A small study suggests using a form of virtual reality therapy may be useful in treating alcohol dependence.
The treatment puts patients in situations similar to real life, and requires them to actively participate, Reuters reports.
South Korean researchers studied 10 patients with alcohol dependence who went through a week-long detox program. They then participated in virtual reality sessions using a 3D television screen, twice a week for five weeks.
Each session included three virtual reality scenarios.
One scenario was designed to relax them, while the second was meant to trigger alcohol cravings in a situation where other people were drinking. The third scenario was designed to make drinking appear unpleasant, by placing participants in a room where people were getting sick from alcohol. They also drank a liquid that tasted like vomit during the simulation.
Brain scans indicated areas of the brain thought to be sensitive to alcohol showed changes after repeated exposure to the three different scenes. The study found alcohol cravings were reduced after the unpleasant drinking scene, said lead researcher Dr. Doug Hyun Han of Chung-Ang University Hospital in Seoul.
The findings will be published in the Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs.
Han told Reuters more research is needed into the long-term results of virtual reality therapy.
"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," said Dr. Bernard Le Foll of the Center for Addiction and Mental Health in Toronto, Canada, who was not involved in the study. "Much more research work needs to be done to be able to determine if 'virtual reality' treatment will have a place in the treatment of alcohol use disorder," in western countries, he told Reuters.