When it comes to treating alcoholics, one of the most interesting new methods is a form of Virtual Reality therapy. From a preliminary study that was performed in South Korea, the use of virtual reality therapy has actually demonstrated positive effects that might offer new hope to those plagued with alcohol addiction.
The study itself only involved ten patients, but the researchers were able to get promising results using a type of virtual reality that puts people in real-life situations and forces them to be active participants in this virtual world.
How It Works
The first part involves a detoxification program that lasts for one week which is then followed by the virtual reality therapy sessions. The virtual reality set-up uses a 3D television and is performed twice each week for five weeks in a row. In each session, a participant will undergo three types of virtual reality settings.
The first setting is simple relaxation where the patient can simply lay back and enjoy the world that is around them. The second setting is designed to actually trigger the cravings of alcohol by putting them in a world where they see others drinking. The final setting is one that creates an unpleasant feeling to be drinking. This setting shows people in a room getting ill from the consumption of alcohol. To add to this virtual reality, the patients actually drank a vomit-tasting substance as part of their aversion therapy.
The three settings stimulated areas of the brain that was sensitive to alcohol. It demonstrated repeated changes under each exposure which could be measured and then properly treated. Before each therapy session, the researchers would compare the brain metabolism of the patients to people in a control group who did not have any alcohol dependence. By making the comparisons using tomography scans, it was determined which areas had more metabolic activity in the brain’s behavioral and emotional locations.
Over a five week period of time during the therapy sessions, it was determined that in the ten person research study that the metabolic activity in the brain’s behavior and emotional centers had significantly decreased which meant that they had fewer alcohol cravings than before.
The Future of Virtual Reality Treatment
As a trial system, Virtual Reality Treatment for alcohol addiction has shown some promise thanks to the initial results of the study. It is a non-invasive form of treatment that goes straight at the emotional and behavior centers of the brain which identify, monitor and eventually adjust reactions to create a lesser response to the craving for alcohol.
While more research is needed, the treatment represents an interesting new addition to help alcoholics overcome their cravings and resist temptation. The truth is that without long term research studies, the full effects of the treatment will not be known. This means that the virtual reality therapy sessions may only have a short-term effect as the passage of time and continues studies with the group will be needed as well as future study groups.
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