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Virtual Reality Could Help Combat Alcoholism

Virtual Reality Could Help Combat Alcoholism
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Virtual reality therapy has been found to be successful in treating post traumatic stress disorders and other phobias. Now it could be used to help people who suffer from drinking problems. Researchers from Chung-Ang University Hospital in Seoul, South Korea have conducted a study through which they have found out that virtual reality could reduce alcohol dependency among alcoholics. After detox and the use of virtual reality therapy, it was found out that the alcoholic participants had lesser cravings for a drink. The study was conducted on 12 patients and it was published in the July issue of the Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs.

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A Form of Exposure Therapy

Use of virtual reality for these treatments is a kind of exposure therapy which is generally used in patients suffering from anxiety disorders. In a safe and controlled environment, situations are repeatedly created which trigger fright among the patients. They then learn to manage real-life encounters which can produce anxiety among these patients. The basic theory for this treatment process is that when we come across a pain inducing situation repeatedly, it tends to lessen the distress.

The Study

Dr. Doug Hyun Han, senior researcher, and his colleagues conducted the study on 12 patients who were already being treated for alcoholism. They had to undergo a set of scans to help the researchers study their brain metabolism. When compared to a group of healthy volunteers, it was surprisingly seen that patients dependent on alcohol showed faster metabolism in the limbic circuit of their brain. As pointed out by Han, this shows a heightened sensitivity to stimuli.

The 12 participants, after a week-long detox went through 10 sessions of virtual reality therapy. The sessions continued twice a week and consisted of three different virtual scenes. One was that of a high-risk situation where others were seen drinking in a restaurant, another a relaxing environment and the third an aversive scene where patients could hear sounds, view sights and get smells of people getting sick from drinking excessive alcohol.

After the completion of the 5 week program of virtual reality therapy, the participants had a brain scan again. The scan results showed that the speedy brain metabolism of each patient had decreased. As per Han, this showed a decreased craving for alcohol.

Han has warned that a larger study needs to be conducted to verify these results. However, he believes that patients could abstain from alcohol and avoid relapses through virtual reality treatments like the one designed for the study.

What about you?

Do you think virtual reality has the potential to fight alcoholism? Should this technology be used more in the medical field? Share your thoughts in the comments below.

Image Source – sciencedaily.com

Article Source – medicaldaily.com

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