Man with alcoholic drink

New £2.4m NHS trial to tackle alcoholism

A new multi-million pound NHS trial is investigating the efficacy of ketamine-assisted therapy when trying to help alcoholics stay abstinent.

Led by researchers from the University of Exeter, the £2.4m study will be delivered across seven NHS settings in the UK and will build on a previous trial that evaluated the treatment’s safety. The phase II study found that, not only was ketamine in combination with therapy safe for people with severe alcohol use disorder, those who underwent the treatment stayed sober for 162 days of the six-month follow-up – equivalent to a 87% abstinence rate.

This new phase III trial will recruit 280 people with severe alcohol use disorder and split them up into two randomly allocated groups.

One half of the cohort will be treated with the same dose of ketamine used in the first trial in addition to psychological therapy; the second half will be given a very low dose of ketamine as well as a seven-stage education programme detailing the harmful effects of alcohol.

University of Exeter Professor and trial lead, Celia Morgan, said: “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 £3.5bn each year, and wider UK society around £40bn.

“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.”

As Professor Celia Morgan says, the aim of the trial is to test the treatment further, with the ultimate goal being the findings from the study inform future best practice throughout the NHS.

The trial is being funded by the Medical Research Council and the National Institute for Health and Care Research. For more information on the study, click here.

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