BACKGROUND: The approach-avoidance training program (AATP) has shown preliminary promise as an add-on to standard treatment for alcohol dependence. However, knowledge is lacking as to whether the effectiveness of AATP can be enhanced further when performed in a typical drinking situation. The main aim of this study is to investigate whether approach-avoidance training implemented in a virtual reality bar environment is superior to the classical joystick PC-version of the AATP.
METHODS: The study will be implemented as a randomized controlled trial. A total of 204consecutively enrolled alcohol use disorder (AUD) patients, recruited from alcohol inpatient clinics in Germany, Poland and Denmark, will be randomized into one of three groups at the start of standard alcohol treatment: group A) stimuli-relevant AATP + treatment as usual (TAU); group B) stimuli-relevant AATP in virtual reality + TAU, and group C) TAU only (control group). Treatment outcomes will be assessed at pre-treatment, post-treatment and 3-month follow-up. Repeated-measures ANOVA will be applied to compare the trajectories of the groups over time on drinking, craving and impulsiveness outcomes. It is hypothesized that the two experimental groups will achieve better treatment outcomes compared to group C and that group B will achieve better outcomes than group A.
DISCUSSION: This study is the first trial examining the effectiveness of stimuli-relevant AATP delivered in a VR environment. The use of VR has shown promise in enhancing the effectiveness of other psychological treatments and since AATP has already been shown effective as add-on treatment, it is of interest to investigate whether these effects can be further enhanced by implementing the program in more ecologically valid environments. If proven effective, the AATP-VR can, like the AATP, be implemented easily and cheaply as add-on treatment or continued care to enhance the effectiveness of current evidence-based treatment.
TRIAL REGISTRATION: ClinicalTrials.gov ID: NCT04283305 Registration date: 24.02.20.