Understanding Kratom Addiction: Signs, Symptoms, and Treatment

Updated On: June 15, 2024
6 min read
Written by:

Amanda Stevens, B.S.

Kratom, a tropical tree native to Southeast Asia, has gained popularity in recent years for its purported medicinal properties and recreational use.[1] While some people use kratom for pain relief or to alleviate symptoms of opioid withdrawal, its potential for addiction and dependence is also a growing concern.

Kratom Addiction

Key Points

  • Kratom, native to Southeast Asia, has gained popularity in the US for its potential medicinal properties and recreational usage.
  • Despite its traditional use for pain relief and opioid withdrawal, kratom’s addictive potential has led to its classification as a “Drug and Chemical of Concern” by the DEA.
  • Kratom addiction and abuse stem from its interaction with opioid receptors, which can lead to dependence and addiction due to the substance’s opioid-like effects, such as euphoria and pain relief.
  • Statistics reveal correlations between kratom use and other substance use disorders, highlighting the need for comprehensive approaches to address substance misuse and its potential dangers.
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    What Is Kratom?

    Kratom, scientifically known as Mitragyna speciosa, is a tropical tree native to Southeast Asia, particularly Thailand, Malaysia, and Indonesia. The leaves of the kratom tree contain psychoactive compounds, including mitragynine and 7-hydroxymitragynine, which interact with opioid receptors in the brain, producing similar effects.[2]

    Kratom has been traditionally used for its stimulant and pain-relieving properties. In recent years, kratom-derived products have become readily accessible in the United States, obtainable both online and at physical retail outlets. Often employed for self-medication, kratom is utilized to address a variety of conditions, including pain management, cough suppression, diarrhea relief, anxiety, depression, and opioid dependence.[3]

    According to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health conducted by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, approximately 1.7 million Americans aged 12 and above reportedly used kratom in 2021.[4]

    Despite its growing popularity, kratom is not federally regulated in the United States. The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) has listed kratom as a “Drug of Concern,” but it has not been classified as a controlled substance under the Controlled Substances Act (CSA).[5] However, several states and municipalities have enacted their regulations on kratom, including bans or restrictions on its sale and use.

    Kratom Addiction and Abuse

    Kratom addiction and abuse stem from the substance’s interaction with opioid receptors in the brain, leading to its potential for dependence and addiction.[6] The active compounds in kratom produce opioid-like effects, including euphoria, relaxation, and pain relief. These effects can contribute to its addictive nature, as individuals may seek to replicate the pleasurable sensations experienced with kratom use.

    Kratom’s availability in various forms, including powder, capsules, and extracts, makes it easily accessible. Its perceived natural and herbal status may also contribute to the misconception that it is safer than prescription opioids or other drugs.

    Kratom Quick Reference Chart

    Drug Category Plant-based, stimulant, sedative
    Commercial & Street Names Ketum, tham, thom, kakuam
    DEA Schedule Drug of Concern
    Administration Ingestion, snorted

    Statistics on Kratom Use, Misuse, and Addiction

    Kratom use in the US exhibits several correlations with other substance use disorders, shedding light on potential risk factors and patterns of co-occurrence. According to recent statistics, an estimated 0.8% of individuals in the U.S. have used kratom in the past year during 2018 and 2019.[7] Notably, individuals with a diagnosis of opioid use disorder were found to have significantly increased odds of using kratom, with 10.4% of those with opioid use disorder reporting kratom use—likely owing to its purported ability to help with withdrawal symptoms. [citation]

    Additionally, kratom use has also been found to be prevalent in individuals who engage in the misuse of other substances. Recent data shows that individuals reporting past-year cannabis use (with or without cannabis use disorder), as well as those reporting past-year cocaine use and prescription stimulant misuse, were also at higher odds for kratom use.

    In approximately 80% of cases involving kratom-related deaths, individuals had a history of substance misuse.[8] Moreover, 90% of these individuals did not have evidence of current medically supervised pain treatment.

    Kratom Addiction and Abuse

    Kratom addiction and abuse can have several detrimental effects on overall health, including insomnia, weight loss, constipation, and psychological symptoms such as irritability and aggression.[9] Additionally, abrupt cessation of kratom use can lead to withdrawal symptoms, including anxiety, depression, muscle aches, and cravings, further perpetuating the cycle of dependence.

    Despite these risks, kratom remains largely unregulated in the US, contributing to its accessibility and widespread use. The lack of oversight has also led to concerns about the purity and potency of kratom products, increasing the risk of adverse effects and overdose.

    Effects of Kratom Abuse

    Physical Health Effects

    Kratom abuse can take a toll on physical health, manifesting in a range of symptoms and complications. Prolonged use of kratom may result in gastrointestinal issues, including constipation, nausea, and vomiting. Furthermore, individuals may experience weight loss, appetite suppression, and dehydration due to decreased fluid intake. Long-term kratom use has also been associated with cardiovascular complications, such as tachycardia and hypertension, as well as liver toxicity and renal impairment.

    Risks and Complications

    Kratom abuse can cause both tolerance and dependence, wherein individuals require increasingly higher doses of kratom to achieve the desired effects and may experience withdrawal symptoms when stopping. Kratom overdose is also a concern, particularly when consumed in high doses or combination with other substances. Symptoms of kratom overdose may include respiratory depression, seizures, and coma.

    Kratom Addiction and Mental Health

    Kratom addiction can profoundly impact mental health, exacerbating existing conditions and leading to the development of new ones.[10] Chronic use of kratom can contribute to mood disturbances such as anxiety, irritability, and depression.

    Individuals may also experience cognitive impairments, including difficulty concentrating and memory problems, further compromising their mental well-being. The cycle of addiction, characterized by cravings and compulsive drug-seeking behavior, can also perpetuate feelings of guilt, shame, and low self-esteem.

    Kratom Addiction Treatment

    Kratom addiction treatment varies depending on individual needs and the severity of addiction. The cost of treatment can range widely and is influenced by factors such as the type of program (inpatient, outpatient, or residential), duration of treatment, and additional services offered (such as therapy and medical management).

    Treatment length for kratom addiction can also vary, typically ranging from several weeks to several months or longer, depending on factors such as the individual’s response to treatment, level of support, and progress in recovery.

    Kratom Addiction Treatment Levels of Care

    If you or someone you care about is struggling with kratom addiction, seeking treatment is a crucial first step in the recovery process. Treatment for kratom addiction may involve various levels of care, each designed to provide comprehensive support and guidance throughout the recovery journey.

    Levels of care for kratom addiction treatment at our facilities include:

    • Medical Detoxification (Detox): Medical detoxification is often the initial phase of treatment for kratom addiction. Under the supervision of medical professionals, individuals undergo detoxification to rid their bodies of kratom and manage withdrawal symptoms safely. This process may occur in specialized detox facilities or inpatient treatment settings, ensuring that individuals receive the necessary medical support and monitoring.
    • Medically Managed Care: For individuals requiring intensive medical support and monitoring, medically managed care offers a structured environment where medical professionals provide round-the-clock care. This level of care is particularly beneficial for individuals with severe kratom addiction or co-occurring medical conditions that require close medical supervision and intervention.
    • Inpatient Residential Treatment: Inpatient residential treatment provides individuals with a supportive and structured environment conducive to recovery. Clients reside at the treatment facility full-time, receiving comprehensive care and support from a multidisciplinary team of professionals. Inpatient treatment offers a highly structured schedule of therapy sessions, group activities, and support groups, allowing individuals to focus solely on their recovery without distractions or triggers from the outside world.

    Therapies Used in Kratom Addiction Treatment

    Alpas offers a range of evidence-based treatment modalities to address kratom addiction and support you in the recovery process. Each modality is tailored to meet your unique needs and preferences:

    • Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT): CBT is a widely used therapeutic approach that focuses on identifying and challenging negative thought patterns and behaviors associated with addiction. Through CBT, individuals learn coping skills, problem-solving techniques, and strategies to manage cravings and triggers, empowering them to develop healthier thought patterns and behaviors.
    • Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT): DBT combines cognitive-behavioral techniques with mindfulness practices to help individuals regulate emotions, improve interpersonal relationships, and develop distress tolerance skills. DBT is particularly beneficial for individuals struggling with emotional dysregulation and impulsivity, common challenges in addiction recovery.
    • Motivational Interviewing (MI) is a client-centered therapeutic approach to enhance motivation and readiness for change. Through empathetic listening and collaborative goal-setting, therapists help individuals explore their ambivalence toward change, identify personal values and goals, and strengthen their commitment to recovery.
    • Contingency Management: Contingency management is a behavioral intervention that utilizes positive reinforcement to encourage abstinence and promote adherence to treatment goals. Clients receive rewards or incentives for achieving milestones such as attending therapy sessions, submitting negative drug tests, and demonstrating progress in recovery.
    • Motivational Enhancement Therapy (MET): MET is a brief, goal-oriented therapeutic approach to enhance intrinsic motivation for change. Therapists help individuals explore discrepancies between their current behaviors and goals through structured conversations and personalized feedback, fostering self-efficacy and empowerment.
    • Experiential Therapy: Experiential therapy involves engaging individuals in hands-on activities and experiences to facilitate emotional processing and personal growth. Activities such as role-playing, art therapy, and outdoor adventure therapy allow individuals to explore underlying issues, express emotions, and develop new coping skills in a supportive environment.
    • Relapse Prevention: Relapse prevention strategies focus on identifying and managing triggers, developing coping skills, and creating a plan to prevent relapse. Clients learn to recognize early warning signs of relapse, utilize coping strategies effectively, and build a support network to maintain long-term sobriety.
    • Twelve-Step Facilitation: Twelve-step facilitation involves participation in 12-Step programs such as Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) or Narcotics Anonymous (NA) to support recovery from addiction. Clients engage in group meetings, work the Twelve Steps, and receive support from peers who share similar experiences, fostering a sense of community and accountability.
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    Frequently Asked Questions about Kratom

    01

    Can kratom be detected in drug tests?

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    Yes, kratom can be detected in certain drug tests, particularly those that specifically screen for mitragynine, the active compound in kratom. However, standard drug tests typically do not detect kratom, as it is not included in routine drug panels. Specialized tests may be required for detection.

    01

    What are the potential long-term effects of kratom use?

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    The potential long-term effects of kratom use are still being studied, but there are concerns about various risks associated with prolonged and heavy use. Some potential long-term effects may include dependence, addiction, liver damage, gastrointestinal issues, and psychological symptoms such as anxiety and depression. Further research is needed to understand the long-term consequences of kratom use fully.

    01

    What should I do if I or someone I know is struggling with kratom addiction?

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    If you or someone you know is struggling with kratom addiction, it’s essential to seek help from a healthcare professional or addiction treatment specialist. Treatment options may include therapy, counseling, support groups, and medication-assisted treatment. It’s crucial to address the addiction early on to prevent further harm and support long-term recovery.

    Sources
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    [01]

    [1] Abuse, N. I. on D. (2022, March 25). Kratom. National Institute on Drug Abuse. https://nida.nih.gov/research-topics/kratom on April 1, 2024

    [2] Office of the Commissioner. (2019). FDA and Kratom. U.S. Food and Drug Administration. https://www.fda.gov/news-events/public-health-focus/fda-and-kratom on April 1, 2024

    [3] Kratom WHAT IS KRATOM? (n.d.). https://www.dea.gov/sites/default/files/2020-06/Kratom-2020_0.pdf on April 1, 2024

    [4] Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. (2022). Key substance use and mental health indicators

    in the United States: Results from the 2021 National Survey on Drug Use and Health (HHS Publication No.

    PEP22-07-01-005, NSDUH Series H-57). Center for Behavioral Health Statistics and Quality, Substance Abuse and

    Mental Health Services Administration. https://www.samhsa.gov/data/report/2021-nsduh-annual-national-report on April 1, 2024

    [5] Kratom. (2019). Dea.gov. https://www.dea.gov/factsheets/kratom on April 1, 2024

    [6] Kratom: Unsafe and ineffective. (2019). Mayo Clinic. https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/consumer-health/in-depth/kratom/art-20402171 on April 1, 2024

    [7] Schimmel, J., Amioka, E., Rockhill, K., Haynes, C. M., Black, J. C., Dart, R. C., & Iwanicki, J. L. (2020). Prevalence and description of kratom ( Mitragyna speciosa ) use in the United States: a cross‐sectional study. Addiction, 116(1), 176–181. https://doi.org/10.1111/add.15082 on April 1, 2024

    [8] Olsen, E. O., O’Donnell, J., Mattson, C. L., Schier, J. G., & Wilson, N. (2019). Notes from the Field: Unintentional Drug Overdose Deaths with Kratom Detected — 27 States, July 2016–December 2017. MMWR. Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, 68(14), 326–327. https://doi.org/10.15585/mmwr.mm6814a2 on April 1, 2024

    [9] Striley, C. W., Hoeflich, C. C., Viegas, A. T., Berkowitz, L. A., Matthews, E. G., Akin, L. P., Iheanyi-Okeahialam, C., Mansoor, U., & McCurdy, C. R. (2022). Health Effects Associated With Kratom (Mitragyna speciosa) and Polysubstance Use: A Narrative Review. Substance Abuse: Research and Treatment, 16, 117822182210958. https://doi.org/10.1177/11782218221095873 on April 1, 2024

    [10] Stanciu, C. N., Ahmed, S., Sarfraz, Z., Nimavat, N., Healey, C. J., Grundmann, O., Ballard, J. R., & Henningfield, J. (2023). Prevalence, Characteristics, and Reasons for Kratom Use among Psychiatrically Ill Inpatients Who Use Substances. Journal of Dual Diagnosis, 1–11. https://doi.org/10.1080/15504263.2023.2289456 on April 1, 2024

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