You may have heard of a drug referred to as K, Special K, Kit Kat, Purple, or Super Acid. These are all street names for the drug Ketamine. Ketamine is a drug that is used legally in the medical system as an anesthetic. It is a Schedule III drug under the Controlled Substances Act. It can be used as a sedative for minor medical procedures and as a tranquilizer for animals. In extremely high doses it will cause intoxication and hallucinations. Hallucinations, similar to what other drugs such as LSD offer, will allow a teenager to experience stimuli that are not there. Simply put they will hear things or see things that do not exist.
This drug may be appealing to some youth who want an out-of-body experience. Many of us have seen television shows and read about drugs like this. It seems fun and romantic to listen to music and dance without a care in the world as the movies and books portray. As a parent, this portrayal is likely very frustrating because of how dangerous it is. Your teenager may be hooked by this romanticized idea of using ketamine. The truth is though that like any other drug, it is addictive and dangerous. We need to protect our teenagers from all drugs, Ketamine included. In order to do that, we must know about the drug and we must communicate with our teenagers.
Ketamine is used many ways. It can be smoked, snorted, swallowed, or injected. It is often used in combination with other drugs such as marijuana, alcohol, and ecstasy. These drug cocktails become even more dangerous when taken together.
Ketamine may produce euphoric results for teenagers. They likely laugh and have intense feelings during the initial high, but they can also have side effects that they do not anticipate. These include being delirious, hallucinating, passing out, vomiting, difficult thinking, body numbness, slowed breathing, and even death. When the stakes are this high, we need to be prepared to address prevention with our teens as well as ways to protect ourselves from accidentally ingesting the drug.
Ketamine has also been used as a tool for predators. Individuals have used the drug by putting it in another person’s food or drink, which causes them to pass out without their consent. They are then taken advantage of sexually by means of being molested or raped. This is incredibly dangerous and traumatic for the victims, who will likely struggle after the fact to put the pieces back together and likely require a great deal of therapy and medical attention afterwards. Many young people who have reported sexual assault state that afterwards they feel out of control and as if their life isn’t their own anymore. If Ketamine has a role in increased assaults and medical concerns for our teens, it must be addressed immediately.
What to do to prevent Ketamine use?
Let’s start first by identifying risk factors for use. A risk factor makes our teenager more susceptible to using and misusing the drug. For teens using Ketamine, risk factors include mood and anxiety conditions, desire for self-medicating, and the desire for bodily sensations. Others include feeling the need to escape, not feeling content with life, and not feeling that life has meaning. Teenagers who have had a history of trauma or who have depression will be more likely to use the drug.
Generally speaking, poor mental health is positively correlated with more substance use. Additionally, if your teenager is around friends and siblings that use the drug and think it’s okay, they will be more likely to want to test it out and think it’s okay as well. This means that you first need to be talking with your teens about how they are doing. You also need to know about who they are interacting with and what kinds of activities they are doing. You need to know these things before you ask them about any drug use. Try to be as present with your teenager as you can be.
Ask your teenager how they are doing and feeling regularly. Check in with them about how school is going and what they are working on. You should be doing things with your teens that build their self-esteem up, such as helping them accomplish a goal or facilitating activities that they love and thrive on. If your teenager loves to play basketball, play with them. If they love to read, read together. These connections make a great difference where preventative factors are concerned. More engaged parents are typically correlated with less substance use in young people.
Teens that feel this kind of self-worth, consistency, and drive in their life are less likely to explore recreational drugs. This means that they are less likely to experience the negative consequences associated with use such as poor health outcomes, harm, reduced attendance and attention on schooling, loss of friendships, and more.
You should ask your children about their mental health. This doesn’t make you a hovering parent, it makes you a caring parent. Some phrases you can use with them just to check in are:
“How are you feeling lately about your life?”
“I want to check in and make sure you’re not feeling depressed or anxious? If you are, I want you to know that you can talk to me about it”
If you suspect your children are struggling, you might consider these phrases:
“I have noticed that you’ve been isolating yourself lately or you have seemed sad lately. Do you want to talk about what is going on?”
“I want you to know I love and care about you and that I worry about you. Is there anything that I can better do to support you?”
“Would you be interested in talking to a professional about some of the things you have been struggling with?”
If you are talking with your child and regularly monitoring their mental health and wellbeing, next you should ensure that they are being educated about drugs and abstinence. There are likely programs at the school level to ensure in the curriculum this is discussed. You could ask your teens teachers or the administration for information on how to teach your child about avoiding drug use and abstaining from Ketamine. They will likely have resources for you. When teenagers are understanding of the consequences of the drug, and Ketamine certainly has a lot, they will be most likely to refrain.
You could use some of the following language:
“I recently learned about a drug called Ketamine that has dangerous side effects. I want to talk to you about it to make sure that you know the risks as well in the event anyone tries to offer you some”
“Would you be interested in taking a drug prevention class with me or learning about the dangers of drug use? I want to prepare you and keep you safe as much as I can”
If your teenager is not one for regularly talking with you, you might offer them reading materials or a website to go to where they can learn about Ketamine use and its effects. They might prefer this to having to sit and talk with you about it and that is okay.
How to identify Ketamine use?
If you have done everything you can to prevent Ketamine use and you still worry your teen might be using, you definitely need to be aware of the signs.
If your teenager is regularly gone and when they return from an outing they appear drowsy and are not thinking and tracking in conversations, they could be using Ketamine. If they appear to be talking to or acting as if they see something that isn’t normal or there, you should be concerned. Additionally, if they are having effects indicating too much consumption such as the inability to breath, vomiting, or passing out, they could be overdosing. In this case, you should get them to an Emergency Room immediately.
I recommend simply asking your child if they are using Ketamine. You could use some of the following language:
“I have noticed that when you leave and come home you do not appear like yourself. You seem to be hallucinating and not able to track in conversations. Are you using drugs? If so, I would like to help you get supports so that we can get you sober again”
You should not shame your child. It is normal for teenagers to want to explore drugs and alcohol, especially when it is in the media so often, but you should certainly help them to get sober. Shame will only push them towards more substance use in many cases.
If your teenager admits that they are using drugs, Ketamine especially, treatment services should be explored and considered.
What treatments are available to teens using Ketamine?
If your teenager is using Ketamine, you should have them seen by their primary care doctor immediately to ensure they do not have any physical health problems associated with use, such as organ failure or breathing issues. Your teenager’s doctor can help you get connected to appropriate treatments.
Some treatments to consider include outpatient counseling and mental health services as well as inpatient residential treatment services. Often the most helpful services are provided in an inpatient residential treatment facility. This is where your teenager resides on a campus setting in a clinic or hospital and receives daily supports for their drug use and mental health needs, because they likely have mental health-related reasons that led to their misusing drugs. An inpatient residential program will also have doctors on staff 24/7 to provide support to your teen, as well as counselors, and psychiatrists. They will attend daily group and even individual therapy where they will learn about their drug use, why they use, and develop plans for sobriety. Here they will also have a safe place to withdrawal from Ketamine and any other drugs they may be using.
It may be incredibly scary to ask your teenager if they are using drugs, but it is so important to get them the help that they need. You may be unable to do this unless you objectively and clearly approach the topic with them. While you may be inclined to emotionally respond to this situation, I would ask that you refrain if you are able to as this will only make the experience worse for your teen. You don’t want to make this situation about your failures as a parent, as you may feel that way, but rather about learning why they started using drugs and teaching them how to stop.
Teen drug use is treatable and preventable in the future with the right supports. Inpatient residential treatment may be the answer for your teen using Ketamine. You have to explore your options immediately if so.
Here at Hillcrest, we understand many of the reasons why a teenager may turn to a so-called “party drug” like Ketamine. Because of our experience with unpacking teen substance abuse, we believe that we’re a fantastic place to send your teenager for help breaking free from Ketamine usage – or any other form of substance abuse. Not sure how we can help? Why not reach out for a callback or to set up a tour?