Ketamine Could Help Heavy Drinkers Cut Down By ‘Rewriting Drinking Memories,’ Study Says

Prescription pill bottles are displayed during a press preview of an auction of the personal effects of Dr. Jack Kevorkian at the New York Institute of Technology on October 27, 2011.
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A new study in Nature Communications suggests that a single dose of intravenous ketamine could help heavy drinkers reduce their alcohol intake. According to the researchers behind the study, ketamine can achieve such an effect by “rewriting drinking memories” via disruption of the brain’s association between beer-associated cues and reward-associated cues.

Per Newsweek, participants were asked about their attitudes toward drinking on the first and last days of the three-day experiment. The participants were then presented a series of images on a screen — beer, wine, and soft drinks — and asked to rate them based on how pleasant they were. The images were rated while having a 150-milliliter glass of beer in front of them, which they also rated in terms of their urge to drink it and how much they would enjoy it. After rating the images and the beer, the participants were allowed to drink the beer as fast as they wanted and had to rate how much they enjoyed it and their desire to drink more.

Approximately 48 hours after the first experiment, a second experiment was conducted. During this phase, participants were given a glass of beer or juice and shown more images of drinks — this time of beer and nonalcoholic beverages — and asked to rate their urge to consume them. Afterward, they were allowed to drink their beer or juice. However, there was a catch to this phase. The drink was unexpectedly taken from them, which Newsweek reports the researchers believed would “destabilize” the “maladaptive reward memories” connected to drinking.

After a “memory reactivation process,” participants either received ketamine or a placebo for 30 minutes. A third group received ketamine alone without the memory reactivation as a control.

“The researchers found a big drop in drinking levels in the group who had their memories disrupted and took ketamine, by about 23.5 units per week and a fall in the number of days they drank,” Newsweek reports. “The volunteers also reported having less of an urge to drink, and enjoying alcohol less. This effect lingered for nine months.”

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Research into ketamine has suggested that it holds the potential to counter suicidal ideation and depression. As The Inquisitr previously reported, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) added a ketamine-like nasal spray to its options for treatment-resistant depression earlier this year. The approval of the drug — put forward by Janssen Pharmaceuticals Inc. under the Johnson & Johnson brand — doesn’t come without restrictions, though. Patients must show that they have tried — and failed — to receive benefit from other methods of depression treatment and are unable to achieve relief with other medications. In addition, the drug must be taken along with an oral antidepressant.