Alcoholics Anonymous: Virtual Reality Therapy Shows Promise in Treating Alcohol Dependency
Heavy boozers who have trouble dealing with their alcohol addiction can now look forward to 'virtual reality' therapy, which may help reduce those cravings.
The researchers behind the new study are optimistic that virtual reality therapy has the potential to treat patients with alcohol use related disorders.
"This technology is already popular in the fields of psychology and psychiatry," said senior researcher Doug Hyun Han from Chung-Ang University Hospital in Seoul, Korea.
"Virtual-reality therapy has been used to treat phobias and posttraumatic stress disorder," Han said.
The objective here is to expose people to emotions like anxiety and fear in safely controlled spaces. The scientists believe these experiences will teach people to better manage situations in their real lives.
During the new study, 12 people with alcohol dependency were first made to go through a week long detox programme. They were then exposed to 10 sessions of virtual reality therapy over five weeks, with two sessions scheduled for each week.
The participants here were put through three different scenarios - one featuring a relaxed and comfortable environment, the second was a high risk environment which had people drinking and the third was called an 'aversive' type of environment.
The last scenario featured scenes in which they were exposed to the sights, sounds and smells of people becoming sick with excess alcohol.
All the participants were also made to undergo positron emission tomography (PET) and computerised tomography (CT) scans to study brain metabolism before starting the therapy.
Scientists realized that people who were addicted to alcohol showed a faster rate of metabolism in the brain's limbic circuit when compared to normal people. This was proof of the participant experiencing a heightened sense of stimuli to alcohol.
However following virtual therapy, the researchers noticed a change in brain scans of people dealing with alcohol addiction.
Their fast metabolism had slowed down thereby reducing their cravings in the process.