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How Ketamine Withdrawal Drives Continued Drug Use

As a group, hallucinogen drugs share certain similarities in terms of their ability to incite out-of-body experiences. Ketamine, one of a handful of drugs belonging to the dissociative class of hallucinogens, also produces out-of-body “trips” along with a few other less favorable effects.

According to the U. S. National Library of Medicine, ketamine effects run the gamut, producing sedative, stimulant and opiate-like effects. Ketamine withdrawal develops out of these widespread results, leaving users susceptible to tolerance level changes and eventual addiction with ongoing use.

Ketamine Effects

Continued Drug Use

Anxiety and irritability caused by withdrawal make it difficult to avoid further ketamine abuse.

As with any psychoactive agent, ketamine interferes with the brain’s normal chemical pathways to produce its effects. Once inside the brain, ketamine targets dopamine and glutamate chemical activities, increasing dopamine outputs and decreasing glutamate outputs.

Dopamine plays a central role in regulating cognitive processes, emotions and pain/pleasure sensations. Glutamate coordinates information processing between the brain and the rest of the body. Ketamine’s effects on these systems account for the out-of-body experience the drug produces.

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, these interactions disrupt the brain’s normal chemical environment, and in turn incite growing chemical imbalances throughout. Ketamine withdrawal effects stem from developing brain chemical imbalances.

Ketamine Withdrawal Effects

Ketamine withdrawal occurs whenever a person tries to reduce or stop using the drug after using it on a frequent, ongoing basis. In effect, the brain has come to rely on ketamine effects to function.

Unlike other drug types like opiates and stimulants, ketamine withdrawal most disrupts a person’s psychological well-being, producing symptoms along the lines of:

  • Mood swings
  • Anxiety episodes
  • Severe depression
  • Irritability
  • Restlessness

In an effort to gain relief from ketamine withdrawal, users may well resume drug use as means to self-medicate uncomfortable symptoms.

Brain Tolerance Increases

Compared to other hallucinogen-type drugs, the brain develops a tolerance to ketamine’s effects at a fast rate. As brain tolerance levels rise, it takes more of the drug to produce its desired effects.

According to the University of Maryland, ketamine tolerance levels rise so quickly as to drive users to engage in bingeing behaviors where multiple doses of the drug are ingested at one time. Consequently, increasing dosage levels only work to intensity ketamine withdrawal episodes, which in turn incite more frequent drug use.

How Treatment Centers Help with Ketamine Withdrawal


Perhaps the most dangerous consequence of ketamine withdrawal lies in the addictive potential of the drug. Rather than produce a physical dependence, chronic ketamine use causes a psychological dependence to take shape.

With psychological dependence, users have reached a point where they “believe” they need the drug to cope with daily life stressors and pressures. This belief stems from the drug’s damaging effects on the brain’s cognitive, learning and emotion-based centers in response to developing chemical imbalances. In essence, a developing addiction only adds fuel to the fire as far as ketamine withdrawal and continued drug use goes.

Treatment Considerations

Ketamine withdrawal episodes play a pivotal role in promoting continued drug, while at the same time creating conditions that make it all but impossible to stop drug use without needed treatment help. If you or someone you know struggles with ketamine withdrawal episodes and have further questions, please feel free to call our toll-free helpline at 800-915-1270 (Who Answers?) to speak with one of our addictions specialists.

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