New research suggests that ketamine may help people struggling with alcohol addiction. A slightly randomized, controlled trial showed that individuals with severe alcohol consumption disorder who received ketamine infusions reported more days of abstinence during the six-month follow-up than those in the control group. The benefits also seemed to be greater for people taking ketamine in addition to psychotherapy.
Ketamine has long been used as a sedative for humans and animals, and is sometimes used taken as a recreational drug with a hallucinogenic effect. IIn recent years he has taken on a different identity as a treatment of depression. Since 2019, the Food and Drug Administration has approved a modified version of ketamine, available as a nasal spray, for treatment-resistant depression and for severe depression combined with acute suicidal ideation, combined with an oral antidepressant.
Some scientists hope that ketamine could also help people with alcohol disorders, based on some early studies. But this new research, Published Tuesday in the American Journal of Psychiatry, reportedly the first clinical trial of its kind.
Researchers at The University of Exeter in the United Kingdom recruited 96 people diagnosed with severe alcohol consumption disorder. Volunteers were divided into four groups, paratwo groups rreceives psychological therapy and two attends alcohol education. Within these couples, one group would receive a three-week infusion of ketamine and the other a placebo saline infusion. Three months and six months after the first infusion, volunteers would self-report their days spent abstaining from alcohol, and if they had a relapse, defined as one or more days of heavy drinking.
There was no significant difference in relapse rate between the ketamine and placebo groups. But those who received ketamine in any of these conditions reported a higher percentage of days spent abstaining from alcohol at both three and six months. The largest gap was observed between the group receiving ketamine and therapy and the group receiving placebo without therapy, with the former reporting sobriety for 162 of 180 days. Those who took ketamine also has fewer symptoms of depression after three months and better liver function than placebo groups. No serious side effects were reported, although two volunteers withdrew from the ketamine portion of the study because they could not tolerate the drug.
“Alcoholism can ruin lives and we urgently need new ways to help people reduce it. We have found that controlled, low-dose ketamine combined with psychological therapy can help people stay alcohol-free longer than placebo, ”said lead author Celia Morgan in statement from the university. “This is extremely encouraging, because we usually see three out of four people return to drinking within six months of quitting, so this result is a big improvement.”
It is based on a small sample size, and the research is intended only as proof of concept. Therefore, more evidence will be needed to determine whether ketamine can be effective for alcohol disorder. Morgan and her team also believe that ketamine alone is unlikely to be an effective treatment for these individuals. Iin fact, it should be paired with therapy or counseling support and used only as a short-termoccasional help. But given the lack of other reliable effective options, and growing ascent excessive or harmful alcohol use (perhaps in part due to a pandemic), researchers hope ketamine will continue to promise and eventually become part of treatment tools.
“This was a phase II clinical trial, which means it is being conducted on humans primarily to test the safety and feasibility of treatment. We now have an early signal that this treatment is effective. We now need more scrutiny to see if we can confirm those effects, ”Morgan said.