Ketamine might be an efficient treatment option for alcohol use disorder

4 min read

In a new pilot study, the recently FDA-approved anesthetic ketamine for depressive patients was found to also be efficient for alleviating symptoms of alcohol use disorder. The findings were published in the American Journal of Psychiatry.

According to a team of researchers at Columbia University, just a single dose of ketamine, taken with behavioral therapy, could be a strong therapeutic integration for treating alcoholism.

Alcohol use disorder, as of 2018, affects more than 15 million people in the U.S., with only less than 8 percent having received any form of treatment for the condition.

With such a high prevalence, especially among frequent binge drinkers, researchers recruited 40 middle-aged participants and administered treatment via intravenous administration: 17 received ketamine at a dose of 0.71mg; 23, as part of the control group, took midazolam at 0.025mg.

“In this pilot study, the authors tested whether a single subanesthetic infusion of ketamine administered to adults with alcohol dependence and engaged in motivational enhancement therapy affects drinking outcomes,” said Elias Dakwar, co-author of the study.

“Participants were randomly assigned to a 52-minute intravenous administration of ketamine or the active control midazolam, provided during the second week of a 5-week outpatient regimen of motivational enhancement therapy,” the findings detailed.

“Alcohol use following the infusion was assessed with timeline followback method, with abstinence confirmed by urine ethyl glucuronide testing. A longitudinal logistic mixed-effects model was used to model daily abstinence from alcohol over the 21 days after ketamine infusion.”

The use of motivational therapy, in conjunction with ketamine, could theoretically induce beneficiary effects for the treatment of conditions, like alcohol use disorder, researchers noted.

By the end of the study, the results were clear: 82% of the participants administered ketamine saw a reduction in alcohol use, three weeks after receiving the infusion, compared to 65% among the midazolam group. Additionally, the findings also indicated that ketamine users were less likely to relapse compared to midazolam users.

“Ketamine significantly increased the likelihood of abstinence, delayed the time to relapse, and reduced the likelihood of heavy drinking days compared with midazolam. Infusions were well tolerated, with no participants removed from the study as a result of adverse events,” Dakwar explained.

“A single ketamine infusion was found to improve measures of drinking in persons with alcohol dependence engaged in motivational enhancement therapy.”

The results, although promising as an efficient pharmacotherapy-behavioral treatment for alcohol use disorder, are preliminary in nature and more research is necessary to replicate the findings in a wider scale.

“Our findings add to a growing body of evidence that a single dose of medications with powerful psychoactive effects, such as MDMA, psilocybin, and ketamine, may have immediate and long-lasting effects on behavior, especially when integrated with psychotherapy,” Dakwar concluded.

The use of ketamine as a potential avenue for the treatment of alcoholism was assessed more than a decade ago by researcher Evgeny Krupitsky. The viably intriguing results first appeared in the peer-reviewed journal Alcoholism Treatment Quarterly.