This Joystick Could Prevent Alcohol Relapses


Could a joystick help prevent alcohol relapses?

An ongoing study out of Berlin suggests it just might. In the study, participants view images on a computer screen and are told to use a joystick to push alcohol-related images away, while also pulling images of water and other non-alcoholic beverages closer.

“Every click of a joystick results in a new pair of images,” said researcher Hannah Lesch. “Pushing the joystick forward makes an image grow smaller. Pull in toward you, and the image grows. Sebold’s patients react strongly to images of alcohol and that is the basis of her training.” Miriam Sebold is the study’s lead psychologist.

Lesch explained that one of the biggest hurdles is dealing with participants who have relapsed repeatedly. According to Sebold, nearly 85% simply annot stay away from alcohol.

“What it really comes down to is that this addiction is such a powerful illness, that again and again, you have these cases where the patients say, ‘I was dry for 10 years, and then I treated myself to a beer because I figured I could treat myself to something.’ Then, they relapse right back into this very strong addiction, where they’re drinking a bottle of vodka every day,” said Sebold. “These are very strong mechanisms inside their head that they have very little control over.”

Lesch reported that one of the participants, a long-term alcoholic named Freddy, “has remained sober and the 64-year-old was proud to say he was even able to land a normal job.” Results like these make the researchers optimistic that the joystick could serve as a potential breakthrough in treating alcoholism.

“As soon as they find out exactly where and how this therapy affects the human brain,” said Lesch, “the discovery could help lead to the development of new medicinal-based therapies.”