Virtual Reality and Addiction Treatment

One of the more troubling aspects of completing a treatment program for addiction is that eventually most people will need to geographically return home or attend a transitional housing program. For many, this is a great cause of apprehension, but a group of researchers at the University of Houston are using virtual reality technology to recreate the scenes and circumstances a person in recovery may eventually face.

“In traditional therapy, we role-play with the patient but the context is all wrong,” said Patrick Bordnick, an associate dean of research and one of the study leaders.

“They know they’re in a therapist’s office and the drug isn’t there. We need to put patients in realistic virtual reality environments and make them feel they are there with the drug, and the temptation, to get a clearer picture and improve interventions,” Bordnick said.

Read more…The University of Houston study has positioned its virtual reality creation to be highly detailed, intuitive, and realistic, but this is not the first foray of virtual reality into the world of addiction.

In 2013, a Duke university researcher also attempted to use virtual reality environments to both trigger relapse behavior and also voice advice on navigating the scenario.

A person using virtual reality for addiction treatment is hooked up to a simulator, and enters a virtual environment with one of their triggers, such as a crack pipe or bottle of alcohol. Someone in the scene offers them their drug of choice. Researchers slowly add cues to the virtual environment, or change the situation, based on the patient’s history.

A voice tells the person to put down the joystick and look around the room without speaking, to allow their craving to dissipate. The voice asks them to rate their cravings periodically.

Read more…An interesting video on Ted Talks discusses how virtual reality is helping people deal with real life. This video is not just about addiction, but it raises interesting questions about how we how we are drawn to substances, activities, behaviors, and foods. It is very informational.

In summary, these virtual reality applications are a step in the right direction because they are exploring the boundaries of how technology can improve our lives in areas we may be unaccustomed to. Does it work? Well like most treatments, everyone responds differently. The degree of how effective any therapy works can only fully be appreciated after the treatment, but it’s safe to say that simulating situations that are dangerous to sobriety will at the very least, open up their mind to the possibilities, and maybe even help train them on how to better protect their recovery.

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