Ketamine is now being explored as a potential treatment for alcohol addiction. But is it an effective treatment approach?

This blog explores the topic of ketamine for alcoholism treatment to understand what we know so far, how it affects the brain and its effectiveness and safety.

What Exactly is Alcohol Use Disorder?

Alcohol use disorder (AUD) stands for a complex medical condition that reveals itself through a person’s diminished capacity to regulate or stop alcohol consumption, even when faced with negative consequences. So, imagine someone who, despite experiencing negative impacts on their social life, career, or health, finds themselves unable to resist alcohol. This is the reality for those living with AUD.

The signs of AUD are not always immediately apparent. However, common indicators involve an escalating tolerance to alcohol, meaning more and more is required to achieve the same effect. Equally concerning are the alcohol withdrawal symptoms that occur when alcohol is not consumed. In many cases, the most telling sign is the persistent attempts to cut down on drinking, coupled with a stubborn continuation despite being aware of the harmful consequences.


Current Treatments for Alcohol Use Disorder

When it comes to addressing AUD, the traditional therapeutic avenues are diverse, incorporating a range of psychological therapy and counselling sessions, as well as a range of medications.

The primary goals of these treatments are to assist individuals in reducing or completely halting their alcohol intake and address any underlying psychological issues that might be contributing to the disorder.

  • Medical detoxification: Often the first step in inpatient treatment, medical detox involves close monitoring and management of alcohol withdrawal symptoms, which can sometimes be severe or life-threatening. Medications may be used to ease withdrawal symptoms and prevent complications.
  • Residential treatment programmes: These are intensive programmes where individuals stay at a treatment facility, such as what we offer here at Ocean Recovery. They offer a structured environment with therapies such as cognitive-behavioural therapy (CBT), group therapy, individual counselling, and sometimes holistic therapies like yoga or meditation. The duration can range from a week to months.
  • Dual diagnosis treatment: For individuals with co-occurring mental health disorders alongside AUD, inpatient programmes can also offer dual diagnosis treatment, such as here at Ocean Recovery. This approach treats both the AUD and the mental health condition simultaneously.
  • Medication-assisted treatment (MAT): In some inpatient settings, medications may be used as part of a treatment plan to reduce cravings and prevent relapse.
  • Support groups and therapy: Participation in support groups (e.g. Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) is common.
  • Aftercare and relapse prevention: This typically involves check-ins, support group meetings, and possibly continued psychological therapy and drug treatment to maintain sobriety and prevent relapse.


What Is Ketamine?

Ketamine, initially developed as an anaesthetic, is now recognised for its dual role in pain management. However, ketamine can be highly addictive.

Ketamine works by acting on the NMDA receptors in the brain. These receptors influence our mood regulation and neuroplasticity, which is the brain’s ability to reorganise itself. This interaction with the NMDA receptors is believed to be the key to ketamine’s rapid antidepressant effects, a feature that has sparked considerable interest in the medical community.

This drug has been used to treat depression and other mental health disorders and has the potential to show remarkable and rapid improvement in symptoms. Some research suggests that ketamine may facilitate synaptic remodelling, potentially leading to enhanced mood and cognitive function. This opens up exciting new possibilities for treating certain psychiatric disorders.


What We Know About Treating Ketamine for Alcoholism Treatment

A £2.4 million clinical trial across several NHS sites is currently trying to see if ketamine, combined with psychotherapy, can make a real difference in reducing heavy drinking six months after treatment. This is building on some earlier research that showed promising results – people who got ketamine along with therapy managed to stay sober in a significant way.

They’re planning to involve 280 people who have a severe struggle with alcohol, dividing them into two groups. One group will get ketamine and therapy, and the other group will get a lower dose of ketamine with some educational stuff about alcohol. The big question they’re trying to answer is whether this combination can actually cut down on harmful drinking.

In another study, which was more of a controlled clinical trial experiment, they tried something similar. They found that those who received ketamine, especially with therapy, had more alcohol-free days over six months. It’s promising because it suggests that ketamine could be more effective when it’s part of a broader therapy approach.

In other words, this concept is still in the early days, and more research is needed to be sure about how safe and effective this is. But it’s definitely a hopeful direction, especially considering how widespread and challenging the issue of alcohol dependence is in the UK and beyond.


Ketamine for Alcoholism Vs Traditional Treatments

Although ketamine is a drug that has been used for many years in the medical field, it’s a relatively new approach in the treatment of alcohol use disorders (AUD).

Its ability to quickly reduce cravings and its unique way of working in the brain make it stand out from traditional treatments. This can be particularly beneficial for those with severe alcohol withdrawal or who haven’t found success with therapy or medication.

Although its immediate effects are promising, the long-term effectiveness of ketamine combined treatment is still under study. There are concerns about side effects, the potential for abuse, and the dissociative experiences it can induce. Plus – we don’t yet fully understand the long-term implications of using ketamine for AUD treatment.

So, to recap – combining ketamine with therapy could be a game-changer in managing severe alcohol use disorder. A dual approach with psychological therapy will likely be needed to enhance the benefits of ketamine whilst also addressing the underlying issues that contribute to AUD.

However, we must tread carefully, balancing the potential benefits with the risks and unknowns. As research continues, we hope to gain a clearer understanding of where ketamine fits in the progression of alcohol use disorder treatment options.


The Future of Ketamine for Alcoholism Treatment

The focus on ketamine for alcoholism treatment is now on understanding the optimal dosing, administration methods, and long-term impacts of ketamine in this context. Experts in the field are hopeful yet emphasise the need for comprehensive and rigorous research to fully comprehend ketamine’s role in AUD treatment and how it might be used to support existing drug and psychological therapy treatment models.

Ketamine’s journey from an anaesthetic to a potential game-changer in treating AUD and other mental health disorders is a testament to the ever-evolving nature of medical science. As we continue to explore and understand ketamine treatment, it holds the promise of opening new doors in the medical industry.


Find Support for Alcohol Use Disorder Today

We hope you’ve found our article on ketamine for alcoholism and whether it’s an effective form of treatment. If you or a loved one are currently struggling and need professional help, we are here to help you. Please contact us today on 0800 880 7596.

John Gillen - Author - Last updated: December 21, 2023

John is one UK’s leading professionals in the addiction recovery industry. Pioneering new treatment techniques such as NAD+ and ongoing research into new therapy techniques such as systematic laser therapy, John is committed to providing the very best treatment for people throughout the UK and Europe. During his extremely busy schedule, John likes to regularly update our blog section with the latest news and trends in the industry to keep visitors to our site as well informed as possible on everything related to addiction treatment.