In the realm of recreational drug use, the combination of various substances has long been a cause for concern. One particularly risky blend has garnered attention due to concern over increasing numbers of young people using ketamine — combining ketamine and alcohol.
While both substances have effects and dangers, the risk of death from ketamine and alcohol when used together, increases. Additionally, impaired judgment and impulsive behaviour from ketamine and alcohol are even more likely to lead to life-threatening consequences when combined.
In this article, we also delve into the mental health risks of mixing ketamine with alcohol and the physiological impacts of this dangerous combination.
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The Basics: Ketamine
Ketamine, initially developed as an anaesthetic and a veterinary tranquilliser, has found its way into recreational use due to its unique and potent psychoactive properties. It is classified as a dissociative anaesthetic, separating the mind from the body, leading to a sense of detachment and altered perception.
Speaking about the effects of ketamine, Daniell Byatt, Treatment Director of Step by Step Recovery, a residential rehab centre in Essex, told us:
“Ketamine has become popular because it’s relatively inexpensive and fast-acting. Users often feel in control of their intake as they do not experience severe withdrawal symptoms or cravings to use it again when the drug leaves their system. Lack of understanding of mental and physical health dangers is a real issue with users who think of it as low risk as it is not physiologically addictive.”
Recreational Use and Effects of Ketamine
Before we explore the dangers, we want to explain some of the reasons why ketamine is used recreationally.
- Dissociation and hallucinations: The primary appeal of ketamine is its ability to induce dissociation, making users feel detached from reality. This experience is a profound disconnection from one’s body and surroundings, often accompanied by vivid hallucinations and altered sensory perceptions.
- Escapism: Ketamine’s dissociative effects can offer an escape from the stresses and challenges of everyday life. Some users turn to it as a means of temporary relief from reality.
- Confidence and energy: Ketamine has gained popularity in club and party scenes, where it is often snorted, leading to a rapid onset of effects. Users may feel more social, energetic and less inhibited, making it attractive in social settings.
- Psychedelic and therapeutic experiences: Some individuals use ketamine recreationally to explore altered states of consciousness or to seek profound spiritual or introspective experiences — referred to as “K-hole”, which is a state of extreme dissociation.
- Feelings of euphoria: Ketamine is also misused and abused for its pleasurable effects. Some users may chase these euphoric sensations, which can lead to a dangerous cycle of repeated use and potential addiction.
Mental Health Risks of Mixing Ketamine with Alcohol
In addition to physiological effects, ketamine use is associated with various mental health disorders. When ketamine and alcohol are mixed, this increases the risk of severe symptoms, including:
- Impaired decision-making: Ketamine and alcohol can impair judgment and decision-making independently. These effects are compounded when used together, increasing the likelihood of risky behaviours, such as driving under the influence or engaging in unsafe sexual activities. The impaired decision-making can also result in overdose or accidental injury.
- Mood swings, depression and anxiety: Ketamine, a dissociative drug, can lead to feelings of detachment and confusion, while alcohol is a depressant that can exacerbate mood swings. Together, they can create a highly unstable emotional state. This can significantly intensify the risk of symptoms of depression and anxiety, which can result in self-harm and suicide.
- Hallucinations, paranoia and delusions: Furthermore, ketamine and alcohol can induce severe hallucinations. The altered perceptions brought on by ketamine can become terrifying and unpredictable when compounded by alcohol’s effects, leading to extreme paranoia and delusions. This may require intensive psychiatric treatment and result in being sectioned off if you pose a risk to yourself or others.
- Long-term mental health issues: Chronic use of alcohol and ketamine can contribute to ongoing mental health issues, including memory deficits and the development of psychiatric disorders such as psychosis, bipolar disorder and personality disorders.
It is imperative to recognise the grave mental health risks associated with mixing ketamine and alcohol and to seek professional help and support when dealing with substance abuse and its associated psychological challenges.
The Physiological Dangers of Mixing Ketamine and Alcohol
Simultaneously consuming ketamine and alcohol can intensify the effects of both substances. Even if used in moderate amounts when mixed, they can cause severe physiological effects, including:
- Impairment of motor skills and cognitive functions: Combining ketamine and alcohol can amplify the effects of both substances. Alcohol is a depressant, and when consumed with ketamine, which is also a depressant, the sedative effects can be potentiated. This enhanced intoxication can severely impair motor skills and cognitive functions, putting the user at risk for accidents and injuries.
- Respiratory depression: One of the most significant dangers of mixing ketamine and alcohol is the potential for respiratory depression. Both substances can slow down the respiratory system, and when taken together, this effect is intensified. In some cases, this has resulted in death.
- Heart problems: Ketamine can cause an increase in blood pressure and heart rate. When combined with alcohol, which also affects the cardiovascular system, the strain on the heart and circulatory system can be significant. This poses a risk, especially for individuals with preexisting heart conditions.
- Risk of overdose: Both ketamine and alcohol have a chance of overdose. When combined, it becomes more challenging to gauge the appropriate dosage of each substance, increasing the risk of consuming too much of either or both. Ketamine overdose can lead to severe health complications, including respiratory failure and seizures.
Take Away: Misuse of Ketamine and Alcohol
The consequences of mixing ketamine with alcohol go well beyond impairing judgment and the potential for accidental injuries. Combining ketamine with alcohol carries a significant risk of respiratory depression, wherein one’s breathing slows to a dangerous level, which can lead to fatality.
If you or someone you know is grappling with substance abuse, seeking professional guidance and support is not just a recommendation; it is a lifeline. Substance abuse treatment centres, medical professionals and mental health experts are equipped to provide the necessary assistance to break free from the dangerous cycle of ketamine and alcohol abuse.