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Ketamine Addiction

Ketamine addiction isn’t fully understood, but the drug is known to have at least some addiction potential. Its misuse can be dangerous regardless of whether you’re addicted to it or not. One of the major issues with ketamine use is that it can completely incapacitate a user, which can be dangerous if a person is overdosing and can’t seek help or if someone intends to victimize them.

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Is Ketamine Addictive?

Yes, ketamine is addictive, especially if someone misuses it over a prolonged period of time. They can build tolerance and physiological dependence (and subsequent withdrawal symptoms), both of which can speed up the development of a ketamine addiction.

Ketamine is an anesthetic with hallucinogenic properties, with several legitimate veterinary and human uses. It is commonly misused as a club or party drug. It is also sometimes used to facilitate sexual assault as a date rape drug. 

While ketamine should only be used if and as prescribed, people who misuse it should be aware that ketamine is likely to incapacitate you for an hour or more if misused. It can greatly affect your senses, judgment, and coordination for as long as a day

Who Abuses Ketamine?

The majority of ketamine abuse is done by teens and young adults, with one 2000 report suggesting individuals from 12 to 25 make up the bulk of ketamine emergency department visits. 

It is often misused so a person can have an out-of-body experience. It may also be mixed with other party drugs, such as marijuana or alcohol. 

Common Names for Ketamine

Ketamine, which is often sold under the brand name Ketaset, has several common street names, including these:

  • Special K
  • Cat Valium
  • Kit kat
  • K
  • Super acid
  • Super K
  • Purple
  • Special la coke
  • Jet
  • Vitamin K

Many, although not all, of these names play on the K in ketamine. 

What Causes Ketamine Addiction?

Ketamine addiction isn’t fully understood. The drug does seem to have at least moderate addiction potential, although it also doesn’t seem to be at a level where it could be called “highly addictive” like other drugs, such as alcohol or opioids.

Some experts have suggested ketamine’s addiction potential may be related to similarities it has with opioids despite not being an opioid itself. Understanding its exact addiction potential is likely going to be an area of greater research in the future, as it is being explored as an addiction treatment option for other types of drug misuse. 

Signs & Symptoms of Ketamine Addiction

Because the drug is relatively underresearched, the specific signs and symptoms of ketamine addiction aren’t as well identified as they are for other drugs of abuse. Some common signs of addiction include the following:

  • Continued drug use despite knowing and experiencing serious negative consequences as a result of that use
  • Stopping or reducing your engagement with activities you used to like or that are important for supporting yourself to get ketamine, use it, or recover from its use 
  • Isolating yourself from friends, family, and colleagues as a result of ketamine use
  • Experiencing physical dependence from using a drug and withdrawal if you suddenly stop taking it

How Does Ketamine Affect the Mind & Body?

Ketamine causes dissociation, leading a person to feel as if they are not in their body. It does this by acting on the central nervous system, specifically as a n-methyl-d-aspartate (NMDA) receptor antagonist

Ketamine has shown promise as an antidepressant for treatment of resistant depression and for reducing drug use. 

It can greatly reduce a person’s ability to think clearly or coordinate their movements, and people will generally have a very hazy memory of the events they experienced while under the effect of ketamine.

In a medical context, people who were administered ketamine have been described as having a calm, cooperative demeanor. However, one case study that noted a patient under the effects of ketamine having this demeanor also noted a serious, drastic change in their mood upon the cessation of ketamine, with the study calling for an examination into whether this represented typical ketamine withdrawal.

Ketamine use can cause cardiovascular and respiratory depression. It is associated with neurological, cardiovascular, psychiatric, urogenital, and abdominal symptoms with heavy use. 

At high doses, a person may experience what is called a k-hole, where they are almost completely immobilized and experience intense hallucinogenic effects that make understanding what is happening essentially impossible. Some people have described a k-hole as a state that seems between intense intoxication and a coma.

Ketamine Withdrawal

Ketamine withdrawal is poorly documented and needs to be researched further. However, based on the knowledge currently available, people who become physically dependent on ketamine and then stop taking it may experience the following:

  • Drastic mood changes, including intense agitation
  • Dysphoria
  • Anxiety
  • Heavy sweating
  • Tremors
  • Sleep disturbances
  • Drug cravings

This acute withdrawal experience is temporary, occurring because the body adjusted to repeated ketamine use and must now readjust to the body’s sober state. Exactly how long acute ketamine withdrawal and the longer, less intense withdrawal stage that follows may last isn’t clear based on current research.

Can You Overdose on Ketamine?

Heavy ketamine use can potentially result in an overdose, which can be especially dangerous if used in an unsafe setting, as a person who has heavily used ketamine will likely be unable to seek help for themself. Signs of an overdose that warrant immediately calling 911 include the following:

  • Apnea
  • Respiratory depression
  • Low blood pressure
  • Slowed heart rate
  • Stupor or extreme confusion

Even more serious symptoms include the following:

  • Stopped or very slowed breathing
  • Blued lips or fingertips
  • Clammy, pale skin
  • Heart attack
  • Seizures
  • Coma or an inability to awaken or respond

Heavy ketamine use can potentially be fatal or result in permanent brain damage. If you’re ever unsure if you or someone is overdosing, always call 911 rather than waiting to see if things worsen.

Treatment Options for Ketamine Addiction

Ketamine is an example of a drug that hasn’t had enough research done to fully optimize addiction treatment for its use. Whereas common addictions, such as opioid or alcohol addiction, have a heavy body of research treatment providers can pull from, ketamine addiction has fewer resources devoted to treating it specifically

However, there are also strategies known to broadly work in addiction treatment that experts will use to help you if you struggle with ketamine use. General treatment for a substance use disorder (addiction) is appropriate in cases of ketamine abuse.

If you experience some of the more severe symptoms associated with ketamine withdrawal, you may want to undergo treatment at a hospital or inpatient addiction treatment facility. With medical detox, you may voluntarily stay at a treatment facility under the care of experts for multiple days, as these professionals can help you safely get through your acute withdrawal period.

From there, you can work with an addiction treatment expert on the best treatment plan for your needs. It will likely involve some combination of the following treatments:

  • Behavioral counseling and therapy
  • Evaluation and treatment for co-occurring mental health conditions
  • Long-term follow-up to help prevent relapsing
  • Support group participation
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Medically Reviewed By Dr. Alison Tarlow

Dr. Alison Tarlow is a Licensed Clinical Psychologist in the States of Florida and Pennsylvania, and a Certified Addictions Professional (CAP). She has been a practicing psychologist for over 15 years. Sh... Read More

Updated March 21, 2024
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  9. To Use or Not to Use: An Update on Licit and Illicit Ketamine Use. (March 2011). Substance Abuse and Rehabilitation.
  10. Brain Changes Associated With Long-Term Ketamine Abuse, A Systematic Review. (March 2022). Frontiers in Neuroanatomy.
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