Can A Virtual Experience Cure Alcoholism?
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Can A Virtual Experience Cure Alcoholism?


This post was originally published on August 12, 2015.

I don’t really understand the term “alcohol dependency.” I think it’s intended to be a euphemism for alcoholism but it gets frustrating when the two are used interchangeably. Alcohol dependency isn’t really a condition that stands on its own; it’s merely one of the bi-products of being an alcoholic. As far as I know, you can’t really be clinically dependent on alcohol without being an alcoholic.

A Virtual Answer to Addiction?

Which is why a recent post in News Everyday has me kind of reeling. A new study shows that something called virtual reality therapy has promise in the world of craving-reduction. It works by putting participants through three different kids of scenarios—one relaxing, one high risk and one where they can actually see, hear and even smell people getting sick from drinking. The idea is to get people to see drinking in a different way and develop an aversion to its consequences. Virtual reality therapy has already been used successfully to treat forms of PTSD and certain phobias.

Now, despite what people might think about members of 12-step groups, most of us would be thrilled to learn that there is relief from the grips addiction that doesn’t require showing up to meetings, doing homework and worst of all, asking for help. None of us do this because it’s fun; we do it because we know we have to. Though some come to enjoy the routine of being part of a fellowship—helping one another and ourselves—mostly we show up day after day because we’ve tried other methods of quitting and none of them stuck. Or perhaps we never tried anything other than the 12-step approach, but since it’s working great, we figure if ain’t broke, don’t fix it.

Dependency vs. Disease

If new evidence presented itself that gave addicts a solution to the pain of their addiction, we’d probably be the first ones in line. However, there continues to be a huge misunderstanding between the general public—even the scientific community—and those who identify as alcoholics and addicts. While I believe there are some people who are just physically addicted to a drug, like crystal meth, but don’t necessarily have the disease of addiction, I have a much harder time understanding that someone who can’t stop drinking might just be physically addicted to alcohol and not have the disease of alcoholism.

Here’s why: crystal meth is biologically addictive for anyone who uses it enough. So if that person detoxes from it—then maybe gets a new group of friends or a less toxic work environment—they should be able to stay clean because they are no longer physically dependent. However, the people who get clean from meth but then continue to relapse are likely dealing with more than the physical dependency—they are dealing with the disease. The same goes for alcoholism. But you have to consume far more booze to become physically dependent than crystal meth. In my experience, people who need to drink that much, who can drink that much and that often to become dependent, are dealing with more than just the physical addiction.

Loss of Craving Does Not Mean Loss of Alcoholism

So while it’s nice to know that you can throw on a pair of 3D glasses and gross your craving to drink away, it doesn’t do much for alcoholism—a complex disease that is centered in the mind and affects the way we see the world. If it did, then all the disgusting, awful, humiliating things that happened to us while we were drinking would be enough to keep us away. But alas, I have yet to meet or hear of anyone who was physically dependent on alcohol and never drank again once they smelled beer vomit a few times.

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About Author

Danielle Stewart is a Los Angeles-based writer and recovering comedian. She has written for Showtime, E!, and MTV, as well as print publications such as Us Weekly and Life & Style Magazine. She returned to school and is currently working her way towards a master’s degree in Marriage and Family Therapy. She loves coffee, Law & Order SVU, and her emotional support dog, Benson.