Therapeutic potential of ketamine for alcohol use disorder

This review (2021) investigates the potential of ketamine for alcohol use disorder (AUD). This is partly motivated by the concurrent depression and PTSD that those with AUD suffer from, for which more evidence of ketamine’s effectiveness is known.


Excessive alcohol consumption is involved in 1/10 of deaths of U.S. working-age adults and costs the country around $250,000,000 yearly. While Alcohol Use Disorder (AUD) pathology is complex and involves multiple neurotransmitter systems, changes in synaptic plasticity, hippocampal neurogenesis, and neural connectivity have been implicated in the behavioral characteristics of AUD. Depressed mood and stress are major determinants of relapse in AUD, and there is significant comorbidity between AUD, depression, and stress disorders, suggesting potential for overlap in their treatments. Disulfiram, naltrexone, and acamprosate are current pharmacotherapies for AUD, but these treatments have limitations, highlighting the need for novel therapeutics. Ketamine is a N-methyl-D-Aspartate receptor antagonist, historically used in anesthesia, but also affects other neurotransmitters systems, synaptic plasticity, neurogenesis, and neural connectivity. Currently under investigation for treating AUDs and other Substance Use Disorders (SUDs), ketamine has strong support for efficacy in treating clinical depression, recently receiving FDA approval. Ketamineโ€™s effect in treating depression and stress disorders, such as PTSD, and preliminary evidence for treating SUDs further suggests a role for treating AUDs. This review explores the behavioral and neural evidence for treating AUDs with ketamine and clinical data on ketamine therapy for AUDs and SUDs.

Authors: Stephen D. Worrell & Thomas J. Gould

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