A new weapon in the fight against alcohol use disorders is more affordable and may be more effective: the psychedelic substance ketamine.
In the U.S. alone, some 15 million people struggle with alcohol use disorders (AUD) every year. And more than 65 million Americans say they’ve binged on alcohol at least once in the previous 30 days. Globally, more than 285 million people are struggling with AUD, which results in more than five percent of all deaths. Yet fewer than ten percent of people with AUD receive treatment, and most who do, relapse within the first 12 months.
The problem becomes even more concerning when considering the impact AUD has on the greater population: about 30 percent of all traffic crash fatalities in the U.S. involve drunk drivers. Underage drinking also takes the lives of nearly 5,000 teens every year.
And while detox and rehabilitation treatments as well as support systems like Alcoholics Anonymous can be effective in mitigating alcohol abuse, new efforts point to psychedelic medicines as potential game changers in offering pro-longed, if not permanent, relief from the condition.
Nushama-Awakn’s AUD treatment with ketamine
Nushama, the New York-based ketamine clinic overlooking Central Park, along with Awakn Life Sciences, a biotechnology company researching, developing, and commercializing therapeutics to treat addiction with a near-term focus on AUD, say they’ve developed a revolutionary treatment protocol that can also play a role in treating alcohol addiction effectively and at a fraction of the cost of other treatments.
“People often abuse alcohol to cope with trauma — with this protocol’s combination of psychedelic medicine and therapy, participants discover the underlying reasons for their addiction, process their trauma, and can make lasting change,” Nushama Co-Founder and President Richard Meloff, said in a statement. “Awakn has assembled one of the finest scientific teams in the world for the study of psychedelics and the treatment of addiction.”
Late last year, Nushama became Awakn’s first licensed partner in the Northeast for the ketamine-based treatment. The center is using Awakn’s proprietary ketamine-assisted therapy protocol — the only ketamine and therapy package supported by a clinical trial for efficacy in treating AUD.
According to the companies, the trial showed a significantly high success rate, with 86 percent of study participants still alcohol-free six months after their treatment, compared with just two percent abstinence pre-treatment.
Last month, Nushama and Awakn announced they had treated their first patient for AUD with the ketamine protocol.
“People often abuse alcohol to cope with trauma, Nushama Co-Founder and President Richard Meloff, said in a statement. “With this protocol’s combination of psychedelic medicine and psychotherapy, people discover the underlying reasons for their addiction, process their trauma, and can make lasting change.”
Meloff says given the “staggering” relapse rates common in traditional rehabilitation programs, Nushama ad Awakn “felt an urgency” to offer a new solution.
The companies say the ketamine treatments show 86 percent abstinence after six months compared with two percent pre-treatment.
Those success rates mirror other claims that psychedelic-focused therapies can treat addictive behaviors including drug abuse and eating disorders. Last August, NYU found just two doses of psilocybin — the psychoactive compound in certain species of fungi — reduced heavy alcohol drinking by 83 percent when combined with psychotherapy.
Research into other psychedelic substances such as the West African Iboga-based Ibogaine has also shown benefits in treating addiction by blocking cravings.
Addiction and psychedelic treatment
David John Nutt, a neuropsychopharmacologist specializing in drugs that affect conditions such as addiction, anxiety, and sleep recently told Huck Magazine that when you’re using psychedelics in clinical trials, “it’s about disrupting the repetitive thought loops which underpin addiction, as people are continually focused on finding the drugs and using them or hiding them. That dominates the lifestyle,” says Nutt. “That’s what addiction is — it’s a distortion of mental flexibility, so everything is focused on the love object of the alcohol.”
The success rate Nushama and Awakn are seeing is buoyed by the affordability of the fee structure, which the companies say makes it far more accessible. Traditional AUD rehabilitation programs can cost upwards of $65,000 for a one-month stay. The Nushama-Awakn program is significantly lower at $12,500 for the full treatment.
Anthony Tennyson, Awakn’s, Chief Executive Officer, says cost-effective treatments are desperately needed right now. And along with Nushama, the companies have a shared understanding “that the current standard of care for the treatment of alcohol addiction just isn’t good enough,” he said.
“Given the staggeringly high relapse rates, we felt an urgency to offer a new solution that is both efficacious and cost-effective,” Meloff said. “We’re thrilled to partner with Awakn to deliver this much-needed innovation to treat one of the most challenging addictions of all.”
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