A team of scientists from South Korea has conducted a new study in which they tested a virtual reality therapy meant to help those who suffer from alcohol addiction.
The new study involved 10 patients who were alcoholics and according to Dr. Doug Hyun Han, scientist at the Chung-Ang University Hospital in Seoul and the lead author of the study, the new approach could prove helpful for those who have drinking problems.
With the virtual reality therapy patients are put in situation that are very similar to real ones and must actively participate.
The therapy consisted of a week of detoxification program, which was followed by sessions of virtual reality situations on 3D television screens.
The virtual reality sessions were held twice a week for five weeks.
During each of the session, the patients had to go through three virtual realities.
The first session was to relax the participants, the second was to trigger their craving for alcohol using a situation where other engaged in drinking.
The third virtual reality scenario was meant to make drinking seem like an unpleasant experience and transported the patients into a virtual room where people were shown getting sick from drinking alcohol.
The participants were given foul-tasting drinks during the session where aversion was simulated.
The scientists found that the areas of the brain that are thought to be sensitive to alcoholic drinks showed changes after the participants were exposed to all three virtual realities sessions.
Before they began the therapy, the researchers compared the brain metabolism of the participants to that of people who were not addicted to alcohol.
They used positron emission tomography and computed tomography scans to compare the two groups.
According to their findings, the alcoholic group had more metabolic activity in the limbic system of the brain, which is associated to behavior and emotions.
After five weeks of virtual reality therapy, the researchers conducted new brain scans and found that the metabolic activity had decreased in that area.
The scientists detailed their findings in the Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs.
Doctor Han said that on objective and subjective measure, alcohol cravings were reduced after the participants were exposed to the aversive scenario.
Han wrote in an email that further research is needed in order to determine whether virtual reality therapy can be used to treat different types of addictions, including drug and alcohol addiction.
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