In a new study, titled “Virual reality therapy for the treatment of alcohol dependence: A preliminary investigation with positron emission tomography/computerized tomography,” South Korean scientists tested virtual reality therapy’s ability to treat alcoholism.
In the study, which was published in the Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs, a team of eight researchers recruited 12 patients who were undergoing treatment for dependence on alcohol. All of the patients underwent a week long detox before they began the virtual reality therapy, which consisted of 10 sessions.
The sessions took place for five weeks, twice a week, and exposed the patients to situations that trigger fear and anxiety within the safe and controlled virtual environment.
The patients were treated to three virtual scenarios during treatment: a calming and relaxing scene, a high-risk environment in which other people were drinking, and a setting that showcased the textile environment – sights, smells, sounds – of people who were sick from imbibing too much alcohol, reports US News.
According to Fox News, after repeated exposure to the scenarios, the areas of the patients’ brains that are sensitive to alcohol showed definite changes.
Researchers are hopeful that this treatment could help patients who are addicted to alcohol, a disease which reportedly affects nearly a third of all adults.
Dr. Bernard Le Foll, head of the Alcohol Research and Treatment Clinic at the Center for Addiction and Mental Health in Toronto Canada believes the “study seems to indicate that virtual reality may produce some changes.”
Although this pilot study seems to indicate that virtual reality may produce some changes in brain metabolism, this is not yet studied as a treatment approach.
The current treatment for alcohol use disorder is a combination of pharmaceuticals and behavioral therapy, said Foll.