Brain Sciences


Ketamine could be used to treat alcohol addiction

28 November 2018

UCL psychologists are testing whether ketamine could be used to help alcohol addicts avoid relapse by stimulating the growth of new neurons in the brain which could enhance therapy.


The researchers are conducting ongoing experiments to assess whether three doses of the tranquiliser ketamine alongside therapy sessions might be a solution for alcohol dependence.

UCL clinical research assistant, Beth Marsh, says the KARE trial, ‘Ketamine for reduction of Alcoholic Relapse,’ is inspired by the promising results of previous research which found that combining ketamine with therapy led to lower relapse rates than any existing relapse prevention method.

“There are potential mechanisms by which ketamine might support prolonged abstinence from alcohol. As symptoms of low mood are believed to be a common trigger for relapse, and with recent studies showing the anti-depressant properties of ketamine, this treatment may help people to maintain abstinence by lifting their mood,” said Marsh.

According to the researchers, ketamine may also help patients to engage with psychological therapy by promoting learning and memory, which is often impaired in people with problematic alcohol use as it stimulates greater connectivity in the brain.

The KARE trial, a multi-disciplinary clinical project with UCL and the University of Exeter, monitors participants’ use of alcohol over a 6-month period, following seven treatment visits. The trial requires participants to be abstinent from alcohol when they begin taking part, in order to see whether the treatment might help them to maintain their quit attempt.

At each treatment visit participants receive a session of therapy or education, and at three of the visits they receive 0.8mg/kg of ketamine, or placebo.

“It is estimated that there are around 600,000 people who are dependent on alcohol in England less than 20% of those people are receiving treatment. 

“The impact of alcohol abuse is far-reaching in our society, placing a burden on individuals, families and systems (healthcare, law, enforcement, etc.)

“The research and development of effective relapse prevention treatments will therefore have a profound positive impact on the lives of many people experiencing alcohol dependency and society,” said Marsh.

Researchers in both London and Exeter are still recruiting for the trial, if you are interested please phone 020 7679 5938 or email kare@exeter.ac.uk.