Virtual Reality May Help Alcoholics Beat Cravings, Study Finds

Technology might also teach better ways to cope with challenging situations

WEDNESDAY, June 24, 2015 (HealthDay News) -- Virtual reality therapy may help alcoholics battle their addiction, a small study from South Korea suggests.

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

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 July issue of the Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs.

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 individualized for each patient, he said.

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.

More information

The U.S. National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism has more about treatment for alcohol problems.

Robert Preidt

Robert Preidt

Published on June 24, 2015

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