Could Ketamine Help You Overcome Alcohol Dependency?
What is Alcoholism (aka Alcohol Use Disorder)?
From a medical perspective, “heavy alcohol use” occurs at the following levels of consumption:(3)
Men: more than four drinks per day or more than 14 drinks per week
Women: more than three drinks per day or more than seven drinks per week
Individuals can be classified as “binge drinkers” if they consume more than five drinks on the same occasion (for men) or more than four drinks on the same occasion (for women).
Both heavy alcohol use and binge drinking increase the risk of someone developing an alcohol use disorder. Alcohol can also be used as a tool to avoid emotional stressors, which can contribute to an inability to control consumption for some.
What are the Symptoms of Alcoholism?There are many symptoms that can indicate a problem with alcohol. Importantly, doctors can diagnose a patient with mild alcohol use disorder if the patient has exhibited just two of the following symptoms within the past year:(4)
The severity of a person’s alcohol use disorder depends on how many symptoms they exhibit. Two to three symptoms indicate mild AUD. Four to five symptoms indicate moderate AUD. Anyone who exhibits six or more of these symptoms is considered to have severe AUD.(5)
Regardless of the root causes, the severity of someone’s symptoms can often be determined by the frequency and quantity at which alcohol is consumed. In other words, if you drink too much too often, there may be an increased risk that you could develop a diagnosable alcohol abuse condition.
What Causes Alcohol Addiction?
Can Ketamine Help with Alcohol Abuse?
The good news in all this is that there is a relatively new treatment that is showing promising results in curbing alcohol abuse. The treatment involves the administration of a drug called ketamine, often in combination with talk therapy.
Ketamine is a short-acting anesthetic used on humans and animals since the 1970s.(7) The drug gained some notoriety during the 1980s in the club scene.
A recent study compared the effects of one 52-minute infusion of ketamine to benzodiazepine midazolam in individuals seeking treatment for alcohol dependence. The results showed that the individuals in the ketamine group were more likely to abstain from alcohol and had a reduced inclination to drink heavily compared to the participants in the midazolam group.
While more research is needed, these results indicate that ketamine could have promise as a treatment for alcohol abuse disorder.
How is Ketamine Therapy used to Treat Alcohol Abuse? One double-blind, placebo-controlled study (neither the test administrator nor participants knew which group was the control) utilized ketamine to determine its effectiveness in combating alcoholism.(8) The study was split into four groups of participants: 1) those who received three weekly ketamine infusions plus psychological therapy; 2) those who received three saline infusions combined with psychological therapy; 3) those who received three ketamine infusions plus alcohol education; and 4) those who received three saline infusions along with alcohol education.
After six months post-study, the results showed that the ketamine groups had a significant increase in the days in which they abstained from alcohol compared to the group that received the saline. Even more promising is that the abstaining days were even greater in the ketamine group that also received therapy (compared to the saline group that received alcohol education).(9)
Is Ketamine for Alcoholism Effective?Overall, ketamine appears to be effective in curbing alcohol abuse. Indeed, in the study referenced above, participants who received ketamine infusions could abstain from drinking significantly longer than those in the placebo group (e.g., those who received saline injections). Notably, those who received the ketamine infusion and psychological therapy reaped the greatest benefits.(10)
The Science of Ketamine for AlcoholismWhile further research is needed on ketamine’s usefulness in treating alcoholism, early findings offer theories about how and why the treatment is effective. Primarily, it is thought that ketamine combined with talk therapy helps the brain rewire itself. This may be due to ketamine’s dampening of the fear response.(11) Reducing feelings of fear may allow patients to be more open with therapists when discussing difficult and emotionally troubling subjects.
Ketamine-assisted therapy also seems to have an additional physiological effect on the brains of individuals with an alcohol use disorder. Specifically, it appears to break the connections alcoholics have between the smell and taste of alcohol and the pleasurable sensation they’ve historically received from those stimuli.(12)
How Safe is Ketamine for Alcohol Abuse?Research and a long history of medical usage indicate ketamine may be a relatively safe treatment option when used in an appropriate, professional setting. Studies have shown that ketamine therapy for alcoholism may be safe and effective. Patients may experience significant symptom relief from a single ketamine infusion coupled with talk therapy.(13)
Could Ketamine Help You Overcome Alcohol Addiction?As with any medical condition, you should consult a physician or psychologist before undergoing a new treatment regimen for alcoholism. Ketamine may not be right for everyone. If you think ketamine could help you with an alcohol use disorder, you should contact a medical professional. Ketamine therapy may require a diagnosis and referral. Find a ketamine clinic near you, and take your first step to better mental health.