Is Kava Addictive?

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FAQs

Kava is a well-known extract derived from a plant indigenous to the western Pacific. Unfortunately, it is misused due to its psychoactive effects, which include inducing sedation, promoting relaxation, and alleviating anxiety. Since kava is not a commonly abused substance in the United States, you may have questions, such as:

  • Is kava a drug?
  • Is kava safe?
  • Is kava physically addictive?

This guide addresses these issues and outlines how you can connect with evidence-based addiction treatment in Southern California.

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Kava Addiction

Kava, also known as kava-kava, is extracted from a plant from the western Pacific Islands. Its name originates from the Polynesian term awa, translating to intoxicating pepper. For centuries, native islanders have utilized this substance for medicinal purposes and in religious ceremonies, owing to its sedative, euphoric, and mind-altering properties.

In the United States, kava is obtainable in the form of a dietary supplement, often promoted for its supposed benefits as a muscle relaxant or sleep aid. Despite its legal status, the FDA has expressed concern regarding the safety and efficacy of kava. While consumption of kava has demonstrated its potential to reduce anxiety and enhance mood, sleep, and appetite in some people, the substance can also trigger various adverse and potentially harmful outcomes.

An image of a woman staring off into the lake as she holds a cup of coffee, after learning about kava withdraw symptoms

Can You Get Addicted to Kava?

Is kava addictive, then? While kava is generally believed to be non-addictive, it can have a habit-forming nature and trigger the development of tolerance. 

The euphoric high induced by the substance can become a form of escapism or self-medication, causing some people to develop an emotional attachment to the drug and the sensations that it provides. This can initiate a cycle of addiction, with people wanting to discontinue kava use but fearing the implications of a life without it, finding themselves preoccupied with thoughts of its use or acquisition. This tendency is especially apparent in those using kava to manage generalized anxiety disorder, since the substance regulates their feelings of anxiety, which can resurface and intensify without it.

Potential signs of kava addiction include:

  • Persistent thoughts about kava use throughout the day.
  • Heightened doses of the supplement to achieve the same effects.
  • Scheduling activities around kava consumption.
  • Experiencing an overpowering need or urge to take the substance, particularly during stressful situations.
  • Desire to discontinue kava intake without success.
  • Ongoing usage despite negative consequences.
  • Encouraging kava use in others and severing friendships that do not involve the substance.
  • Avoiding social interactions to consume the supplement at home.

Another hallmark of kava addiction is its misuse alongside other substances to intensify the sense of euphoria. All forms of polysubstance abuse are dangerous. Some people combine alcohol with relaxants like kava, amplifying the effects of both and leading to heightened sedation or a more pronounced high. Others may use kava to counter the effects of stimulant drugs like cocaine or Adderall. Kava withdrawal symptoms may manifest when addicted individuals attempt to quit or reduce kava consumption.

Kava Withdrawal Symptoms

Kava withdrawal symptoms can present when individuals who have developed a dependency on the substance attempt to discontinue or significantly reduce their intake. These symptoms can vary in intensity and duration, depending on factors such as the duration of use, the dosage consumed, and individual differences in physiology and psychology. While kava is not as addictive as some other substances, abrupt cessation or rapid reduction in usage can lead to the following withdrawal symptoms:

  • Anxiety: Heightened levels of anxiety, restlessness, and nervousness are common during kava withdrawal. Individuals may feel excessively worried or experience panic attacks.
  • Insomnia: Disrupted sleep patterns, including difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep, are frequently reported during the withdrawal period.
  • Mood swings: Fluctuations in mood, ranging from irritability and agitation to depression and mood swings, are common during kava withdrawal.
  • Cravings: Persistent cravings for kava can occur, compelling some people to seek the substance to alleviate withdrawal symptoms or regain the euphoric feelings associated with its use.
  • Muscle tension and pain: Increased muscle tension and body aches are reported by some individuals going through kava withdrawal.
  • Headaches: Withdrawal from kava can trigger headaches or migraines, potentially leading to discomfort and distress.
  • Digestive issues: Gastrointestinal disturbances, such as nausea, vomiting, and stomach cramps, can occur during the withdrawal process.
  • Sweating and tremors: Some people may experience excessive sweating and tremors, which can be uncomfortable and distressing.

Approach kava withdrawal under the guidance of a healthcare professional or addiction specialist. Gradual tapering of the substance under medical supervision, combined with the implementation of supportive therapies, can help manage and alleviate withdrawal symptoms effectively. Additionally, seeking support from friends, family, or support groups can provide emotional support during this challenging period.

Is Kava Dangerous?

Kava usage has raised numerous safety concerns, mainly involving liver failure or cirrhosis. Frequent consumption of kava is associated with several instances of liver damage, and some fatalities. Consequently, the substance has been prohibited in Canada and Europe. Despite these grave health risks, kava remains available in the United States. Alarmingly, regular intake of the supplement for a month or two has caused people to require liver transplants and resulted in fatalities. Early signs of liver damage include fatigue, dark urine, and jaundice.

Several theories attempt to explain the reasons behind kava’s potential liver toxicity. Firstly, a group of enzymes in the liver involved in processing drugs are responsible for metabolizing kava. The substance binds to these enzymes, disrupting their ability to metabolize other drugs, leading to their accumulation and possible subsequent harm to the liver.

Another theory suggests that kava may be metabolized into substances directly damaging to liver cells. Some researchers propose that the combined consumption of kava and alcohol might lead to liver damage, attributing the toxicity to the interaction between the two.

As the mechanism for toxicity remains unclear, the FDA advises anyone with liver disease or those who are taking drugs that can affect the liver to avoid kava without first consulting a physician.

Although an isolated, unintentional dose of the drug is generally considered safe, prolonged and chronic usage can lead to various long-term health complications. Chronic toxicity associated with kava includes liver damage, stomach irritation, kidney injury, breathing difficulties, hallucinations and disorientation. Chronic use of kava may also trigger dermopathy, characterized by a distinctive scaly, cracked skin disorder observed in individuals abusing kava.

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Get Treatment for Drug Addiction at California Detox

If you need help with a tapered drug withdrawal and ongoing treatment, we can help you with this at California Detox in Laguna Beach, CA.

You can access clinical and emotional care during drug withdrawal at our luxury beachside treatment center. You can also take advantage of FDA-approved medications to reduce the intensity of cravings and withdrawal symptoms.

After detoxification, you can move directly into our inpatient program. Expect a personalized array of the following drug addiction treatments:

Drug addiction is a chronic but treatable condition. Call 949.694.8305 today and begin your recovery tomorrow.

FAQs

Kava is not typically considered a hallucinogen, but there are anecdotal reports of people using the substance experiencing mild hallucinations.
Kava’s active compounds (kavalactones) affect neurotransmitters like GABA, producing calming and anxiolytic effects, promoting relaxation and a sense of well-being. These compounds can also interact with other receptors, contributing to its effects on mood and sociability.

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