Ketamine and therapy helped severe alcoholics abstain for longer in trial

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People who suffer from alcohol addiction were able to abstain from drinking longer with the aid of ketamine and therapy, according to new research.

Published in The American Journal of Psychiatry, the study sought to examine whether a low dose of ketamine could help prevent people from quickly returning to drinking after stopping, when combined with therapy. Researchers investigated the safety and efficacy of ketamine compared with placebo in increasing abstinence in patients with alcohol use disorder. In addition, researchers aimed to pilot ketamine combined with mindfulness-based relapse prevention therapy compared with ketamine and alcohol education as a therapy control.

In a double-blind placebo-controlled phase 2 clinical trial, 96 patients with severe alcohol use disorder were randomly assigned to one of four conditions: 1) three weekly ketamine infusions (0.8 mg/kg i.v. over 40 minutes) plus psychological therapy, 2) three saline infusions plus psychological therapy, 3) three ketamine infusions plus alcohol education, or 4) three saline infusions plus alcohol education. The primary outcomes were self-reported percentage of days abstinent and confirmed alcohol relapse at 6-month follow-up.

Researchers found that the treatment was well-tolerated and there were no serious adverse events associated with ketamine. According to the study, at the six-month follow-up, there were a significantly greater number of days abstinent from alcohol in the ketamine group compared with the placebo group. Researchers found the greatest reduction in the ketamine plus therapy group compared with the saline plus education group. Participants who received ketamine and therapy stayed completely sober for 162 of 180 days in the six-month follow-up period, representing 87 percent abstinence. There was no significant difference in relapse rate between the ketamine and placebo groups.

The Ketamine for Reduction of Alcohol Relapse (KARE) trial was led by the University of Exeter.