It’s been demonstrably effective in the treatment of depression; but can the tranquilizer ketamine be effective in the treatment alcohol addiction? Researchers at University College London believe so and are moving forward in an effort to prove it. Project leader Ravi Das and fellow researchers are working to determine whether or not ketamine can rewrite memories in order to reduce cravings and diminish the chance of relapse. Ketamine blocks a receptor in the brain that is instrumental in the formation of memories. Das and his colleagues are testing ketamine’s applicability in the treatment alcohol use disorder (AUD) by creating memories and then blocking them.
The point of the exercise is to rewrite memories that are tied to alcohol consumption and then block them. The University College London study will feature about 90 participants who are heavy drinkers. Researchers will trigger an alcohol memory by placing a beer in front of participants and then surprising them in order to interrupt the memory. Participants will then be given either a high dose of ketamine or a placebo, and monitored for a year to see if there are any changes in drinking patterns. Above all, they are hoping this technique can help mitigate relapse for alcoholism, which some studies indicate are as high as 90 percent.
Despite a sound basis for further investigation, Das and company are expecting pushback from detractors of ketamine due to its long-standing reputation as a recreational drug. Although medication-assisted treatment is gaining more and more ground in the recovery communities, ketamine is still a controversial and, for many facilities, a non-starter. Research into memory-based addiction treatment has also made its way across the pond to the University of South Carolina, where researchers are looking into it for tobacco smokers. Clinical uses for ketamine include the treatment chronic pain, anesthesia, sedation in intensive care and memory loss.