Pushing away your poison: New form of brain-training helps prevent relapse after alcohol treatment

A recent study has shown that it may be possible to dampen the workings of the subconscious brain to prevent alcohol relapse, the results leading to a world-first trial of a personalised smartphone app called “SWiPE”.

Cognitive Bias Modification, a new form of computerised brain-training, is focused on training the brain to automatically avoid alcohol cues, with findings showing that early relapse was reduced by 17 percent after four sessions of CBM, compared to those who received a “control” (placebo) version of the task.

Regular drinkers have a ‘cognitive bias’ to alcohol cues such as places, sights, smells, and social situations that remind them of drinking, subconsciously capturing attention,  driving impulses to seek out and drink alcohol.  When these cues become less attention-grabbing and less rewarding, our subconscious brain has less influence on our behaviour, leaving more room for our conscious brain to drive decision-making.

Published in JAMA Psychiatry and led by researchers from Turning Point, Monash University and Deakin University, the study has resulted in researchers developing a CBM smartphone app called “SWiPE” where people can upload alcoholic beverages or brands they wish to train their subconscious brain to avoid, while at the same time ‘approaching’ images of more positive, healthy activities they want to do more of.

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Read the full paper in JAMA Psychiatry titled: Effect of Cognitive bias modification on early relapse among adults undergoing inpatient alcohol withdrawal treatment a randomized clinical trial.
DOI: 10.1001/jamapsychiatry.2020.3446