Ketamine could help overcome alcohol addiction by “erasing” drink-related memories.
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 a grave condition that may include being preoccupied with alcohol, not knowing how much wine is too much, having trouble avoiding alcohol, continuing its use even when it causes problems, having withdrawal symptoms when you try to quit, other similar issues. It is extremely common all over the world. Most people would probably try alcohol at least once in their lifetime, out of which 6.7% are likely to develop an addiction. Unfortunately, it can be notoriously difficult to treat, and there are very 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.”