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Ketamine Withdrawal Effects & the Risk of Developing Addiction

As one of the most powerful dissociative-type hallucinogens, ketamine produces “other-worldly” effects through altered states of consciousness and warped sensory perceptions. In effect, ketamine is capable of altering the brain’s chemical makeup in profound ways.

With regular ketamine use, ketamine withdrawal becomes par for the course as the drug’s effects take a toll on the brain’s regulatory capacity. These developments all set the stage for addiction to develop with ketamine withdrawal playing a central role in driving the addiction cycle.

How Ketamine Works

Ketamine Withdrawal Effects

Depression and anxiety are common ketamine withdrawal effects.

Ketamine produces varied effects depending on dosage amount. Small doses bring on feelings of calm and relaxation, while large doses all but incapacitate a person’s body as the mind takes off into a world of its own.

According to New York University at Steinhardt, these effects result from disruptions in glutamate metabolism rates, a chemical that regulates brain electrical activity.

Ketamine also increases dopamine production output which plays into the hallucinatory effects of the drug. Over time, this degree of disruption alters the brain’s chemical system and paves the way for ketamine withdrawal effects to develop.

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Ketamine Withdrawal Effects

Withdrawal Symptoms

Ketamine withdrawal symptoms develop out of the brain’s growing dependence on the drug’s effects. Instead of the physical-type withdrawal symptoms commonly experienced with other addictive drugs, ketamine withdrawal takes the form of emotional distress, such as:

  • Feelings of depression
  • Bouts of anxiety
  • Irritability
  • Inability to experience joy or contentment without the drug’s effects
  • Intense drug cravings

These symptoms continue to worsen in severity over time as the brain’s chemical equilibrium skews further and further out of balance. Rather than wait for ketamine withdrawal effects to subside, regular drug users rather ingest more ketamine as means for gaining relief from uncomfortable symptoms. This practice only works to perpetuate continued drug use and eventual addiction.

Tolerance Level Increases

Ketamine’s chemical makeup integrates easily within the brain’s chemical processes to the point where neurotransmitter-producing cells become less sensitive to ketamine’s effects over time, according to the University of Texas at Austin. As this happens, users must keep ingesting larger drug doses to experience a “high.” In effect, the combined effects of ketamine withdrawal and increasing tolerance levels puts a person right on track for developing an addiction problem.

Why Ketamine Withdrawal Symptoms Can Be Easy to Miss

Psychological Dependence

Psychological dependence works in much the same way as physical dependence, only the dependency takes root within the mind as opposed to the body. With regular drug use, the brain chemical imbalances brought on by repeated ketamine withdrawal and rising tolerance levels start to impair brain function at a core level, affecting the executive functions related to thinking and emotions.

Psychological dependence lies at the root of addiction, driving users to engage in compulsive drug-using behaviors regardless of any negative consequences that result.


While resuming drug use as a means to relief ketamine withdrawal discomfort may seem harmless enough, this practice sets the addiction cycle in motion. With each successive withdrawal episode, it becomes that much harder to maintain any sense of control over your drug use. Once ketamine addiction takes hold, the brain’s “need” for the drug takes over in full force.

If you suspect you or someone you know may be struggling with ketamine withdrawal effects and need help finding treatment that meets your needs, please feel free to call our toll-free helpline at 800-915-1270 (Who Answers?) to speak with one of our addictions specialist.

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