In addition to growing support for its use in pain, depression, and anxiety, ketamine is now being studied as a potential aid in treating addiction. The drug, which has been FDA approved for treating refractory depression and acute suicidal ideation, has shown promising results in early clinical trials for substance abuse disorders. 

Traditional Treatment for Substance Abuse

Traditional pharmaceutical methods for the treatment of addiction vary depending on which substance is being abused. Methadone has long been the drug of choice for opioid dependency, reducing the severity of withdrawal symptoms and limiting the euphoric effect of drugs such as heroin, morphine, and codeine.

Methadone is, itself, a long-acting opioid. As such, it must be tapered down over several weeks to avoid unpleasant side effects. Furthermore, methadone treatment is long (lasting several years in some cases). This requires a good deal of accountability on behalf of both patient and provider. 

Patients detoxing from alcohol abuse may be prescribed disulfiram or other drugs to slow the metabolism of alcohol and create an intensely unpleasant reaction in the body when alcohol is consumed. 

Unfortunately, relapse rates using current therapies are high, between 40 and 60 percent. While relapse is often viewed as part of the process of treating chronic addiction, a recent increase in opioid overdose deaths has created an urgent need for effective, long-lasting treatment. 

Is Ketamine a Better Treatment for Addiction?

Early studies are extremely encouraging regarding the use of ketamine in treating addiction. A non-opioid with limited side effects is already a vast improvement on current pharmaceutical therapies, which require tapering to avoid withdrawal symptoms. 

In individuals recovering from alcohol and cocaine use, a 2018 study found ketamine effectively prolonged abstinence rates of both substances. Even more interesting, however, was the fact that cocaine users with no intention of seeking treatment reported using the drug less often while receiving ketamine therapy. This reduction in cravings means that ketamine may have the surprising effect of unintentional rehabilitation from an addictive substance.

The way in which ketamine treats addiction warrants further study. Ezquerra Ramano et al in the above study believe it has to do with the drug’s ability to enhance neuroplasticity and neurogenesis. That is to say, ketamine seemingly repairs brain function and efficiency. Ketamine may also help addiction by disrupting certain neural networks and treating depressive symptoms and enhancing the effects of accompanying psychotherapy. 

Regardless of the mechanism of action, ketamine is consistently demonstrating its efficacy in a wide variety of disorders, from pain to addiction. It will be interesting to see future developments as more study is dedicated to its use as an alternative to traditional therapies.

The Crane Center is A Top Destin Ketamine Clinic

At the Crane Center, we use intramuscular and intranasal ketamine for patients we feel may benefit from it. Your provider will help determine the correct dose and route of administration if ketamine assisted psychotherapy is right for you. If you are struggling with addiction, chronic pain, anxiety, or another mental health disorder, please contact our office to see how we might help.