09 July 2015

Virtual reality may help alcoholics beat cravings

In a study, brain scans suggested that patients had a reduced craving for alcohol after virtual reality therapy.


Virtual reality therapy may help alcoholics battle their addiction, a small study from South Korea suggests.

Situations similar to real life

Researchers recruited 12 people being treated for alcoholism for the study. The volunteers went through a week-long detoxification programme and then did two sessions of virtual reality therapy a week for five weeks.

Read: Nutritional support of detoxification

The patients were presented with three virtual scenes: a relaxing environment; a high-risk setting in a restaurant where other people were drinking; and an aversion situation that featured the sights, sounds and smells of people getting sick from drinking too much.

PET and CT brain scans suggested that the patients had a reduced craving for alcohol after the virtual reality therapy, according to the study.

The research is published in the Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs.

Larger studies needed

While it was a small study, the findings suggest virtual reality therapy could help alcoholics, said senior researcher Dr. Doug Hyun Han, of Chung-Ang University Hospital in Seoul, South Korea.

This is because it places patients in situations similar to real life and requires their active participation, he explained. Plus, the sessions are individualised for each patient, he said.

Read: Alcohol kills 1 in 25

This gives the patients a realistic simulation of situations they may face after treatment, which may give them a chance to better learn how to manage those situations in a safe environment, before they're confronted with them in real life, the researchers said.

However, larger studies are needed to prove whether virtual reality therapy helps alcoholics stop drinking and avoid relapses, Han said.

Read more:

Detox and withdraw

Physical and psychological effects of alcohol

Alcohol hits women harder

Image: No addiction from Shutterstock

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