INTRODUCTION: Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is an evidence-based treatment for alcohol use disorder (AUD). Exposure to high-risk situations in virtual reality (VR) has been suggested to have a potential therapeutical benefit, but no previous study has combined VR and CBT for AUD. We aimed to investigate the feasibility of using VR-simulated high-risk environments in CBT-based treatment of AUD.

METHODS: We randomized ten treatment-seeking AUD-diagnosed individuals to three sessions of conventional CBT or VR-assisted CBT performed at two outpatient clinics in Denmark. In each session, patients randomized to VR-CBT were exposed to VR-simulations from a restaurant to induce authentic thoughts, emotions, physiological reactions, and craving for CBT purposes. The primary outcome measure was feasibility: Drop-out rate, psychological reactions, and simulator sickness. Secondary outcomes were assessment of preliminary short-term changes in alcohol consumption and craving from baseline to one-week and one-month follow-up. In addition, the study was conducted for training in operationalization of VR equipment, treatment manuals, and research questionnaires.

RESULTS: The majority of patients completed all study visits (90%). VR induced authentic high-risk related thoughts, emotions, and physiological reactions that were considered relevant for CBT by patients and therapists. Four of five patients randomized to VR-CBT experienced cravings during VR simulations, and most of these patients (3/5) experienced mild simulator sickness during VR exposure. The preliminary data showed that patients receiving VR-CBT had more reduction in alcohol consumption than patients receiving conventional CBT at one week- (median 94% vs. 72%) and one-month follow-up (median 98% vs. 55%). Similar results were found regarding changes in cravings.

CONCLUSION: We demonstrated VR-CBT to be a feasible intervention for patients with AUD which supports continued investigations in a larger randomized clinical trial evaluating the efficacy of VR-CBT.

CLINICAL TRIAL REGISTRATION: https://www.clinicaltrials.gov/study/NCT04990765?cond=addiction%20CRAVR&rank=2, identifier NCT05042180.

TidsskriftFrontiers in Psychiatry
Sider (fra-til)1337898
StatusUdgivet - 2024


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