Worldwide, alcohol use disorder is an escalating problem. For people who suffer with this disorder, giving up drinking for good is key to allow recovery of physical and mental health as well as quality of life, but current treatments often have low success rates. Evidence from Evgeny Krupitsky’s studies in Russia in the 1980’s suggested that 3 doses of the anaesthetic drug, ketamine, combined with psychological therapy can reduce one year relapse rates in alcohol use disorder by over 40%. Such a dramatic treatment effect fits with converging evidence from studies in animals, healthy humans as well as in humans with depression suggest that ketamine might be acting to promote the growth of new connections between brain cells, a process which we know to be impaired following heavy alcohol use and which might explain the dramatic treatment effect. Ketamine has also relatively recently been discovered to be a very rapid acting and effective antidepressant and we know that depression is rife in alcoholism and predicts relapse, so treating depression with ketamine might account for this extraordinary reduction in relapse rates.
I talk about our clinical trial currently underway which will assess whether ketamine-assisted therapy is safe, well-tolerated and effective at promoting abstinence in a sample of 96 recently detoxified alcoholics. Thanks to a palpable shift in people’s attitudes towards substances like ketamine, we are now able to undertake this study this Medical Research Council funded study of what promises to be an exciting new treatment approach to alcohol use disorder.