposes.3, 5 It can function as a pain- relieving medication or an anesthetic, even though it is not considered a tranquilizer, and may be used as an antidepressant in severe depression that has not responded to other forms of treatment.1, 3, 5
Ketamine is also known as a “club drug” when taken recreationally.1 The drug can be snorted, taken orally, smoked along with cigarettes or marijuana, vaporized, mixed into beverages, or injected.1, 2, 3 Ketamine’s effect can be highly reinforcing, and it is used recreationally due to its hallucinogenic and dissociative effects, as well as for its mood- elevating effects.2, 4, 5
What are the Side Effects of Ketamine?
Ketamine affects the mind and body in various ways.1 (p68), 3 (p12), 3 (p16) Some of these effects appear shortly after ingestion, but others occur when ketamine is used frequently over time.
Ketamine effects can be seen as positive, which make it more likely to be abused.1 (p68), 3 (p15) These effects can include:
- A sense of calm and relaxation.1, 2
- Altered perception of time, space, and self.3
- Dissociation, or feeling detached from reality.1, 2, 3
- Elevated mood.3
- Hallucinations.1 , 2
- Pain relief.1, 4
Short-Term Side Effects of Ketamine
Ketamine use can also be dangerous, even if it is used only once. Combining ketamine with other substances, especially depressants, can increase the risk of harmful side effects and overdose.5 Side effects that can be dangerous include:
- Agitation.5, 6
- Anxiety.3, 4
- Cognitive and attention deficits.3
- Elevated blood pressure and pulse.1, 2, 3
- Greater risk of falls or accidents.4
- Impaired judgment and impulse control.3
- Memory loss.1, 2, 3
- Raised body temperature.3
- A state similar to psychosis, including paranoia, hallucination, trouble organizing thoughts, and emotional distancing.3, 6
- Loss of consciousness.2, 5
- Breathing difficulty.2 , 5
Ketamine usually starts working within 30 minutes of ingestion, with different methods of ingestion affecting how quickly the effects appear.4 The effects of ketamine generally last for one hour.1, 4
Long-Term Side Effects of Ketamine
Over time, chronic ketamine use can affect the body and mind.2 (p10), 3 (p18-19), 5 (p1-2) These long-term side effects can include:
- Cognitive issues, including problems with attention.1, 3
- Depression.1 , 2 , 5
- Flashbacks.1, 3, 4
- Greater risk of heart attack or stroke.4
- Heart problems.5
- Increased tolerance.4
- Kidney issues.2 , 5
- Memory deficits.2 , 3, 6
- Bladder issues, including pain and ulceration.2, 4
Ketamine Abuse Symptoms
Addiction is a complex illness that generally involves both physical and behavioral symptoms.7 It is characterized by an inability to stop using even after experiencing serious distress or interference in the ability to function in one or more aspects of life.7 Symptoms that occur within the body are known as physical symptoms and may be observed simply by looking at a person. Behavioral symptoms affect the way a person acts.
Physical Symptoms of Ketamine Addiction
Although a diagnosis can’t be based solely on physical symptoms, these can be a warning sign that you or a loved one are struggling with a ketamine addiction.7 Red flags of a problem with ketamine can include:
- Chronic cough if the drug is smoked, stuffy nose or nosebleeds if it is snorted, or abscesses and track marks if it is injected.1
- Changes in eating, hygiene, or sleep patterns.8
- Decreased response to painful stimuli.1, 4
- Dilated pupils.1
- Increased saliva and tear production.1
- Sedation.1, 2
- Slurred speech.1, 2
- Stiffened muscles.1
- Uncontrollable and rapid motion of the eyes.1
Behavioral Symptoms of Ketamine Addiction
Behavioral symptoms of ketamine use can include:
- Absences from school or work or poor performance.8
- Buying ketamine illegally.
- Changing peer groups or isolating.7
- Isolating or behaving suspiciously.8
- Legal issues due to ketamine use.8
- Lying about how much you use.
- Mood swings.3 , 8
- New, unexplained financial difficulties.
- Prioritizing ketamine use over responsibilities at home, school, or work.7 , 8
- Quitting hobbies you loved due to ketamine use.7
- Responding to hallucinations.1, 2
- Strained or broken relationships due to ketamine use.7
- Sudden changes in attitude or personality.8
- Taking risks while under the influence.7 , 8
- Using more than usual.3, 7
Ketamine withdrawal generally takes between 4 and 5 days to resolve.5 Medical detox can help to alleviate some of the symptoms of withdrawal through around-the-clock monitoring by medical staff.6 While there are no specific medications approved for treating ketamine withdrawal, medical detox allows staff to prescribe medications that can relieve some of the more uncomfortable or dangerous symptoms of withdrawal, and watch for potential complications associated with the process of withdrawal.2, 6, 9 Medical detox is only the first step on the road to recovery and should be followed by additional treatment to provide a path to long-term sobriety.9
Detox for Ketamine Withdrawal
While understanding the physical and behavioral symptoms of addiction can help you determine if you or someone you love truly has a problem, it is important to understand that the physical symptoms of ketamine addiction and withdrawal can be the most challenging pieces of achieving sobriety.
That is why the first phase of addiction treatment for most programs often includes detox. Detox is generally a 5-7 day period in which you are supervised by clinicians or medical staff to ensure your health and safety are preserved. You can find more information on detox here.
Are You Struggling with Ketamine Addiction?
If you are concerned that you or a loved one has an addiction to ketamine, you may find it helpful to ask the following questions:
- Do you recognize one or more of the symptoms listed above?
- Are you looking for help but are unsure of where to start?
If you answered yes to either of these questions, ketamine addiction treatment may be something to think about for yourself or your loved one.
How American Addiction Centers Can Help
As a leading addiction treatment provider in the United States, American Addiction Centers focuses on not only treating the addiction itself, but the causes that led to its development. At American Addiction Centers, treatment is specialized to meet the needs of each person.
Our Treatment Program
Our treatment model focuses on identifying any existing mental illnesses or mental health issues that may stimulate the need to cope with issues by using alcohol.
Our treatment facilities then focus on providing an initial support system for those attending treatment and teach them healthier ways to cope with their alcohol dependence.
We offer a full continuum of care that encompasses the primary types of treatment all the way from detox for those initially struggling to aftercare options like sober living, counseling sessions, and support groups for those simply maintaining their recovery.
To find out more, or to get started, American Addiction Centers operates a confidential addiction hotline available 24/7 to help people find their path to recovery.
Still Unsure About Seeking Treatment?
Learning about addiction and treatment options may feel overwhelming. If you are still unsure about how treatment works, how to ask for help, or how to get treatment, consider the following guides:
- Drug Enforcement Administration. (2017). Drugs of abuse: A DEA resource guide.
- National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2020). Commonly used drugs charts.
- World Health Organization. (2006). Critical review of ketamine.
- Centre for Addiction and Mental Health. (2012). Ketamine.
- Islam, F.A., Bhatti, J.A., & Choudhry, Z.
(2019). Recognizing and treating ketamine abuse. Current
Psychology, 18(11), 1-2.
- Center for Substance Abuse Treatment. (2006). Detoxification and substance abuse treatment.
Treatment Improvement Protocol (TIP) Series 45, DHHS Publication No. (SMA)
06-4131. Rockville, MD: Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services
- American Psychiatric Association. (2013). Diagnostic
and statistical manual of mental disorders (5th ed.). Arlington,
VA: American Psychiatric Publishing.
- Tennessee Department of Mental Health and
Substance Abuse Services. Warning signs of drug abuse.
- National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2018). Principles of drug addiction treatment: A research-based guide (3rd
- American Addiction Centers. (2020). American
- American Addiction Centers. (2020). Substance abuse treatment services.
- American Addiction Centers. (2020). Our treatment centers.