Attentional Bias, Alcohol Craving, and Anxiety Implications of the Virtual Reality Cue-Exposure Therapy in Severe Alcohol Use Disorder: A Case Report

Front Psychol. 2021 Feb 22;12:543586. doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2021.543586. eCollection 2021.


Aims: Attentional bias (AB), alcohol craving, and anxiety have important implications in the development and maintenance of alcohol use disorder (AUD). The current study aims to test the effectiveness of a Virtual Reality Cue-Exposure Therapy (VR-CET) to reduce levels of alcohol craving and anxiety and prompt changes in AB toward alcohol content. Method: A 49-year-old male participated in this study, diagnosed with severe AUD, who also used tobacco and illicit substances on an occasional basis and who made several failed attempts to cease substance misuse. The protocol consisted of six VR-CET booster sessions and two assessment sessions (pre- and post-VR-CET) over the course of 5 weeks. The VR-CET program consisted of booster therapy sessions based on virtual reality (VR) exposure to preferred alcohol-related cues and contexts. The initial and final assessment sessions were focused on exploring AB, alcohol craving, and anxiety using paper-and-pencil instruments and the eye-tracking (ET) and VR technologies at different time points. Results: Pre and post assessment sessions indicated falls on the scores of all instruments assessing alcohol craving, anxiety, and AB. Conclusions: This case report, part of a larger project, demonstrates the effectiveness of the VR-CET booster sessions in AUD. In the post-treatment measurements, a variety of instruments showed a change in the AB pattern and an improvement in craving and anxiety responses. As a result of the systematic desensitization, virtual exposure gradually reduced the responses to significant alcohol-related cues and contexts. The implications for AB, anxiety and craving are discussed.

Keywords: alcohol use disorder; anxiety; attentional bias; craving; eye-tracking; virtual reality cue-exposure therapy.

Publication types

  • Case Reports