A recent study conducted by researchers at the Chung-Ang University Hospital (Seoul, Korea) has revealed that alcohol and tobacco addicts who’d like to quit could benefit greatly from a form of virtual reality therapy that helps reduce their cravings for the vice.
The team of researchers has high hopes for the technology and what it can do for those battling alcohol related disorders, with Doug Hyun Han, senior researcher from the Chung-Ang University Hospital, informing that “This technology is already popular in the fields of psychology and psychiatry. Virtual-reality therapy has been used to treat phobias and posttraumatic stress disorder” in the past.
The idea behind the project is that people have to be exposed to situations that spark fear and anxiety, and have that happen to them in a safe and controlled environment, where the damages to them and the people around them are minimal.
The working theory is that after dealing with such an experience in a safe and controlled environment, they would hopefully learn how to better deal with them out in the real world, if they ever occurred. Theoretically they should exhibit better self-control, think clearer, and adopt a more active course of action, rather than a reactive one.
While professor Han admits that not much is known about whether or not virtual reality can help with substance abuse and to what extend, there has been some undeniable proof that the very least it can reduce someone’s craving for alcohol and tobacco.
For the study, published in the Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs, the senior researcher and his team looked at twelve (12) subjects who were being treated for their alcohol dependents.
First they all had to go through a detox program that lasted for a week, then they had to follow ten (10) sessions of virtual reality therapy. The therapy sessions took place twice a week and thus lasted for five (5) weeks.
During those meeting, the subjects were exposed to three (3) different virtual environments – one was a relaxing place, another was high-risk situation where the subjects were in a restaurant with other people who were drinking, and the final environment was an aversive one in which the subjects were surrounded by sounds, sights and smells of various other people getting sick from consuming too much alcohol.
In order for the researchers to study the brain metabolisms of subjects, they all had to undergo positron emission tomography (PET), as well as computerised tomography (CT) brain scans before starting the program.
When compared to a group of healthy people with no addictions, the alcohol addicted study subjects had a faster metabolism in the limbic circuit of their brains. What this means is that they were more sensitive to stimuli such as alcohol.
After finishing the program, however, things had changed noticeably. The subjects’ brain metabolism had slowed down, meaning that their powerful craving for alcohol had gone away.
Professor Han concluded that virtual reality therapy is effective because it puts people in real life situations and requires them to be actively engaged in order to overcome the experiences.
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