Virtual Reality Treatment Could Help Fight Alcoholism
A new form of virtual reality therapy may have potential to treat alcohol addiction, according to a small study from South Korea.
Researchers worked with 10 patients living with alcohol dependence. First, the scientists took scans to measure the participants’ brain metabolism and compared the results to a group without alcohol dependence. The alcohol-dependent group showed increased metabolic activity in the limbic system area of the brain, the region tied to emotions and behavior.
Next, the participants underwent a weeklong detox program, followed by virtual reality sessions twice a week for five weeks. The therapy involved 3D-television viewing where the participants were exposed to three different virtual reality scenarios. The first was to relax them, the second was intended to trigger alcohol cravings by showing situations where people drink, and the last was meant to present drinking in an unfavorable light by showing people getting sick from alcohol. To enhance the final scene, participants drank a drink that tasted like vomit.
After the five weeks of therapy, researchers scanned the participants’ brains to compare them to the scans taken before the study.
Their findings showed that areas of the brain thought to be sensitive to alcohol showed changes after repeated virtual therapy exposure. The scans also showed metabolic activity had decreased in the limbic system of the brain.
The researchers think this study shows promise in treating alcoholism partly because it puts patients in real-life situations that require active participation.