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Ketamine Treatment for Alcohol Addiction: What You Need to Know

Alcohol abuse and addiction is an age-old problem, but recent studies show that it is in fact on the rise. Alcohol consumption increased up to 70% in the years 1990 to 2017, and it shows no sign of slowing down.

Ketamine, an anesthetic, is an exciting new option for the treatment of alcohol abuse that new studies are showing may be an important and effective treatment for alcohol withdrawal and abuse.

Ketamine Treatment for Alcohol Addiction

The chief problem at the heart of alcoholism treatments is that some treatment options are not particularly effective for everyone. It’s not a one size fits all approach. A recent study at University College London aimed to see if Ketamine could reduce the symptoms of alcoholism, and the results were surprising: Ketamine may be able to virtually rewrite memories and reshape a person’s alcoholism.

Ravi Das, UCL psychopharmacologist and the lead researcher of the recent study, believes that most other treatments for alcohol addiction fail because they do not treat the positive memories of drinking that will later trigger a person to want to drink again.

For this study, they recruited ninety people who drink up to four or five pints of beer a day (which is about five times the UK’s recommended maximum alcohol intake) who have not been formally diagnosed with alcoholism and were not seeking treatment.

Participants were exposed to pictures of alcoholic drinks and then allowed to drink a beer to try to trigger these memories. They were then divided into three groups. Each group was subjected again to these pictures of alcoholic drinks, but were not allowed to drink any beer. One group received Ketamine, another group received a placebo drug, and a third group received no treatment at all.

After ten days, the people within the group that received Ketamine reported a large drop in their alcohol intake. Nine months later, researchers followed up with these subjects, who reported that their alcohol consumption was now only half of what it had been before the study.

You might find yourself wondering how an anesthetic and depression treatment can be so effective at treating alcoholism — research indicates Ketamine can block certain receptors inside the brain itself to restabilize a memory.

John Krystal, head of psychiatry at Yale School of Medicine, was a pioneering researcher in the field of Ketamine for depression treatment. “You can help them have a better and more balanced approach to it,” Krystal says. “…instead of the idea that alcohol is always good no matter how much you drink … someone could instead say, ‘You know, I don’t really need to drink this much.’”

What is Ketamine?

Ketamine, first invented for use as an anesthetic, is still one of the most widely used anesthetics and pain relievers today. Within the last decade, research into Ketamine has also shown it to be a powerful depression treatment, as well as a treatment for other mental health conditions like anxiety, PTSD, or OCD. Additionally, Ketamine infusion can help relieve chronic or neuropathic pain. Ketamine is even listed as an Essential Medicine by the World Health Organization (WHO).

Ketamine for Alcohol Abuse

Ketamine can be a powerful treatment for disrupting harmful patterns of behavior, like those found in depressive disorders or OCD (obsessive-compulsive disorder). Recent research shows that this can also help override memories and behaviors related to alcohol abuse.

Ketamine blocks NMDA, a brain receptor which regulates mood and also builds memories. Since Ketamine blocks it, Ketamine may in fact block these triggers altogether.


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