A new phase III trial is about to start in the UK across seven sites to test whether ketamine-assisted therapy can help alcoholics quit and stay sober for longer.
The project is called Ketamine for Reduction of Alcohol Relapse (KARE) and is led by a team of researchers based at the University of Exeter, UK. The £2.4 million trial is partly funded by the National Institute for Health and Care Research (NIHR).
This project builds on the positive results from phases I and II, which showed that this treatment is safe and well tolerated by people suffering from severe alcohol disorders. Participants in earlier phases were more likely to stay sober, with 86% still abstinent after six months. Now, researchers want to move further to eventually roll it out as an NHS treatment if it proves effective.
Researchers are looking for 280 participants with severe alcohol disorders, which will be allocated into two groups. One group will receive therapy and ketamine at the dose used during trial I, while the other group will receive a lower dose and only seven therapy sessions to discuss the dangers of drinking.
“More than two million UK adults have serious alcohol problems, yet only one in five of those get treatment. Three out of four people who quit alcohol will be back drinking heavily after a year. Alcohol-related harm is estimated to cost the NHS around £3.5 billion each year and wider UK society around £40 billion. Alcohol problems affect not only the individual but families, friends, and communities, and related deaths have increased still further since the pandemic. We urgently need new treatments. If this trial establishes that ketamine and therapy works, we hope we can begin to see it used in NHS settings,” said Professor Celia Morgan, lead researcher in this trial.
This is going to be the largest trial of its kind in the world. There are a few options available for people suffering with alcoholism, but they’re not suitable for everyone. Doctors and researchers agree that there is a need for new treatments to help patients regain control of their lives and reduce the immense harm they and their families experience.
“Ketamine-assisted psychotherapy for people with alcohol dependence offers the chance for a paradigm shift in how we treat this challenging and frequently re-occurring problem. By bringing together the specific biochemical effects of ketamine and the supportive, structured, and change focused space of psychotherapy, this study should finally establish the usefulness of this approach to treating addictions,” added Dr. Stephen Kaar, one of the study leads of the University of Manchester, and Consultant Addictions Psychiatrist at Greater Manchester Mental Health NHS Foundation Trust. “Ultimately, this study should lead to increased treatment options and improved outcomes for people with alcohol dependence, who at present have very few treatment options when it comes to helping them stay sober or to develop a healthy relationship with alcohol after a detox.”