The Effects of Training to Reduce Automatic Action Tendencies Toward Alcohol Using the Virtual Alcohol Approach-Avoidance Task in Heavy Social Drinkers

This study aimed to reduce the approach tendency toward alcohol among heavy social drinkers using the Virtual Alcohol Approach-Avoidance Training Task training. A total of 28 heavy social drinkers were randomly assigned to either the training group (n = 14) or the control group (n = 14). The training group was implicitly trained to avoid situations that involved drinking alcohol and to approach situations that involved drinking nonalcoholic beverages. On the other hand, the control group received a sham training condition with the same ratio of approach or avoidance of drinking either alcohol or a nonalcoholic beverage. All participants made three visits in a period of 2-3 weeks to participate in either the training or sham training. As a result, the training group showed a decrease in implicit approach tendencies toward alcohol, but not in explicit craving for alcohol. In contrast, the control group showed an increase in both implicit approach tendencies and explicit craving toward alcohol. These results indicate that the virtual reality training to avoid alcohol-related stimuli or environments might reduce automatic action tendencies toward alcohol, while simply being exposed to alcohol-related stimuli or environments might increase craving for alcohol in the sham training group. Our findings also suggest that, including not only visual stimuli but also auditory stimuli in a virtual environment might be a tool for changing approach bias.