Alcohol Use Disorder (AUD) is a devastatingly serious condition, affecting approximately 285 million people around the globe and responsible for more than 5% of all deaths. The few people who successfully get help often struggle to remain sober long-term.
After showing promise for some years, ketamine-assisted therapy is finally becoming available to sufferers of AUD, with highly encouraging results.
What is Alcohol Use Disorder?
Alcohol use disorder (colloquially “alcoholism”) is a mental health condition. It’s characterized by problematic patterns of alcohol consumption and physical or psychological dependence on alcohol.
Symptoms of AUD include:
- Having trouble controlling or cutting back on drinking
- Continuing to drink despite it interfering with daily activities and relationships
- Engaging in risky behavior while under the influence
- Experiencing withdrawal symptoms when the effects of alcohol are wearing off
Frequent, excessive alcohol use can also have detrimental effects on physical health, such as liver disease, heart problems, and an increased risk of cancer.
AUD can range from mild to severe and has been considered a chronic relapsing disorder in the past. Therefore, sufferers who seek treatment are prone to fall back into addiction soon after.
What Causes Alcohol Use Disorder?
AUD can be caused by various biological, environmental, psychological, and social factors:
- Biological factors include genetics as well as certain medical conditions such as having undergone bariatric surgery
- Environmental factors include peer pressure, cultural norms, and access to alcohol from an early age
- Psychological factors include stress, anxiety, trauma, low self-esteem, and difficulty managing emotions
- Social factors include family dynamics, poverty and lack of support
Addiction & Mood Disorders
AUD differs from other addictions and dependencies because alcohol is physically addictive. The body develops a dependence on the substance and experiences physical withdrawal symptoms when it’s not consumed. Whereas opioid withdrawal symptoms are certainly unpleasant, and it is possible for the associated vomiting and diarrhea to cause dangerous levels of dehydration, alcohol withdrawal can be fatal. Some milder symptoms of alcohol withdrawal include tremors, nausea, and sweating.
People with more severe cases of AUD may experience hallucinations, seizures, and potentially deadly delirium tremens when they stop drinking. For this reason, it is recommended that heavy drinkers not quit cold turkey, and instead seek medical assistance. In addition to physical symptoms of withdrawal, people suffering from AUD may also contend with psychological symptoms such as cravings and triggers. These factors can make it even more difficult for an individual to stay sober for any considerable length of time.
AUD is not a mood disorder, like depression and bipolar disorder, but they are not unrelated. Mood disorders are medical conditions that cause a person to experience intense emotions. These emotions can range from extreme highs to extreme lows, are often not reflective of circumstances, and interfere with daily functioning. Patients diagnosed with AUD and other substance use disorders also often suffer from mood disorders. The presence of both is known to make treating either condition more difficult, but there is also evidence that the successful treatment of one makes it easier to treat the other. Why do AUD and mood disorders so often go hand in hand? In a word, trauma.
The Root of Trauma
According to the Mayo Clinic, “People with a history of emotional trauma or other trauma are at increased risk of alcohol use disorder.” Trauma is at the root of mood disorders too. It can lead a person to experience feelings of powerlessness and encourage them to seek out behaviors that can restore some sense of control, which can manifest as addiction.
Trauma can also lead to a person feeling disconnected from their environment. This disconnection can contribute to feelings of loneliness and isolation, further driving a person to self-medicate and rely on addictive substances to cope. Successfully detoxing after years of alcohol misuse is no small feat. Still, unless the patient deals with the trauma that led to this behavior in the first place, relapse is, unfortunately, a distinct possibility. In the US, only 8% of people with AUD ever seek treatment—and 75% of them relapse within the first twelve months.
Treatment at Nushama with Awakn
Nushama has partnered with Awakn Life Sciences to provide a revolutionary new treatment for AUD. Awakn is a biotechnology company researching, developing, and commercializing therapeutics to treat addiction. Their protocol combines ketamine infusions with mindfulness-based relapse prevention therapy, a combination that has been validated in clinical trials. Not only was the treatment proven safe, it was also very effective, with 86% of participants abstaining from alcohol six months after treatment.
Awakn’s treatment protocol is also a more cost-effective option. The price of staying at a traditional rehabilitation facility across the country ranges from $20,000 to $65,000 per month (which starts at $50,000/month in New York City). At Nushama, treatment is a fraction of this as a one-time fee of $9,995, and the benefit of not being in a treatment facility is that patients get to immediately apply their new tools in the context of their lives, where most of their triggers to drink alcohol exist.
The program takes place over the course of four weeks. It involves three high-dose ketamine infusions and seven psychotherapy sessions.
Prior to the first session, a therapist has several calls with a patient to prepare them for the program. Day one begins with an hour-long session where a therapist will help the patient prepare for their first ketamine dose by developing goals and their vision of a sober life. This preparation is followed by the first ketamine-assisted psychotherapy session. The therapist will help the patient to get comfortable and remain with them throughout the IV infusion. The next day will involve integrating the prior day’s psychedelic experience and discussing its key insights.
This pattern of preparation, infusion, and integration repeats in the second and third weeks. In the fourth week, at the final session, the therapist and patient will meet one last time to discuss the progress made and how its learnings can be a tool to support continued sobriety.