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New Ketamine Treatment Trial for Alcohol Addiction


There has been a growing ambition in recent years to the use and effectiveness of psychedelics to treat addiction. This has led to researchers at the University of Exeter currently trialling the use of ketamine in the treatment of alcohol addiction.

The trial – which has reached its second stage – will focus on whether a combination of ketamine and psychological therapy could help people with alcohol addictions stay sober for longer.

Research into new treatments comes as the number of alcohol-related deaths continues to rise since the start of the pandemic. The number of alcoholic liver deaths, rose by 20.8% between 2019 and 2020, compared to a rise of 2.9% between 2018 and 20191.

It’s known that urgent action needs to be taken. Read on to find out how Ketamine could be successfully used in the treatment of alcohol addiction.

What is ketamine?

Ketamine is a licensed medical drug and is typically used as an anaesthetic for treating pain. However, ketamine is very often used recreationally despite being a banned Class-B substance. Due to its sedating effects, it’s defined as a dissociative anaesthetic and is sold as a brown or white powder.

What are the effects of ketamine?

Users have described ‘out-of-body’ experiences when using ketamine, causing them to feel detached from themselves and their surroundings. A strong anaesthetic, the drug can also make movement difficult, as well as distort sight and sound. When taken at very high doses, people have reported feeling as if they’re about to die, while others have found themselves in a ‘state of utter bliss’.

How can ketamine be used to treat alcoholism?

Researchers have been exploring the use of ketamine to treat other conditions such as depression for many years.

The Ketamine for reduction of Alcohol Relapse (KARE) trial, received £2.4m in funding from the Medical Research Council and is being led by the University of Exeter. The first phase of the clinical trial found that people with severe alcohol use disorders were able to stay abstinent for longer after being treated with a combination of low doses of ketamine and psychological therapy.

The study aims to prove that ketamine can reduce the desire to drink alcohol by pharmacologically rewriting drinking memories. The development and maintenance of an addiction relies partly on the involvement of maladaptive reward memories (MRMs), where stored memories become briefly labile upon retrieval. Ketamine will be used to disrupt these memories and therefore prevent relapse.

Effective, targeted memory rewriting, however, currently represents an unmet clinical challenge. Critically, once stabilised – or consolidated – into long-term memory storage, MRMs were thought to become long-lasting and essentially unchangeable, promoting rebound/relapse even long after successful reduction or detoxification and abstinence2.

If you’re struggling with alcoholism, or you suspect that someone you love has an addiction to alcohol, call us today. The Christmas period can be especially difficult for someone in the throes of addiction. Our team are here to help. Whether you’re looking for alcohol detox, inpatient rehab or drug counselling, we can advise on the best course of treatment for you.

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What are the potential risks?

Of course, ketamine is an addictive drug, and uncontrolled use can lead to addiction. For this treatment to be successful, getting the dose right is vital. However, there continues to be discussion about whether this type of treatment will act as a gateway to recreational ketamine use.

Professor Celia Morgan of the University of Exeter said “We’re certainly not advocating taking ketamine outside of a clinical context. Street drugs come with obvious risks, and it’s the combination of a low dose of ketamine and the right psychological therapy that is key, as is the expertise and support of clinical staff.”3

Therapy plays a key part in the success of this new therapy. Ketamine is an extremely powerful drug, and it’s vital that a therapist understands how to unlock its potential and avoid any pitfalls. Therapy will need to begin once ketamine’s dissociating side effects have worn off, but within the window of neuroplasticity in the brain.

If this study is successful, it would signify a major breakthrough in the treatment of alcoholism and possibly prevent a huge number of alcohol-related deaths per year.

Alcohol detox and rehab

At Which Rehab, we have helped thousands of people find recovery from alcohol addiction. Whether you’re looking for an alcohol detox for yourself or rehab for someone you care about, our team can assist in finding you the best clinic. We take into account each person’s circumstances and personal needs in order to ensure they receive the best treatment. Call us today to begin your journey to sobriety.



1 https://www.gov.uk/government/news/alcoholic-liver-deaths-increased-by-21-during-year-of-the-pandemic

2 https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6879579/

3 https://www.exeter.ac.uk/news/homepage/title_892128_en.html