A Duke University researcher is studying whether virtual reality can be used to reduce cravings in people who are addicted. The goal is to help them develop coping strategies that they can use in the real world, Popular Science reports.
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.
The research is spearheaded by Zach Rosenthal, who receives funding from the National Institute on Drug Abuse and the Department of Defense. He uses virtual reality to trigger a reaction, and then teaches patients to cope with it. The method is called cue reactivity, which has long been used for treating phobias.
Beedie Savage – President of Quantum Units Education