Alcoholics will be treated with ketamine as an adjunct to see if it helps them abstain from alcohol for longer.
The move is part of a £2.4m phase 3 trial led by the University of Exeter, funded by the National Institute for Health and Care Research (NIHR) and will take place at seven NHS sites across the UK.
It will be followed by a phase 2 trial showing that the treatment is safe and tolerable for heavy drinkers.
The study found that participants who received the ketamine combination remained fully sober and 86 percent abstained from alcohol at the six-month follow-up.
Ketamine is a licensed medical drug widely used as a narcotic and painkiller – also as a recreational drug – and is listed as a Class B prohibited substance by the Home Office.
Researchers will begin enrolling 280 alcoholics in a phase 3 trial over the summer.
They will be randomly divided into two groups, half of whom will be given ketamine at the same dose that was used in the first clinical trial of psychotherapy.
The rest will be given very low doses of ketamine and a seven-session education package about the harmful effects of alcohol.
The trial will look at whether ketamine and treatment packs can reduce harmful drinking.
Trial leader Professor Celia Morgan, from the University of Exeter, said that if the trial determined that ketamine-assisted treatment was effective, the team would like to see it used in an NHS setting.
More than two million adults in the UK have a serious alcohol problem, but only one in five are treated, she said.
Three out of four abstainers return to alcoholism after a year.
Professor Morgan said: “Alcohol-related harm is estimated to cost the NHS around £3.5 billion a year and wider UK society around £40 billion.”
“Alcohol problems affect not only individuals, but families, friends and communities, and the number of related deaths has risen further since the pandemic. We urgently need new treatments.”
NIHR is funded by the Department of Health and Social Care. Additional funding will be provided by Awakn Life Sciences, a biotechnology company specializing in the research and development of treatments for addiction.