Can Ketamine Treat Alcohol Addiction or Alcoholism?
For years, Ketamine, a powerful anesthetic sometimes used as an animal tranquilizer, was a favorite of club goers who used the drug illegally because of it’s psychoactive properties. Recreational users generally refer to the drug as “Special K or going down the K Hole.”
Ketamine is seeing something of a renaissance in the form of Spravato (esketamine) for the treatment of depression and possibly other mental health disorders. Now it’s conceivable that ketamine may be able to treat alcohol addiction too.
Researchers at the University College London (UCL) believe, based on their study’s results, ketamine may help people drink less by rewriting the positive alcohol-related memories patients associate with alcohol.
“When people become addicted, they’re learning that kind of behavior in response to things in their environment, Ravi Das, a psychopharmacologist and lead author of the study told NPR. “Those memories, those associative trigger memories can be really long lasting and really kind of ingrained. And current treatments don’t target those.”
Ketamine and Alcohol Addiction Study
What scientists hope to show is how ketamine may affect a heavy drinker’s habits if their alcohol-associated memories are activated right before receiving a dose of the medication.
Published in the journal Nature Communications, in November 2019, the study followed 90 beer drinkers, none of whom had been diagnosed with alcohol use disorder or had received treatment, but who consumed four to five pints of beer a day on average.
In the U.K., government health agencies suggest that drinkers consume no more than 6 pints of beer a week.
Parameters of the Ketamine and Alcohol Study
The UCL researchers divided their subjects into three groups on the first day and proceeded in the following manner:
1. Group 1 – Ketamine and Alcohol Stimulus
The first group was shown photos of beer and told to rate their desire to drink. They then received a dose of ketamine.
2. Group 2 – Placebo and Alcohol Stimulus
The second group was also shown photos of beer, but received a placebo instead of an actual dose of ketamine.
3. Group 3 – Ketamine Without Alcohol Stimulus
The third group was not shown any photos at all, but did receive a dose of ketamine.
The researchers believe their outcomes show important promise.
Group number one that received a dose of ketamine had the best results, with alcohol intake at half the previous levels after nine months.
The third group, those that received a dose of the medication but did not have their alcohol-related memories stimulated, also showed a reduction in their drinking.
Finally, the placebo group showed a small reduction in drinking, though not as significant a drop as the two groups that received a dose of ketamine.
Das and his team are pleased with the study’s findings, though they agree there is still a lot of research to be done.
For instance, there are differences in how quickly individuals metabolize ketamine and that can affect how long or short a dosage works.
The Future of Using Ketamine for Treating Alcoholism and Alcohol Use Disorder
Ravi Das believes that new studies should focus on the effectiveness of a medication and psychosocial approach to treatment, such as ketamine combined with cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT).
Though it is not considered physically addictive, recreational use of ketamine can cause serious and dangerous side effects and should be avoided.
Currently, there is no timeline for a ketamine-based medication to treat alcohol use disorder, but the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recently approved Spravato, a nasal spray containing esketamine, for helping patients that suffer from treatment-resistant depression.
If ketamine is found to be successful for treating alcohol addiction, it wouldn’t be the first time a therapy for a mental health issue crossed over to also help manage or treat addiction.
Recent studies show that TMS Therapy for treatment resistant depression might also be effective for treating addiction too.
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