A form of "virtual-reality" therapy may help alcohol addicts reduce their craving for booze, suggests a new study. Chung-Ang University researchers said they are optimistic about the potential for virtual reality as a therapy for alcohol use disorders.
Senior researcher Doug Hyun Han said that this technology is already popular in the fields of psychology and psychiatry, adding that it has been used to treat phobias and post-traumatic stress disorder.
The idea is to expose people to situations that trigger fear and anxiety, in a safe and controlled space. Then, hopefully, they learn to better manage those situations in real life. Less is known about whether virtual reality can help with substance use disorders, but there has been some evidence that it can reduce people's craving for tobacco and alcohol, according to Han.
The study showed that the alcohol-dependent patients had a faster metabolism in the brain's limbic circuit, which indicates a heightened sensitivity to stimuli, like alcohol. After the virtual-reality therapy, however, the picture changed. Patients' revved-up brain metabolism had slowed that suggests a dampened craving for alcohol. According to Han, the therapy is a promising approach to treating alcohol dependence.
That is partly because it puts patients in situations similar to real life and requires their active participation, he said. The sessions are also "tailor-made" for each individual, he added. However, larger, long-term studies are still needed to show whether virtual reality ultimately helps patients remain abstinent and avoid relapses.
The study is published in the Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs