People suffering from severe alcohol use disorder can, at times, feel like there is little hope for ending their addiction. Alcohol Use Disorder, or AUD, is characterized by the inability to control drinking habits because of either physical and/or emotional dependence on alcohol.
Additionally, those with AUD have also been found to have a higher risk of developing depression, and inversely those who are suffering from depression have an increased risk of developing AUD. Alcoholism has a severe impact on a person’s life, as well as their loved ones, and is considered a chronic disease marked by periods of abstinence and relapse.
Ketamine: Hope for the Future
Ketamine is a psychoactive drug that has been used medically since the late sixties, and it has been found to have unique and potentially life-changing effects in treating a wide array of mental and pain illnesses. Ketamine infusions have a variety of effects but are mostly marked by inducing sedation, providing pain relief, and dissociation.
Ketamine has been increasingly used, in part because of its dissociative effects and ability to provide pain relief as a method of treating depression. Additionally, it is a potential treatment for those with severe alcohol use disorder.
Recent studies have been conducted that have found interesting links between a combination of ketamine infusion treatment and relapse prevention-based psychological therapies and their effects on those suffering from alcohol use disorder. Although research is still in its preliminary stages, it shows promising results in individuals who are suffering from alcohol use disorder.
In one study, the authors stated that alcoholism can destroy lives and that there is an urgent need for new therapies, like ketamine, to help people with this diagnosis. The researchers from the University of Exeter in the United Kingdom sought to examine if low doses of ketamine can be effective in preventing alcohol relapse when used in conjunction with therapy. Researchers included 96 subjects who were not routinely consuming alcohol but had had previous alcohol abuse use issues. The participants who were given ketamine treatment combined with therapy were found to stay completely sober for 162 of 180 days in the following 6 months. This rate of abstinence was reported to be significantly higher than any of the other groups, being 2.5 times more likely to remain abstinent at the end of the trial when compared to participants on placebo. This survey not only sparks interest in ketamine’s ability to potentially help those with alcohol abuse but also stresses the importance of psychological therapy for those suffering from alcohol abuse.
Martin Preston, Founder and CEO of a rehab clinic in the U.K, spoke of the results saying that alongside therapy, ketamine (in certain doses) can combat “depressive feelings” and the pain associated with them as they relate to alcohol dependency. Preston states that one of the reasons why ketamine is so effective in alleviating symptoms of alcohol dependency is that, in low, moderate doses, it can actually transform the way we think and block memories and memory patterns that could act as a trigger, resulting in relapse.
Another study conducted by researchers at Columbia University Vagelos College of Physicians and Surgeons and New York State Psychiatric Institute took 40 participants with alcohol use disorder and put them into groups, with one group receiving a single dose of ketamine, and another receiving midazolam, which is a drug commonly used to treat alcohol withdrawal.
The study saw that the ketamine group had a higher likelihood of abstinence, with 82% of individuals who received ketamine remaining abstinent for three weeks after, while 65% of individuals who received midazolam remained abstinent. Those in the ketamine group were also found to have fewer heavy drinking days and took longer to relapse. Although single-dose ketamine is useful in the short term, we at Avesta believe that using the depression model of treatment, where we can cause longer-term effects, is probably much more desirable and effective.
Indeed, researchers have found that the reason for ketamine’s success is that it targets psychological problems that materialize in people who suffer from alcohol abuse. This is most likely due to the fact that ketamine is effective in addressing certain vulnerabilities, such as low motivation or resilience, which can both contribute to relapses if left unacknowledged. In this way, ketamine helps change patterns of behavior, allowing people struggling with alcohol dependency to start working toward their individual goals, along with a trained therapist or counselor.
While these results are encouraging, more research is currently underway to examine the effects of ketamine infusion therapy on those suffering from alcohol abuse. New studies are being conducted to see whether multiple doses of ketamine can improve abstinence in people with alcohol use disorder.
It is especially critical now for more research to be conducted. The COVID-19 pandemic has led to a dramatic rise in risky drinking and those abusing alcohol. Dr. Amy de la Garza, the director of substance use disorder programs at Novamind psychiatry clinics and research centers, is one expert that has called for new tools to be developed to counter the growing alcohol abuse as well as other substance abuse problems that are found across the globe. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) found that heavy alcohol use causes 95,000 deaths annually in the United States.
At Avesta Ketamine and Wellness, we offer individualized ketamine infusion treatment plans and therapies for patients suffering from a variety of disorders, both physical and mental. For those who are suffering from alcohol abuse and are considering ketamine infusion therapies for help, consider talking to your health care providers first. You can call or schedule your consultation online – we’re here to help.
Bunn, J. (2022, May 24). Ketamine for Alcohol Use Disorder. Drugscience.Org.Uk. https://www.drugscience.org.uk/ketamine-for-alcohol-use-disorder/
(2022, July 6). Alcohol-Related Deaths. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. https://www.cdc.gov/alcohol/features/excessive-alcohol-deaths.html
Ketamine Infusions Support Alcohol Abstinence Among Patients With Alcohol Use Disorder. (2022, March 1). Psychiatry Advisor. https://www.psychiatryadvisor.com/home/topics/addiction/alcohol-related-disorders/ketamine-infusions-were-associated-with-fewer-days-of-alcohol-use/
Ketamine May Help People with Alcohol Use Disorder. (2022, January 11). Healthline. https://www.healthline.com/health-news/ketamine-and-psychological-therapy-may-help-people-with-severe-alcohol-use-disorder
Single Dose of Ketamine Plus Talk Therapy May Reduce Alcohol Use. (2019, December 4). Columbia University Irving Medical Center. https://www.cuimc.columbia.edu/news/single-dose-ketamine-plus-talk-therapy-may-reduce-alcohol-use
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Author Dr. Ladan Eshkevari, PhD, CRNA, FAAN Dr. Eshkevari is the lead clinician at Avesta, and is a long time researcher and educator in physiology, biophysics, and anesthesiology. She is passionate about assisting patients with retractable, difficult to treat mood disorders, and relies on the latest research to bring evidence to Avesta’s practice to better understand and serve patients.