Study finds ketamine and therapy helps alcoholics stay off drinking for longer

By Michelle Cullen

A new clinical trial has found that people being treated for alcoholism with ketamine and psychological therapy were able to stay away from heavy drinking for longer.

The study was carried out to investigate if a low drug dosage could be an effective treatment.

Researchers found the Ketamine for reduction of Alcohol Relapse (KARE) trial displayed benefits even six months later in cases of severe alcoholism.

The trail led by the University of Exeter and funded by the Medical Research Council will now be extended to include more people.

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Aesthetic ketamine is a medical drug used for pain relief and sedation but is also known for being used recreationally for its hallucinogenic properties.

Lead author Professor Celia Morgan of the University of Exeter said: "Alcoholism can destroy lives, and we urgently need new ways to help people cut down.

"We found that controlled, low doses of ketamine combined with psychological therapy can help people stay off alcohol for longer than placebo.

"This is extremely encouraging, as we normally see three out of every four people returning to heavy drinking within six months of quitting alcohol, so this result represents a great improvement."

The study included 96 people with alcohol issues who were sober at the time of the trial.

The research found that people who took ketamine and were given therapy stayed sober for 162 to 180 days in the six-month follow-up time.

People given this treatment were twice as likely to stay sober at the end of the trial than those given the placebo.

Professor Morgan said a bigger trial is needed to confirm the effects of the treatment.

She said: "We now have an early signal this treatment is effective. We now need a bigger trial to see if we can confirm these effects.

"We're certainly not advocating taking ketamine outside of a clinical context. Street drugs come with obvious risks, and it's the combination of a low dose of ketamine and the right psychological therapy that is key, as is the expertise and support of clinical staff.

"This combination showed benefits still seen six months later, in a group of people for whom many existing treatments just don't work."

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