New Treatments for Alcohol Dependence Could be Found in the Virtual World

UH Virtual Reality Clinical Research Lab Examines Relapse, Assessment, Treatment in NIH-funded Study

Alcohol dependence keeps a tight grip. The cravings. The drinking. The numerous attempts to stop.  The numerous times of relapse. Now an innovative University of Houston study aims to develop a new relapse prevention and treatment system using virtual reality (VR). 

The “Virtual Reality Relapse Prevention: Alcohol Dependence” study will use VR to teach coping skills to volunteer participants who have a dependency on alcohol.  The study is funded by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, and the National Institutes of Health.

“The virtual environments allow a patient to practice coping skills safely in the environments that trigger the cravings and relapse,” said Patrick Bordnick, professor and director of the UH Graduate College of Social Work’s Virtual Reality Clinical Research Lab (VRCRL).  “In the VR environments, participants will see items that may trigger their alcohol cravings, such as food or cigarettes.  This is a full sensory experience, so they’ll also hear television sounds or the clinking of glasses.  They’ll also smell smoke, food or their alcoholic drink of choice.”

Participants are needed for the six-month study.  To be included, volunteers must be between the ages of 21 and 65 and in good physical health; must consume an average of three alcoholic drinks per day and be willing to quit drinking; must be experiencing alcohol cravings, but have no history of previous hospitalization for alcohol withdrawal or be in in current need of medical detoxification.  Volunteers currently must not be in treatment of using medication to stop drinking. For more information contact the VRCRL at 713-743-8037. 

Bordnick is a pioneer in virtual reality research for use to assess and treat addictions and phobias.  Through grants from National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, National Institute on Drug Abuse, the National Institutes of Health and others, Bordnick has used virtual reality environments to study smoking and alcohol addictions, food craving and obesity and post traumatic-stress disorder in returning veterans.      


Hear the UH Moment:

Watch the UH Moment: