Scientists believe that a radical treatment involving the tranquilliser ketamine could help overcome alcohol addiction by “erasing” drink-related memories.
Psychologists based at University College London are testing whether a one-off dose of the drug could help hazardous drinkers who are trying to reduce their alcohol intake. Alcohol addiction is notoriously difficult to treat, and there are few effective therapies available.
Using a recreational drug to treat addiction may sound counterintuitive, but the researchers say there is a growing body of research suggesting that ketamine can be used to disrupt harmful patterns of behaviour.
Ravi Das, one of the lead researchers, said: “There is evidence that it could be useful as a treatment for alcoholism.”
Crucially, ketamine can disrupt the formation of memories, and scientists believe that this property could be harnessed to over-write the memories that drive addiction and harmful patterns of behaviour.
“Memories that you form can be hijacked by drugs in some people,” said Das. “If you were an alcoholic you might have a strong memory of being in a certain place and wanting to drink. Those memories get continuously triggered by things in the environment that you can’t avoid.”