A South Korean research team headed by Dr. Doug Hyun Han of Chung-Ang University Hospital in Seoul has studied the effects of virtual reality treatments on patients with alcoholism, with promising results.

Ten participants underwent a detox program, then participated in virtual reality sessions twice a week for five weeks, throughout which they were asked to react to three different kinds of situations.

The first situation was intended to relax the participants, and the second to situate them in an environment where others were drinking, through which cravings could arise. In the third situation, the atmosphere was filled with people getting sick from drinking, and participants were given a vomit-tasting drink.

When analyzing brain function of alcohol-dependent participants and a non-dependent control group, those with dependency showed more activity in the limbic system of the brain, which is connected to emotional response. After five weeks of the therapy, this activity was greatly reduced. 

Since this pilot study is still very recent, some experts say much more research needs to be done to determine if virtual reality can be used as an effective therapy for addiction. 

Currently, naltrexone, acamprosate (or topiramate) and behavioral therapy are the most effective treatments for dependency. 

Cover image: Flickr