Ketamine Symptoms and Warning Signs

If someone you care about uses ketamine, it’s important to know how to recognize a problem. Ketamine abuse can cause symptoms of depression, irritability and insomnia.

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Signs of Ketamine Abuse

ketamine abuseKetamine is a dissociative tranquilizer used mostly in the veterinary field but is also abused as a recreational club drug.

Ketamine is classified as a hallucinogen. This means that when abused, ketamine has powerful hallucinogenic properties that can cause highly unpredictable results.

Ketamine affects people very differently and there is no way to know which dosage level could be dangerous.

Abusing ketamine often leads to a psychological dependence. Over time, the user develops a tolerance, meaning they have to take more to get the same effects. Signs that someone you care about may be using ketamine include:

  • Redness of the skin
  • Slurred speech
  • Depression
  • Rapid eye movements
  • Insomnia|
  • Irritability
  • Antsy behavior
  • Loss of coordination

Ketamine is a dissociative drug used as an anesthetic in veterinary practice. Dissociative drugs are hallucinogens that cause the user to feel detached from reality.

- The Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA)

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The Dangers of Ketamine

Ketamine is a schedule III controlled substance, making it illegal for recreational use. Schedule III drugs are likely to cause psychological dependence and may cause physical dependence. When someone uses the drug recreationally, they may experience serious side effects, such as:

  • Disorientation
  • Respiratory distress
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Psychotic episodes and hallucinations
  • Slowed movement
  • Impaired cognitive function
  • Numbness
  • Elevated heart rate and blood pressure
  • Slurred speech
  • Impaired judgment
  • Impaired motor function
  • Distorted perceptions of sight and sound

Bladder damage is common in ketamine addicts. Twenty-five percent of ketamine users report pain related to emptying their bladder, the urine often containing blood. Even users who only take ketamine occasionally report the sensation of “ket cramps,” or pain while urinating due to the abrasive nature of the chemicals passing through their kidneys and urinary tract. In only months of heavy use, the bladder is often destroyed.

When ketamine is abused for an extended period of time, these side effects can last well over a year.

Brain damage and impaired cognitive function can be permanent, as can kidney damage. Respiratory failure and increased heart rate can result in death.

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Recognizing a Ketamine Addiction

Some people begin using ketamine as a recreational club drug of choice. Clubbers may be looking for a mild psychedelic experience, which is why ketamine and MDMA are so commonly abused. However, chronic abuse of the drug can lead to an addiction.

As the user’s tolerance to the drug increases, he or she will use more. Prolonged ketamine abuse can lead to psychological addiction, marked by an obsession with and intense cravings for the drug.

Some of the signs of a ketamine use disorder, as defined by the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Clinical Disorders, include:

  • Problems with relationships
  • Time spent trying to acquire the drug
  • Desire to limit use
  • Lack of control over use
  • Cravings for the drug
  • Ignoring obligations and responsibilities

Psychological addiction to ketamine is characterized by a strong desire to experience the drug’s effects, including an intense psychedelic high, vivid hallucinations and the out-of-body experience known as the “K-hole.” Excessive use of the drug may lead to psychotic- and schizophrenic-like behaviors and tendencies.

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Intervention and Next Steps

Family and friends of a person who is abusing ketamine may have tried to reason with their loved one, only to be met with anger and denial. An individual who is in his or her addiction is rarely open to reasonable discussions about their problem because they do not believe they have one.

A skilled interventionist can help by guiding an effective intervention.

During the intervention, the family and friends not only confront their loved one, stating they will no enable the addiction, but offer their love and support for the addict’s treatment and recovery.

An intervention is a highly charged, emotional, and unpredictable event which should be managed by a professional interventionist. The interventionist will do pre-intervention research and interviews with the family to determine any deeply entrenched enabling behaviors and other specifics related to the person suffering from addiction.

A successful intervention culminates with the interventionist motivating the user to agree to seek treatment. Admission to a drug treatment facility typically follows immediately after the intervention ends.

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Rehab for Ketamine Addiction

Someone who has abused ketamine over a long period of time may experience dangerous withdrawal symptoms when attempting to quit. Because ketamine addiction is primarily psychological, the withdrawal symptoms mostly are too. Common symptoms include paranoia, depression and emotional imbalance.

Physical withdrawal symptoms include:

  • Hearing loss
  • Rapid heart beat
  • Loss of motor skills
  • Double vision
  • Loss of coordination
  • Rapid breathing

Although these withdrawal symptoms can be uncomfortable, most doctors don’t recommend a taper-down method. Most detox programs use a cold turkey approach, but this is recommended in a medically supervised setting due to the unpredictable nature of the withdrawal symptoms. There are medications that can help alleviate some of the withdrawal symptoms.

Inpatient treatment for ketamine dependence is often effective and includes group therapy, cognitive behavioral therapy, family therapy and often a 12-step program, such as Narcotics Anonymous (NA).

If you or someone you care about is struggling with a ketamine addiction, get in touch with a treatment provider for help.

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