Can one shot keep alcoholics off booze? Scientists say this could help

The key to becoming a teetotaller might be a one-off shot of a different drug. Scientists say that a new treatment involving a shot of ketamine could help heavy drinkers substantially reduce alcohol consumption.

Ketamine, more commonly used as an anaesthetic and in animal tranquilisers, also finds popularity as a recreational drug. Now, scientists say that it can be used to "rewrite" drink-related memories, reports The Guardian. Possibly, in the future, this discovery could be developed into a new form of treatment for alcohol addiction.

The trial was led by Dr Ravi Das, a psychologist at University College London. Das says, "There was a really big drop-off, which was maintained or got even better up to nine months. I was surprised by how effective it was.”

According to the Guardian, a growing body of evidence suggests that ketamine can be used to disrupt memories. Adapting that to addiction, the memories that drive harmful patterns of behaviour, researchers believe, can be influenced by ketamine. Thus, harmful habits and unhelpful memories can potentially be unlearned.

The study was conducted with 90 people who indulged in hazardous levels of drinking, but did not have a formal diagnosis of alcohol use disorder. They were drinking roughly 30 pints of beer per week.

On the first day the participants were given a glass of beer that they were allowed to drink after viewing some images of beer and people drinking.

The next day, while the same was promised, the beer was however taken away at the end.

Unexpected removal of an anticipated reward can temporarily disrupt learned associations. With ketamine however a brain receptor called NMDA can be blocked. This is necessary for the formation of memories.

Once the beer was taken away, a third of the participants were given an intravenous ketamine infusion, while others were given a placebo infusion. The third group got ketamine without a psychological intervention.

The researchers, over a 10-day follow up noted that people given ketamine along with psychological intervention showed significant reductions in their urge to drink as compared to the other participants.

The effect was sustained over a nine-month follow-up and it was noted that all three groups had reduced their drinking. Those given the ketamine therapy had a much more pronounced overall improvement

The research team now intends to apply for funding to carry out a clinical trial.

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