Memory-Blocking Drug Touted to Help Alcoholics Overcome Addiction

Memory-Blocking Drug Touted to Help Alcoholics Overcome Addiction
PHOTOGRAPH: Kotivalo | Photo shows wine and hard liquor bottles.

Psychologists believe that a one-off dose of a drug could help drinkers reduce alcohol intake. Alcohol addiction could be treated by erasing drink-related memories.

Alcoholism has been known to wreck lives and is very difficult to treat. Few therapies are effective, and most of these usually turn into wasted efforts when the alcoholic urge is re-triggered.

The tranquilizer Ketamine is being tested by psychologists at University College London. The objective is to use the tranquilizer’s property to over-write memories that could trigger the urge to drink.  The sound of clinking glasses or the sight of a glass of beer could lead a recovered drunk to associate happy recollections of a drinking binge.

Ravi Das, one of the lead researchers, summed up the obstacles to full recovery, “The main problem is the really high relapse rate after treatment.” He went on to say that people can quit drinking over a short period when they are confined in the hospital, but then they return home and return to the old habit.

Forgetting That It’s Time for Happy Hour

The proposed solution is to wipe out memories of happy drinking hours. The narcotic blocks a brain receptor called NMDA, which is needed for memories to be molded. There is a small amount of time when the neural connections in the brain are destabilized. It is during such time when the memory-blocker must be administered.

Fifty people have already participated in a test. They are persons who drink harmful amounts of alcohol: equivalent to 40 units a week or four bottles of strong wine for men. For women, the equivalent is 28 units, in at least four days.

One woman who took part in the study described the experience as having put her in an “incredibly positive mood”. It made her more conscious about drinking. She recounted that there were occasions where she would go on autopilot mode and have one drink after another.

A spokesman for the United Kingdom charity Alcohol Concern, Andrew Misell, concurred that the research is “going to be useful”. He says that the researchers are quite correct to highlight the problems faced by the recovering alcoholic, cues or triggers like the smell of alcohol do result in a relapse. He cautioned, however, that any drug-based therapy has its risks. The narcotic is, after all, a recreational drug. Using it to treat addiction may encounter resistance from some sectors.

In 2016, however, a variant on ketamine called “esketamine” has been put on a fast track for approval by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). The FDA’s decision was based on the understanding that the variant would be used to treat depression.


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