A new study shows that therapists can effectively use virtual-reality (VR) technology to stimulate alcohol craving in order to train patients in coping and resistance skills.
Researchers at the University of Houston led by Patrick Bordnick studied the use of a VR helmet to simulate a real-world environment where patients might be tempted to drink.
“As a therapist, I can tell you to pretend my office is a bar, and I can ask you to close your eyes and imagine the environment, but you’ll know that it’s not real,” Bordnick said. “In this virtual environment you are at a bar or at a party or in a real-life situation. What we found was that participants had real-life responses.”
In the 18-minute simulation, 40 patients were offered their drink of choice and instructed to rate their cravings using a game pad. “What we found was that the VR environments were real enough that their cravings were intensified. So, now we can develop coping skills, practice them in those very realistic environments until those skills are working tools for them to use in real life,” Bordnick said.
The VR scenarios included a bar, a house party, and a convenience store. In addition to video and sound, researchers used smell to enhance the VR experience.
The study results were published in the June 2008 issue of the journal Addictive Behaviors.
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