What Is Kratom? A Guide for ‘Real’ Addicts & Alcoholics
What Is Kratom? A Guide for ‘Real’ Addicts & Alcoholics
By: Megan Krause
A funny thing happened on the way to this blog post:
I couldn’t find anyone to speak in favor of kratom.
I’m plugged in to a fairly large community of addicts via social media — about 1,000, give or take — at all levels of recovery and using. Everyone from Park Avenue to park bench, as they say. And despite repeated postings that I was looking for positive and negative experiences with kratom for an article I was writing, no one stepped up to speak in favor of the drug.
I heard several horror stories, however. A few of those are below. I have my own as well. That’s below, too.
If you aren’t an alcoholic or addict, perhaps kratom could do good things for you. But I don’t travel in those circles.
Kratom: An introduction
Kratom is a tropical tree (mitragyna speciosa) native to Southeast Asia. Leaves from the tree, usually crushed and made into a powder, have been used as a pain remedy in that part of the world for centuries, according to the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency. Kratom made its way to this country over the past several years, where it was mostly sold in smoke shops and online. Rising rates of abuse have thrust it into the spotlight.
Fans of the drug praise it for its pain-relieving and anxiety-reducing properties as well as its ability to ease opioid withdrawal symptoms. Detractors say — well, we’ll get to that.
In February 2018, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration announced that kratom “isn’t just a plant – it’s an opioid.” The agency continued, “... there is no reliable evidence to support the use of kratom as a treatment for opioid use disorder and significant safety issues exist.”
Several states have added kratom to their controlled substance lists and banned its sale. According to the American Kratom Association, kratom is now banned in Alabama, Arkansas, Indiana, Rhode Island, Vermont, Wisconsin, and Washington, D.C.
Several more states have pending legislation to make it illegal.
Meanwhile, among addicts
Chris had five years completely clean and sober when he walked into a convenience store one sunny Phoenix day and accepted a free sample of kratom. Admitting that his recovery was already tenuous, he is still trying to put his life together from the fallout of that moment.
“It's like a mild painkiller, like a Vicodin or maybe a Percocet,” Chris says. “If you're able to use it responsibly, it can probably help with all sorts of ailments. But if you're already an addict who has proven himself incapable of using anything good responsibly, kratom will drag you through the dirt. It did me.
“I became beyond hooked. My tolerance went up quickly and I had to use more and more. I was highly uncomfortable without it, body aches and general nervousness. I was completely unable to feel normal unless I had it in my system.
“I'm sure that kratom could have lots of potential medical benefits and can actually do some good in the world, but if you can't be trusted around other drugs, stay the hell away from this one.”
George first used kratom when he was 16. “It was the summer after I graduated high school, and I had already messed around with prescription pills, so the idea of ordering a totally legal plant that would do the same thing as Vicodin or Percocet was extremely appealing,” George says.
“I ordered powdered leaf at first. It tasted disgusting, but after drinking a tea made with maybe two or three heaping tablespoons of the bitter stuff, I was nodding off within 20 minutes. I had paid something like $30 for a big Ziploc bag of the stuff too, so compared to buying drugs on the street, it was no contest.
“As much as people keep discussing kratom in terms of a ‘natural way to get off opioids,’ the truth is it was just as addictive as any prescription pill or heroin. Switching from any of those to kratom is just six of one and half a dozen of the other. You build a tolerance just as fast and the withdrawals are just as terrible.
“I really wouldn't recommend it, definitely not as a way to kick street drugs or prescription pill addiction. It opens up a whole new can of worms.”
Nathan has six years clean and sober and is active in the Phoenix recovery scene. He’s never done kratom, but he’s seen first-hand the damage it can do to alcoholics and addicts.
“I have watched it ruin people’s sobriety over and over. Most opiate addicts use it because it has similar effects as opiates, it’s legal, and it doesn't show up on a pee test. So at some point they convince themselves that it’s OK to do, but it just enhances their cravings for the real thing.
“It’s just another drug that enables people to capitalize on the opiate crisis. It’s a damn shame that it’s available like it is.”
Full disclosure: I am not an impartial observer. I lost a loving relationship to kratom.
At first he just did kratom. Then he had to do more kratom. Then he was taking upward of 30 kratom capsules a day. The kratom became a problem, and he knew it.
I had no idea.
Then he couldn’t get off the kratom, so he got the bright idea to ease the withdrawal symptoms with some vodka. Then it was crack and heroin and meth, because addiction.
I found out. There’s no hiding that.
That was almost three years ago, and he still hasn’t been able to put any recovery time together. He’s in treatment (again) as I type this. I’ve moved on, but not before the pain and misery of addiction devastated our life together. You may be familiar with addiction; it tends to do that. That’s our story.
Get help for addiction
If you or someone you love is suffering from addiction, help is available. Reach out to:
- The American Society of Addiction Medicine
- The National Institute of Drug Addiction
- The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Service Administration
- Alcoholics Anonymous
- Crystal Meth Anonymous
- Cocaine Anonymous
- Narcotics Anonymous
- Marijuana Anonymous
- Pills Anonymous
- Heroin Anonymous