While a lot of recovery programs emphasize rational thinking, a new approach similar to a video game focuses on impulses. As with any addiction, like smoking or overeating, we can know all the reasons in the world why we should not be reaching for that cigarette or third serving or drink. It can even feel like it’s another person inside us with impulses beyond our (the conscious mind’s) control.

In a recent study at the University of Amsterdam patients engaged in “video-game-like ‘approach-avoidance tasks’; pushing or pulling a joystick in response to images on a screen.” After 4 short sessions the patients were assessed for their craving for alcohol. The participants “approach bias for alcohol had changed to an avoidance bias,” while the control group showed no changes. Three months of cognitive behavior therapy followed.

A year later 59% of the control group had relapsed, compared to 46% of the joystick players. It isn’t an amazing success rate, but the method shows promise.

Maybe someone creative will develop a version for avoidance strengthening at home.