Ketamine, a dissociative-type hallucinogen, produces strange and unusual effects compared to other more commonly used illicit drugs, like opiates and stimulants. A ketamine “high” leaves users in a near comatose-like state where hallucinations, both good and bad, take over the mind’s consciousness. In spite of its unusual effects, ketamine nonetheless carries a risk for abuse and addiction.
As with any form of addiction, drug cravings play a pivotal role in driving compulsive drug-using behaviors. While hallucinogen drugs as a group typically carry a low risk for abuse and addiction, ketamine exists as one of the few exceptions to the rule. Understanding how ketamine addiction develops can go a long way towards helping you take control of drug-using behaviors before ketamine’s effects weaken your ability to act.
While users may experience both bad and good drug “trips” when using ketamine, the more pleasurable experiences can feel transcendent in nature, producing a sense of extraordinary insight and euphoria. According to Texas A & M University, ketamine effects develop out of its ability to alter glutamate and dopamine levels in the brain, chemicals that play central roles in regulating brain electrical activity, pleasure, sensory perception and consciousness. Ketamine’s addiction potential stems from gradual changes to the brain’s chemical system over the course of ongoing drug use.
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Much like the bingeing behaviors that develop out of cocaine and amphetamine abuse, the brain requires larger and larger doses of ketamine in order to produce the drug’s desired effects. With frequent ketamine use, the brain reduces its own neurotransmitter outputs to accommodate the drug’s effects and so requires larger doses of ketamine over time to produce a “high” effect. Consequently, the brain’s tolerance for ketamine will continue to increase for as long as a person keeps using the drug.
Ketamine Sensitization & Addiction
The brain readily integrates ketamine’s effects within its own chemical workings to the point where dopamine-regulated areas come to rely on ketamine to function normally. In addition to dopamine’s role in managing pain/pleasure sensations, the brain reward center bases a person’s motivations and overall behavior on the amount of dopamine that flows through it at any given time.
According to the British Medical Bulletin, the drug cravings that come with ketamine addiction result from a process known as sensitization. Sensitization has to do with the brain reward system’s response in the absence of the drug.
During the course of ketamine abuse, the reward system comes to view the drug’s effects as essential to promoting a person’s overall well-being based on the repeated dopamine surges that occur when using the drug. When “needed” amounts of the drug are lacking, drug cravings occur.
In effect, the reward system becomes “sensitized” to ketamine’s effects, focusing a person’s attention, motivation and behavior on getting and using the drug. Combine this process with the brain’s growing tolerance for the drug, and a ketamine addiction can easily take on a life of its own.
While ketamine’s addiction potential runs considerably lower than that of opiate and stimulant drugs, it nonetheless produces the same damaging effects in a person’s life once a full-blown ketamine addiction takes hold.
Without needed treatment help, the “need” for ketamine will systematically destroy a person’s life just like any other type of addictive substance.
If you suspect you or someone you know may be struggling with ketamine addiction and need help finding a treatment program that meets your needs, please don’t hesitate to call our toll-free helpline at 800-601-3889 to speak with one of our addictions specialists.