Kratom, or Mitragyna speciosa korth, is a kind of tropical tree that is indigenous to Southeast Asia. According to the Drug Enforcement Administration, kratom is in the same family as the coffee tree, and its leaves produce stimulant effects similar to those of the coffee bean.
The people of Thailand, Myanmar, and Malaysia have been using kratom for generations to overcome the fatigue that results from working as farmers and laborers. In countries where kratom does not grow, individuals can purchase its dried leaves to make tea. It also comes in powder, tablet, and capsule form. Kratom is currently legal in the United States, but the DEA has listed it as a “drug of concern” because it is addictive and has the potential to cause significant harm over time.
How Kratom Abuse Starts
Though kratom works as a stimulant in small doses, it actually acts as a sedative in larger doses, and that’s where the true danger lies. According to The Journal of the American Osteopathic Association, kratom produces analgesic effects similar to those associated with opioids. When taken in low doses, an individual may experience:
- Increased alertness
- Higher energy levels
- Better concentration
With larger doses of kratom though, the effects are more intense. People who take a lot of kratom at once may experience:
- Emotional or physical numbness
Individuals who abuse kratom usually do so for the euphoric, opioid-like high that it produces when taken in a certain dose. Others use it to help them quit opioids. Since it is an opioid agonist, some take it as a natural alternative to methadone to counteract heroin or morphine withdrawal symptoms; however, kratom is addictive itself, and that plan can backfire.
Individuals who use kratom regularly can eventually develop a dependence on it. According to a study originally published in Drug and Alcohol Dependence, more than 50 percent of subjects who used kratom regularly for at least six months developed a severe dependence on it, and 45 percent of users developed a moderate dependence. When the body is dependent on kratom, it recalibrates itself in order to adjust to life with the substance consistently in its system. People who have a dependence on kratom will experience withdrawal symptoms if they suddenly stop taking it.
Some individuals actually develop a psychological dependence on kratom before they develop a physical one. Psychological dependence consists of cravings, anxiety, and dissatisfaction with life without kratom. Both kinds of dependence can lead to addiction as they get stronger and the individual starts taking larger doses of kratom more frequently in order to function normally. According to the American Society of Addiction Medicine, addiction is characterized by compulsive drug-seeking behaviors and the inability to abstain from using said drug regardless of any consequences that might occur.
Addiction Risk Factors
Ultimately, anyone can develop an addiction to kratom, but some populations are more at risk than others. For example, kratom has significant cultural meaning to the people of Thailand, and many of them associate chewing kratom leaves with drinking coffee. Consuming kratom is a tradition there, and according to the Transnational Institute, up to 70 percent of the male population in some Thai districts do so daily.
Aside from consistent regular use, other risk factors of drug abuse and addiction include:
- Family history: Some people are genetically predisposed to addictive behaviors, and those who have a family history of abuse and addiction are more likely to start abusing substances themselves.
- Mental health disorders: People who suffer from ADHD, post-traumatic stress disorder, or depression may be more likely to abuse drugs.
- Physical issues: Those with co-occurring medical conditions or physical issues may be more likely to abuse drugs in an effort to manage those symptoms.
- Early use: According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, early drug use can be a risk factor for substance abuse problems later in life.
- Peer pressure: Social pressures, especially among younger individuals, can prompt someone to try new substances and eventually start abusing them.
Watching someone struggle with kratom addiction may invoke feelings of powerlessness, but there are effective treatment options available for those who need them.
Signs of Kratom Abuse
Individuals who are addicted to kratom may attempt to hide their drug abuse, but as their dependence grows stronger, it will become harder and harder to hide. The first step to getting treatment is admitting there is a problem, and loved ones can help by offering their support and encouragement every step of the way. If an individual frequently exhibits any of these symptoms of kratom use, it may be time to seek help:
- Excessive sweating
- Loss of motor coordination
- Decreased appetite and significant weight loss
Individuals who are addicted to kratom may also exhibit signs that are commonly associated with compulsive drug-seeking behaviors, like theft, lying, reclusiveness, and lashing out at loved ones.
Kratom Withdrawal and Treatment
Treating kratom addiction starts with withdrawal. During withdrawal, the body readjusts to life with kratom, and the physical symptoms of doing so can range from mild to severe. In an ambulatory detox setting, clients are monitored by healthcare professionals for any signs of complications.
Common kratom withdrawal symptoms include muscle aches, insomnia, irritability, runny nose, sweating, nausea, diarrhea, high blood pressure, and intense cravings. There are some medications that can ease withdrawal symptoms for those who are especially uncomfortable. Lofexidine and dihydrocodeine, which are both commonly used to treat opiate withdrawal, can make quitting kratom more manageable for some people.
Following a successful ambulatory detox, there are a variety of treatment options that people can choose from to help them recover from their addiction and take back their lives. No single treatment option works for everyone, but many people have found success with a combination of various types of behavioral therapies and a strong support structure, which might consist of peers, family members, and friends.
An intensive outpatient program is the perfect setting for many clients to face their addiction while slowly easing back into their everyday lives. In an outpatient program, clients will attend Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, peer group meetings, and family therapy to strengthen their own resolve, as well as their support structure. They will also devise an aftercare plan for treating their addiction, which will consist of strategies for avoiding triggers and ignoring cravings once they leave the treatment program. In addition, some individuals find success with relapse prevention groups, which help them remain in recovery long after they finish outpatient therapy. Beating a kratom addiction may not be easy, but it is entirely possible with the right approach and supportive individuals helping every step of the way.