Over the past ten years, researchers have suggested that ketamine could treat alcohol addiction. Usually, this drug is an anesthetic used in hospital operating rooms. But ketamine is also helping patients with alcohol use disorder. Ketamine infusions and regular counseling sessions have been found to be an effective strategy to help patients stay sober.
Alcohol Consumption Facts and Figures
Alcohol consumption was responsible for approximately 5.3 percent of deaths worldwide in 2016. At that time, it ranked No. 7 among leading factors for disability and premature death. Two years later, in 2018, the World Health Organization (WHO) reported that alcohol consumption had a bearing on over 200 diseases and health conditions. This list includes:
- Cancer (colon, esophagus, larynx, liver, mouth, pharynx, rectum)
- Cardiovascular disease
- Fetal Alcohol Syndrome Disorders (in children of pregnant women who consume alcohol)
- Liver disease
- Stomach bleeding
Ketamine has been approved for use in hospitals and medical clinics for anesthetic purposes. Since it also produces hallucinations and feelings of relaxation among recreational users, ketamine is a commonly abused “club drug.” Repeated use leads to tolerance and psychological addiction.
Ketamine’s chemical structure is similar to phencyclidine (PCP). When ingested, ketamine causes the user to experience a trance-like state. They feel disconnected from their environment. Nightclub patrons may use the drug to enhance their experience. Due to its disorienting qualities, ketamine has been used as a “date rape” drug to disorient and confuse sexual assault victims in several instances. Veterinarians will use ketamine as an anesthetic, especially for large animals. It is also used to treat depression, to control epileptic seizures that are unresponsive to other treatment options, and for pain relief. Hospitals may use the medication as follows:
- Diagnostic procedures on the eyes, ears, nose, and throat
- Minor surgical procedures (example: dental extractions)
- Orthopedic procedures
- Skin grafts
According to a 2014 research study, ketamine infusions successfully reduced the symptoms of PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) in multiple patients who had experienced several types of trauma.
Ketamine Infusions Available for Addiction Treatment
Ketamine infusions are available at clinics worldwide for addiction treatment. They are also being used to treat certain psychiatric conditions, such as severe depression that has not responded to other treatment methods. This is still a controversial treatment option.
According to Celia Morgan, ketamine-assisted psychotherapy is a short-term treatment. Celia is a researcher at the University of Exeter and the head of ketamine-assisted psychotherapy for alcohol use disorder at the UK’s first publicly accessible ketamine-assisted psychotherapy clinic. Her work with the substance has given her confidence that when used as a medicine, and with therapy, ketamine presents a safe alternative for treating alcohol addiction. The dose of ketamine used for infusions is much lower than what is used for anesthetic purposes.
Proponents of this chemical-based approach to addiction treatment are adamant that the clinical use of Ketamine in this circumstance is not “replacing one addiction for another.” Ms. Morgan cited two Russian studies conducted during the 1980s where participants could choose whether they wanted to be part of the ketamine group, and receive the drug, or the control group.
The ketamine group received three IV treatments of Ketamine along with psychotherapy. Those in the control group received psychotherapy only. The study results indicated that 66% of patients who received ketamine and psychotherapy were sober 12 months after completing treatment, compared with just 24% of the control group.
There’s mounting evidence to suggest that alternative approaches like Ketamine assisted psychotherapy could be an effective approach to treating substance use disorders. Rehabilitation is not a one-size-fits-all process, and it’s impossible to guarantee success with one particular approach. However, as we learn more about why ketamine improves outcomes when combined with psychotherapy, we understand more about addiction and how to heal from it.