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Ketamine: How to help a loved one quit this dangerous drug.

By Tim Woodley

Is a friend or loved one struggling with ketamine misuse? Quitting the substance for good can be difficult, and it’s important to learn how to support and enable their recovery.

Today we’re going over how you can help a friend or loved one end their habit. We’ll cover why it’s beneficial to stop, withdrawal symptoms you should be careful of and practical steps you can take to support them.


Extreme ketamine use and the ‘K-hole’

"Falling into a K-hole" is the usual term for taking a high dose of ketamine. Your awareness of the world around you and your control over your own body become so profoundly impaired that you're temporarily unable to interact with others—or the world around you. One way to think about this is that the K-hole is a state between feeling extremely drunk and being in a coma.

In this state, awareness of the real world diminishes delusions and hallucinations can take over. This is usually temporary, although longer-term users may begin to show ongoing dissociative and psychotic symptoms even after the drug wears off.

Falling into a K-hole can be a frightening and intensely powerless experience for the user. The most common effects are confusion, difficulties in speaking, unexplainable experiences, floating sensations, and mind and body dissociation. The sense of powerlessness felt in a K-hole is especially true if your ability to speak is affected. One of the main risks of falling into a K-hole is that you may have difficulty coming out of the state of dissociation, meaning you may continue to feel disconnected from the world around you and from your life and you may develop ongoing symptoms of psychosis.

Seeing a friend or loved one in this state can be a very frightening and traumatic experience.

There are also shorter-term, potentially hazardous risks of the K-hole experience; it is possible to take too much and for your heart to stop. Ketamine can also cause seizures, leading to brain damage.


The dangerous medical consequences of ketamine misuse

Chris Cordell*, Help Me Stop's General Manager says: “With the increase in strength of Ketamine we are seeing more and more people calling Help Me Stop with bladder problems. Using Ketamine has some really serious consequences and I just don’t think people realise that. Using ketamine can bring about ketamine-induced ulcerative cystitis. Ketamine has a toxic effect on the lining of the bladder and so even when people are using ketamine recreationally in small amounts, it will make them want to go to the toilet more. As they start to use more of the drug, they will develop severe bladder problems that can culminate in them needing to have their bladders removed. Ketamine is traditionally used much more by younger people, so the effect of having your bladder removed ( a cystectomy) can be life-changing.

In men, the surgeon removes the bladder, prostate gland, seminal vesicles and sometimes part, or all, of the urethra. They also remove the lymph nodes close to the bladder. After a cystectomy, men may have difficulties getting or keeping an erection. This is because the prostate gland is removed and surrounding nerves may be damaged. After the operation, men will not be able to produce semen.

In women, the surgeon removes the bladder, nearby lymph nodes and the urethra. They usually also remove the womb, ovaries, cervix and part of the vagina. After surgery, women may find their sexual sensation is very different. Removing part of the vagina makes it shorter, which may make it uncomfortable or more difficult to have penetrative sex. Having the womb and ovaries removed will also cause infertility”.

 

The key benefits of quitting ketamine

Ketamine is a powerful substance. Even when taken in small doses it can produce feelings of numbness, disassociation and spikes in temperature, heart rate and blood pressure. In higher doses it commonly leaves the user breathing very lightly - a symptom which can make overdosing on ketamine dangerous and, in some cases, fatal.

Quitting ketamine is important for the long-term health and wellbeing of your friend or loved one. Sustained, long-term use of the drug can lead to huge problems with the bladder, kidney issues and ulceration in the stomach. Development of depression and anxiety are also possible.

Quitting ketamine will be profoundly beneficial, therefore, for wellbeing and physical health both. Relationships that were harmed by ketamine use can be restored and performance in work and education are commonly seen as the recovered individual focuses their renewed energy on their goals and priorities in life.


Ketamine withdrawal symptoms to be aware of

Ketamine has a half-life of approximately three hours, which means that it takes approximately 14 to 18 hours for the drug to be eliminated from a person's system. The exact range of time, however, depends on a variety of factors including how much of the drug was used as well as the individual's body mass, hydration levels, and metabolism.

Depending on the severity of their use, your friend or loved one may experience withdrawal symptoms when quitting ketamine. You must be aware of what could happen to them so that you’re equipped to support them and, if needed, to seek medical attention on their behalf.

Ketamine users have reported the following symptoms and side effects when quitting:

  • Cravings for the drug
  • Fluctuating heart rate and heart palpitations
  • Physical shaking and sweating
  • Strong feelings of anxiety
  • Depression
  • Insomnia
  • Nightmares
  • Lack of appetite

Withdrawal symptoms can vary from person to person, but the severity of them will usually depend on the amount of ketamine consumed recently, the overall length of drug use and the individual’s mental and physical health at the time of quitting.


Steps you can take to support someone quitting ketamine

So, how can you help someone quit? It’s important to equip yourself with the right knowledge before attempting to help someone in this situation lest you do more harm than good. We encourage you to also read our recent article on six common mistakes people make trying to help a person struggling with drug or alcohol misuse or addiction.


Help them identify their triggers: Triggers in this context refer to specific things or places that bring about the urge to consume drugs and alcohol. For a ketamine user, their triggers could be several things and will likely be specific to them and them alone.

Examples of triggers for someone quitting ketamine could include passing a bar or club they used to frequent, but it could also be more specific such as the smell of a room or a TV show they would watch or have on in the background when using the substance. Sitting down with your friend or loved one and encouraging them to think about what their triggers could be will be profoundly helpful to their recovery.

Help them evaluate and improve their health: Quitting ketamine is not easy for many users, and a person planning to stop their use of the drug must be in good physical health. You can support a friend or loved one by encouraging them to make an appointment with their GP where they can request a basic medical evaluation.

You can also help improve their chances of successfully quitting by encouraging them to take up physical exercise. Improving their physical health can make withdrawal easier and the activities they choose can be an effective replacement for the act of taking the drug.

Make them aware of treatment options: It’s important to bring the subject of proper professional treatment into the conversation when helping someone trying to quit drugs or alcohol. Many think of treatment and rehab as only available for the rich as part of a residential programme.

The truth in the present day is quite different. Non-residential programmes are available flexibly and at a tenth of the cost of traditional rehabilitation programmes and are just as effective if not more so. 4-week Online treatment programmes are also available, which can be particularly helpful at the moment as we self-isolate due to COVID-19 and most face to face treatment services are still closed


Although all of the above is helpful and important to consider, the bottom line is that the majority of ketamine users will benefit from speaking to a qualified experienced psychotherapist. These professionals will help them deal with the psychological reasons as to why they use ketamine and will empower them to deal with the negative psychological effects that they can cause.


We’re here to talk

We hope this has been helpful and we wish you well in your efforts to support a friend or loved one trying to quit ketamine. If you’d like to speak to the team today, please call 0208 191 8920. You can also use our contact form to get in touch and to enquire about a free assessment by our experienced staff.


*Chris is a senior associate member of the Royal Society of Medicine, Certified International Recovery Specialist, and a member of the International Society of Addiction Medicine.