Relapse after alcohol treatment can be prevented by training the subconscious brain to avoid alcohol cues among regular drinkers. These include cognitive bias towards stimulations like places, sights, smells, and social situations that remind one to drink.
The idea was explored by researchers from Turning Point, Monash University, and Deakin University, leading to a world-first trial of a personalized smartphone app called "SWiPE".
The Cognitive Bias Modification, (CBM) a new form of computerized brain-training, is based on the concept of the reward system in the brain that drives the desire towards alcohol.
In CBM, people can upload alcoholic beverages or brands they wish to avoid, and alternatively images of more positive, healthy activities they want to engage in.
This trains the subconscious brain by shifting the focus towards positive benefits. Sequentially, it makes the alcohol cues appear less attention-grabbing and less rewarding, thereby altering the decision making.
SWiPE's feasibility, acceptability, and effectiveness at reducing alcohol consumption and cravings are being further explored. With promising results and "Being easy-to-implement, safe and requiring only a laptop and joystick, we'd love to see CBM routinely offered as an adjunctive intervention during inpatient withdrawal, to optimize patient outcomes", says Associate Professor Victoria Manning.