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Addictive disorders such as alcohol abuse are often underpinned by maladaptive memories that link environmental stimuli (such as the smell and taste of an alcoholic beverage) with the feelings associated with the reward, for example. New research in the field of neuroscience demonstrates that ketamine may help reduce addictive behaviors by interfering with the formation of maladaptive memories – effectively “rewriting” them.

Ketamine is a drug used in human and veterinary medicine to promote loss of consciousness. It is also a widely used recreational drug, commonly known as “K” or “special K.” It acts as a tranquilizer and induces a hallucinogenic, dissociative state. The FDA recently approved a nasal spray form of ketamine as a treatment for depression.

The study involved 90 men and women living in the United Kingdom (UK) who were heavy drinkers – consuming roughly five times the recommended amount of alcohol each week per UK standards – but did not have an alcohol abuse disorder. After viewing images of beer (which promoted the urge to consume beer) the participants received an injection of ketamine or saline (a placebo). Ten days after the injection, those who received the ketamine (versus placebo) reported drinking fewer drinks and less often, an effect that lasted up to nine months post-injection. Their pre-drink anticipated enjoyment reduced as well.

These findings suggest that interfering with the formation of maladaptive memories via the administration of ketamine may be a useful strategy for addressing addictive behaviors such as alcohol and substance abuse.

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