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A study by Nature revealed that a 0.8mg/kg intravenous dose of the controlled drug Ketamine, given following reactivation of memories associated with drinking, led to a 9% reduction in alcohol urges, a reduction in drinking by 35%, and a delay in relapse times, of over 3 times those who were not given Ketamine.

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In the study, 90 harmful drinkers were given Ketamine following the reactivation of positive memories associated with alcohol.

Associations With Alcohol In Addiction

In the pattern of addiction, memories of emotional relief or reward associated with alcohol are central to the addiction being maintained over time.

Everyday stress, or trigger situations, will fire these previous positive associations with alcohol, increasing the urge to drink.

This study demonstrated that when Ketamine was administered at the time these old memories were reactivated, it reduced relapse into alcohol significantly.

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Alcohol consumption dropped by over a third, and self-reported urges fell by 9%, compared to those not given Ketamine.

The time elapsed prior to relapse for those given Ketamine was 10.3 days. For those without Ketamine, the relapse time was 3.1 days.

Using Ketamine As Part Of The Bigger Recovery Journey

The potential for a prescribed solution that reliably reduces alcohol cravings and harmful drinking is of course, compelling.

Nevertheless, obvious concerns exist around the practicality of implementing and scaling a pharmacological solution such as Ketamine to those entering recovery from addiction.

Ketamine is a controlled substance, illegal in most countries, without a prescription. Strict governmental and regulatory controls would therefore need to exist to:

Inevitably, newcomers to recovery may attempt to use a purely medicinal approach to avoid making the lifestyle and personal changes necessary to achieve lasting sobriety.

Prescribed Solution .vs. Whole Person

In our experience at Abbeycare, a whole-person, holistic approach is needed to restore balance and structure following a chaotic period of active addiction.

Novel approaches for urge and craving management of course have their place, but only as part of a bigger picture recovery plan, that includes therapeutic intervention, and psycho-social relapse prevention planning, tailored to individual needs.

Das, R.K., Gale, G., Walsh, K. et al. Ketamine can reduce harmful drinking by pharmacologically rewriting drinking memories. Nat Commun 10, 5187 (2019). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41467-019-13162-w

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About the author

Harriet Garfoot

Harriet Garfoot BA, MA has an Undergraduate degree in Education Studies and English, and a Master's degree in English Literature, from Bishop Grosseteste University. Harriet writes on stress & mental health, and is a member of the Burney Society. Content reviewed by Laura Morris (Clinical Lead).