Returning vets' alcohol abuse addressed in virtual reality study

July 26, 2011
The UH Virtual Reality Clinical Research Lab studies the feasibility of using virtual environments to assess and treat addiction, anxieties and phobias. Credit: University of Houston

The spoils of war for returning veterans may include addictions, injury and the constant images of horrific events they witnessed. Now a University of Houston joint study funded by the Veterans Health Administration Rehabilitation Research and Development service looks to address these issues through the use of virtual reality.

The UH Graduate College of Social Work (GCSW) joins Baylor College of Medicine and the Neurorehabilitation: Neurons to Networks Center of Excellence at the Michael E. DeBakey Veterans Affairs Medical Center (VA) for a pilot project to assess the feasibility of using virtual reality environments to treat alcohol abuse issues in veterans.

"Our goal is to help them stop their drinking. The basis is standard relapse prevention therapy sessions, but we augment it using virtual environments," said professor Patrick Bordnick, director of the GCSW's Virtual Reality Lab. "The virtual environments allow a patient to practice coping skills in the environments that trigger the cravings and relapse."

A recent report from the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) indicated alcohol abuse is dangerously high among returning veterans, increasing their vulnerability to other abuses, such as illicit drugs or behaviors such as drinking and driving. The eight-week project targets 10-20 veterans, who range in age from 19 to 64 and are living with a traumatic brain injury and/or . Results from this study will be used to create a larger study.

With their therapist nearby, veterans will wear a virtual reality helmet to place them in the environments. Using a controller, participants will navigate bar settings, parties or convenient stores where avatars will personalize their interaction, addressing the veteran by name and allowing him or her to practice coping skills. There also is an environment where the participant is home alone.

"This will be a full-sensory experience where participants will see items that may trigger their alcohol cravings, such as food or cigarettes. They'll hear sporting events on televisions, glasses clinking or the murmur of bar patrons. They'll also smell the food, smoke or their alcoholic drink of choice," Bordnick said. "This experience is as close to the real thing as possible, but conducted in a safe clinical environment with their therapist."

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

Explore further: Many teens drinking, taking drugs during school: survey

More information: See More About the Virtual Reality Lab and Patrick Bordnick,

Related Stories

Recommended for you

Serious research into what makes us laugh

November 24, 2015

More complex jokes tend to be funnier but only up to a point, Oxford researchers have found. Jokes that are too complicated tend to lose the audience.

Psychologists dispute continuum theory of sexual orientation

November 19, 2015

Washington State University researchers have established a categorical distinction between people who are heterosexual and those who are not. By analyzing the reported sexual behavior, identity and attraction of more than ...

Babies have logical reasoning before age one, study finds

November 18, 2015

Human infants are capable of deductive problem solving as early as 10 months of age, a new study by psychologists at Emory University and Bucknell finds. The journal Developmental Science is publishing the research, showing ...


Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.