A study of the use of virtual reality in treating alcoholism has yielded positive results - reducing patients' craving for alcohol and showing that it may be able to be used more widely in therapy.
Ten South Korean patients being treated for alcohol dependence, who had volunteered for the trial, went through a week of detox followed by 10 sessions of virtual reality therapy twice a week for five weeks.
These sessions involved putting the participants into different scenes, personalised to each individual - one in a calm, relaxing environment, one in a 'high-risk' environment (a restaurant where others were drinking), and one where patients were surrounded by people getting sick from too much alcohol.
Before the therapy, brain scans of the patients showed a heightened sensitivity to stimuli like alcohol compared to healthy people. After the therapy, that heightened sensitivity had been dampened - suggesting that the craving for alcohol had diminished too.
Despite the small study size, the researchers say they're optimistic about the potential for the use of virtual reality more widely in treating alcoholism. "This technology is already popular in the fields of psychology and psychiatry," said Doug Hyun Han.
The research was published in the Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs.