ISSN 2330-717X

Fear Of Flying? Combination Of Drugs And Virtual Reality Can Help


A randomized controlled trial published in the current issue of Psychotherapy and Psychosomatics introduces a new treatment for fear of flying. Research suggests that yohimbine hydrochloride (YOH), a noradrenaline agonist, can facilitate fear extinction.

It is thought that the mechanism of enhanced emotional memory is stimulated through elevated noradrenaline levels. This randomized placebo-controlled trial examined the potential exposure-enhancing effects of YOH in a clinical sample of participants meeting DSM-IV criteria for a specific phobia (fear of flying).

Sixty-seven participants with fear of flying were randomized to 4 sessions of virtual reality exposure therapy (VRET) combined with YOH (10 mg), or 4 sessions of VRET combined with a placebo. Treatment consisted of 4 weekly 1-hour exposure sessions consisting of two 25-minute virtual flights. At pre- and post- treatment, fear of flying was assessed.

The YOH or placebo capsules were administered 1 h prior to exposures. The manipulation of the noradrenaline activity was confirmed by salivary α-amylase (sAA) samples taken pre-, during and post-exposure.

Forty-eight participants completed treatment. Manipulation of noradrenaline levels with YOH was successful, with significantly higher levels of sAA in the YOH group when entering exposure.

Results showed that both groups improved significantly from pre- to post-treatment with respect to anxiety reduction. However, although the manipulation of noradrenaline activity was successful, there was no evidence that YOH enhanced outcome.

Participants improved significantly on anxiety measures independently of drug condition, after 4 sessions of VRET. These data do not support the initial findings of exposure-enhancing effects of YOH in this dosage in clinical populations.

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