Sunday, June 1, 2008

Virtual Help for Alcoholics

A comfortable atmosphere, the crowd unwinding with a beer. It's not real, and it's not a video game. It's virtual reality therapy for alcoholics. Its aim is to mentally prepare them for situations that could trigger drinking.

Patrick Bordnick from the University of Houston says, "If we can have a virtual scenario, where we put that person in that bar, or in that social setting, and now have the therapist be able to teach you in real time. I think that will hold up when they are out in these realistic situations in the real world, that these skills should transfer from virtual reality to the real world."

Bordnick developed these virtual reality scenarios. In a study published in the journal "Addictive Behaviors," Bordnick found that alcohol dependent participants reported a greater urge to drink while viewing triggers like a bartender or a favorite cocktail, compared to viewing neutral scene. The study even included smells.

According to Bordnick, this was the first trial to use scent, so we have computer controlled scents, so when you walk by a shot of tequila on the bar, or a beer, you automatically smell beer.

Bordnick says that realism is critical to the next step --- seeing whether the scenarios can help addicts to learn coping skills.

Bordnick says, "We've demonstrated that virtual reality triggers for smoking, for cannabis, and now in this particular study, for alcohol, are real enough to get real world reactions." He says coping with those reactions virtually, could make the "real world" a lot less tempting for alcoholics.

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