Virtual Reality: A New Type of Addiction Treatment

We know about virtual reality for video games and social media, but does it have other uses? Can it help someone get sober?

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man with vr glasses on learning about addiction recovery.

As technology continues to progress and change the way we live our lives, it is also offering alternative and effective solutions for helping people dealing with various problems. One of these issues is addiction and substance abuse. 

Technology has already started to influence and change the addiction treatment realm through the use of things like biofeedback, but one of the emerging technologies that is going to influence this is virtual reality. 

Virtual reality is a budding technology for use in the addiction treatment field and has shown to be very effective for people who are dealing with various substance abuse problems. Specifically, it has been shown to help people overcome cravings and urges to use as they come up – effectively reducing their chance at relapse and improving long-term sobriety prospects. 

How Virtual Reality Can Help 

Virtual reality can do a lot to impact an individual’s substance abuse problem. Using virtual reality exercises during treatment programs, patients can expose themselves to situations and experiences that may induce cravings and, if the situations were real, lead to relapse. During these sessions, they are guided by an addiction professional so that when they are exposed to these craving-causing stimuli (such as a beer bottle or a syringe) they can be coached through the process. 

Essentially, by confronting these stimuli in a controlled, safe environment, it prepares the individual to confront them in the real world. 

If they can learn how to deal with these craving-inducing stimuli with the help of a medical professional, they will know what to do when they are dealing with them alone after discharge from an inpatient rehab

Does This Work? 

Not only has virtual reality shown the ability to induce cravings by generating images but by putting them in potential social situations that may cause them to want to use again. For example, for a nicotine craving this can include a person offering them a cigarette. Whereas, for people with alcohol abuse problems, it can include putting them in an awkward social situation that may cause them to want to start using. 

While more research is needed to determine just how effective this form of treatment is at helping patients overcome these cravings when they are faced with them post-discharge, the evidence does show that it can prove to be effective. 

“VR has the potential to offer new opportunities for treatment through its ability to provide a more ecological environment with more control and safety over exposition.” 

Virtual reality is meant to just be one aspect of addiction treatment. It, like all other forms of addiction treatment, is best when it is used collaboratively with other types of therapy and experiential treatment methods. This can include behavioral therapy, exercisemindfulness, and more. 

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