Kratom Abuse/Addiction: Is It Possible? (How to Avoid or Overcome)
Abuse of kratom is possible, and continued abuse can lead to addiction.
What Is Kratom?
Kratom is a type of tree that comes from Southeast Asia, the leaves of which can produce mind-altering effects.
It is a psychotropic substance that is not currently monitored by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, as it is considered a dietary supplement. Depending on the dose of kratom you take, it can either produce effects like a stimulant or effects like an opioid.
Both of the active compounds in kratom interact with opioid receptors in the brain and one of them also interacts with stimulant receptors.
When people consume high doses of kratom, opioid receptors are interfered with and sensations of relaxation, pleasure, and pain relief are experienced. When smaller amounts of kratom are taken, more of a stimulant effect can be experienced. People may experience increased energy, feel more social, and be more alert.
There are multiple ways to consume kratom.
• Swallowing it as a pill or capsule
• Chewing kratom leaves
• Brewing tea out of the leaves or powder
• Smoking the leaves
• Eating the leaves when mixed into food
Kratom use in the United States has grown in recent years, as popular opinion suggests it is a safer and more traditional approach to pain relief, anxiety, and depression than prescription medications.
Government agencies, such as the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), however, are not convinced of the safety of the drug and have associated it with many deaths. The FDA argues that kratom is more than just a plant and that it is actually a dangerous opioid that lacks any approved medical uses.
Dangers and Risks Associated With Kratom Use
In 2017, the FDA released data that linked kratom use to 44 fatal drug overdoses. Nearly every overdose victim, however, tested positive for multiple other drugs, including alcohol and prescription medications, which are well-known to cause fatal overdoses, especially when used together.
While the direct risk of fatal overdose from kratom is still being determined, there are many known risks associated with its use, beginning with side effects.
According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), side effects of kratom include the following:
• Dry mouth
• Increased urination
• Reduced appetite
One of the greatest known risks of kratom use, explains NIDA, is that it is not a regulated substance, so the quality and purity of the product you purchase cannot be guaranteed. Kratom is most commonly bought online from manufacturers that don’t have to adhere to any regulations. Kratom sold online is often marketed as a dietary supplement.
There have been multiple reports of kratom supplements laced with other substances that lead to overdose and death. As with any unregulated substance, purchasing kratom from an unregulated seller exposes you to risks of consuming adulterated products.
Addiction and Withdrawal
Due to the opioid-like effects that kratom produces and how it interacts with opioid and stimulant receptors in the brain, there is a potential for kratom to be addictive. While there is a lack of scientific evidence to support patterns of addiction caused by kratom use, many users have reported becoming addicted to the substance.
Signs of a drug addiction include the following:
• Constant urge to use the drug
• Intense cravings for the drug
• Needing an increasing amount of the drug to feel its effects
• Inability to stop using the drug even when you want to
• Continuing drug use despite negative consequences
• Complete reliance on the drug to feel normal
• Experiencing health issues due to drug use
• Encountering problems at work or school
• Exhibiting extreme and unhealthy changes in behavior
• Money issues due to buying drugs
• Experience of withdrawal symptoms when you stop using
The experience of withdrawal symptoms alone does not necessarily indicate a substance use disorder, though it is often a precursor to one. You will, however, experience withdrawal symptoms once you have become physically dependent on a drug, which is often seen with daily long-term use.
Kratom withdrawal symptoms include the following:
• Body aches and pains
• Emotional variations
• Runny nose
• Jerky muscle movements
The likelihood and severity of experiencing withdrawal symptoms following kratom use greatly depend on your history of substance use and current general health. There is minimal scientific evidence available to confirm the occurrence of withdrawal symptoms when you stop using kratom, though some case reports and animal studies indicate that kratom withdrawal symptoms are likely to be similar to opioid withdrawal.
Can You Overdose on Kratom?
The risk of overdose from kratom is still being debated. The FDA argues that it is a dangerous substance that has been involved with many fatal overdoses. While this is true, it is not likely that kratom alone caused any of those overdoses.
Scientists have spoken out, in fact, against the FDA’s claims that kratom use can lead to an overdose.
While kratom can produce opioid-like effects, scientists argue that it is distinct from traditional opioids because it does not impact breathing rate. The danger of an opioid overdose is that it can slow the user’s breathing down to the point of death. Kratom, however, is not known to slow breathing.
How to Treat Kratom Addiction
Because so little scientific research has been done on kratom use and abuse, there has yet to be any addiction treatment method designed specifically for the treatment of a kratom use disorder. NIDA suggests, however, that behavioral therapies have been helpful for people who sought treatment for an addiction to kratom.
Types of therapies that are beneficial during substance abuse treatment include:
• Cognitive behavioral therapy. Clients focus on identifying harmful beliefs and behaviors that lead to substance abuse and practice replacing them with healthy coping techniques.
• Family and couples therapy. Partners and family members are involved in the therapeutic process to help the individual realize how their substance use affects the family system as a whole. The family learns how to support one another better in recovery.
• Motivational interviewing. This therapy evaluates the client’s willingness to make changes in their life and uses motivation as a tool make healthier decisions going forward.
• Personal incentives. Used as a form of positive reinforcement, incentives are given throughout the recovery process to encourage sobriety.
• Group therapy: This gives clients the opportunity to share and learn from others with similar experiences of drug use.
In addition to participating in a combination of behavioral therapies, comprehensive addiction treatment programs typically offer detoxification services as the first step of the treatment program. Detox on its own is likely to do little to promote long-term recovery, but it is an important first step in the process.
Once all substances have been cleared from the individual’s system and their mood has stabilized somewhat, they can begin with behavioral therapy. Often as part of this therapy, therapists will discuss the client’s aftercare plan, or their plan for how they will maintain sobriety following completion of their treatment program.
Establishing a solid aftercare plan before leaving treatment is an important step for preventing relapse. Aftercare plans help people identify their support networks, healthy activities to take part in, support groups to participate in, ongoing therapy they want to maintain, and any triggers for drug use to avoid going forward.
How to Avoid Kratom Abuse
Since the safety and efficacy of kratom are still being debated, the best way to avoid kratom abuse is to avoid using the drug. If it is used regardless, use it with caution and in moderation.
It is known to have mind-altering effects, so there is a potential to become addicted to it. While there is a lack of scientific evidence to support any real risk of overdose, that does not mean that you can’t develop a substance use disorder to the drug.
Your chances of kratom abuse increase the more you mix it with other drugs. Polydrug use, or using more than one drug at once, is known to increase the chances of addiction and overdose.
Likewise, it is important to be very careful about where you purchase kratom. As an unregulated substance, it is possible for illicit and far more dangerous substances to be laced into it. These substances can unintentionally increase your risk of abuse and dangerous health outcomes.
Drug Addiction (Substance Use Disorder). (October 2017). Mayo Clinic.
FDA Releases Kratom Death Data, Undermines Its Own Claims About Drug’s Deadly Harms. (February 2018). The Huffington Post.
Kratom for Opioid Withdrawal: Does It Work? (November 2018). Everyday Health.
Science Letter on Kratom. (February 2018). Open Letter to the White House.
Statement from FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb, M.D. on FDA Advisory About Deadly Risks Associated with Kratom. (November 2017). U.S. Food and Drug Administration.
What Are the Treatments for Addiction? (November 2018). Medical News Today.
What Is Kratom? (September 2018). National Institute on Drug Abuse.