Virtual reality tested to cure alcoholism

Jun 24, 2015, 6:02 PM EDT
Algerians drink alcoholic beverages at a bar in the capital, Algiers, on April 28, 2015.

In a study of just 10 people conducted in South Korea, researchers detoxed alcoholics, and then put them through virtual reality sessions. The researchers expressed confidence in their results despite the size of the study. Reuters reports:

Participants first went through a week-long detox program, followed by virtual reality sessions using a 3D-television screen, twice a week for five weeks. During each session, the participants cycled through three virtual realities.
One reality was meant to relax them. The second was meant to trigger alcohol cravings in a situation where other people were drinking. The last was meant to make drinking seem unpleasant, by transporting participants to a room where people were getting sick from alcohol. The participants also drank a vomit-tasting drink during the aversion simulation.
Areas of the brain thought to be sensitive to alcohol showed changes after repeated exposure to the three different virtual realities, researchers found.
The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration's (SAMHSA's) National Survey on Drug Use and Health estimate that 23.5 million persons aged 12 or older needed treatment for an illicit drug or alcohol abuse problem in 2009. Recovery rates are not stellar for those suffering from alcoholism and/or drug addictions and for many in recovery, relapse periods are exceedingly common. Yet every new day brings new hope for those striving forward; this is also the case in medical and technological science.
New findings published in the Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs examine how a group of Korean scientists are treating alcoholism with virtual reality headsets. The study results suggest that a virtual reality treatment may help actually change the way brains process certain stimuli, including alcohol.