A Closer Look at the Emerging Virtual Reality and Addiction Treatment

Published On: March 1, 2016|Categories: Mental Health Treatment|
virtual reality and addiction

Researchers are always working to find the most effective method of treating addiction. Beginning with striving to learn as much as possible regarding addiction, addictive behaviors and the way the brain is manipulated during active addiction, they then take what they know and work to apply it to new, innovate and effective treatment modalities.

The newest one to step in the scene?

Virtual reality addiction treatment.

What is virtual reality addiction treatment?

Virtual reality (VR) has actually been around for quite a few years, but because of the exponential cost of VR equipment, it was accessible to only a few. Recently, with its takeover of the video game world, VR has become not just affordable, but accessible like never before.

Understandably, mental health professionals began exploring VR’s possibilities and discovered a potential usefulness in treating addiction. By immersing individuals into a virtual world, counselors can use immersion therapy for many outcomes, including:

  • Better understanding the motivations and actions behind addiction and triggers;
  • Counseling their client in real time as they confront the triggers of a virtual reality;
  • Helping clients work through cravings in a safe, controlled environment;
  • Providing an alternative, relaxing immersive environment to help reduce withdrawal symptoms like stress, anxiety and paranoia.

While research is ongoing in regards to virtual reality and addiction treatment, early trials have shown promising results with potential to treat addiction of many kinds.

How does it work?

Virtual reality offers the unique opportunity for people in treatment to encounter potentially triggering people, places and things in a fully immersive environment. As the client, the VR headset would place you virtually in whatever location presents triggers to you. This personalized technique allows you to work through your own triggers, versus general triggers that may or may not actually impact you.

With increasingly advanced technology, VR can place you in a specific room or location in which many triggers are present. As you remain present in the surroundings, you can speak with your therapist through your headset, identifying moments of intense cravings. Your therapist will then, in real time, give you coping mechanisms and thought patterns to work through and endure the craving as it passes.

Not only does this provide you with the chance to learn how to cope in the moment, it provides important evidence to your counselor about your case in particular, giving them insight on the best ways to help you overcome addiction.

Are there any benefits to VR treatment for addiction?

While studies about the benefits of virtual reality addiction treatment are ongoing, certain positive features have already become quite apparent.

Controlled, yet stimulating environment

Talking about how to work through triggers and endure cravings in the context of a counselor’s office is helpful; but when you actually encounter those tempting environments for the first time, it might be too overwhelming. Without practice in real time, re-entering the “real world” after addiction treatment can be daunting. With VR addiction treatment, however, you can enter into these places virtually, while still remaining in a safe, controlled environment.

Minimized self doubt

Believing you can do something without ever having done it before is a lot to ask of a person—for this reason, VR gives you the chance to build that self confidence in the context of treatment before testing out those skills in real life; meaning, virtual reality allows you to grow in self confidence as you practice resisting temptation and enduring cravings (without giving in) in a completely safe environment.

The result? Strengthened confidence in your ability to face these challenges in the real world.

Strengthened ability to say no

By practicing in the stimulated environment of a virtual reality, you will grow more and more confident in your “No.” These sessions with VR will make you aware of what you find most tempting, give you the time to practice standing by your “no thanks” and give you the strength you need when you encounter those temptations for real.

Reduced cravings

A study done by Patrick Bordnick, professor and director of the Virtual Reality Clinical Research Lab at University of Houston Graduate College of Social Work, proved that individuals battling a smoking addiction had higher increased confidence in resisting cravings after practicing in a virtual environment than those who practiced coping skills in a neutral environment.

While the exposure method of addiction treatment with VR is apparent, other studies have shown that individuals have benefited from being placed in a peaceful, relaxing virtual environment. This alternative helps reduce stress and anxiety often felt during treatment.

Is this treatment right for me?

With the decreasing price of virtual reality technology, this type of exposure treatment is likely to become an option for many more clients.

Interested in virtual reality and addiction treatment? To learn more about our programming options, contact Pyramid Healthcare at (888) 694-9996.

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