Virtual Reality (VR) has been growing in popularity in recent years in the entertainment and gaming industry, but not everyone knows that VR has also been used in therapy for patients with anything from Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) to being used in combination with exposure therapy for individuals with a phobia. Now, VR therapy is increasingly being used to treat drug or alcohol addictions in substance abuse treatment programs.
What is VR Therapy?
VR Therapy is a way of transporting an individual to a computer simulated interactive environment that includes sounds, visuals, and some with tactile sensations. Some VR technology includes hand controls that allow the user to interact with the virtual world, whether this interaction involves picking up virtual objects or walking around.
This technology is advancing more every day to make these experiences feel more real. Scientists have even started integrating aspecifically for substance use disorders to simulate the smell of cigarettes or alcohol. In most of these simulations, the program has no script to follow and therefore VR users can experience individual responses based on their behaviors in the virtual world in real-time.
All of these various aspects work together on the brain to trick the mind into believing the virtual experience is a real experience. This starts the process of creating episodic memories of refusing to give into the temptation to use a substance and those memories are what likely maintain abstinence afterwards. The process of successful recovery does not happen overnight and takes several VR sessions to make progress away from an addiction.
This is because addictions are deep rooted in one’s psyche once they grab hold and it is difficult to shake them. The brain takes information from the environment and interprets certain environmental cues or experiences as pleasurable because of the neurotransmitter dopamine.
gets released in the brain in response to watching an entertaining movie, eating food, having sexual intercourse, or any other pleasurable activity. It is no surprise then that large amounts of dopamine are released primarily in the nucleus accumbens when someone uses an addictive drug or alcohol. In this way, dopamine acts under operant conditioning by reinforcing drug use for the reward of pleasurable sensations.
Advantages of VR Therapy
While there are already a variety of substance abuse treatment programs out there, VR Therapy offers unique benefits that other forms of treatment may not be able to offer in the same way.is used to create realistic and common situations that drug or alcohol users often face in their daily lives. This type of experience is created with more detail and ease than imagining the experience in therapy.
The waychanges the brain over time is it places people in situations at a safe distance where they are able to develop effective strategies for overcoming cravings in response to drug or alcohol cues that can trigger a relapse in real life. Since the VR world is not real, there is no real chance of actual relapse. This way, the individual can be walked through the virtual situation by a therapist who can explain what steps to take at each point of the experience to reduce temptation to use.
These experiences in the virtual world are then expected to generalize to real life experiences that the individual may encounter. Before VR Therapy, the individual may not have had the same level of cognitive strategies to use when faced by any kind of cue that reminds them of their drug use.
are objects, people, places, or even words that can trigger strong cravings for an addictive substance and therefore strongly increase chances of relapse. Therapists cannot follow their clients around all the time, so the it is considered an effective treatment program strategy to help them develop cognitive defenses to fight off those cravings when they pop up.
Latest Ways VR Therapy is Being Used
One of the lateston VR Therapy use as a new treatment program for drug and alcohol addiction shows that VR is effective in reducing tobacco and alcohol use. The study also revealed increases in self-efficacy, attitude, and behavior overall as a result of VR use. Self-efficacy is built up through experience and is a measure of how much one believes they are able to accomplish a task, which makes self-efficacy an important factor for recovery from addiction.
In terms of more direct effects of VR use, theshowed that cravings decreased too, which explains why the participants used alcohol or cigarettes less and less over time. VR treatment does not stop at alcohol and cigarettes, but at the , there are now attempts to use VR for heroin addiction. If this can be accomplished with success and adopted into future treatment programs, then we may finally be able to get some control over the current opioid epidemic that is currently sweeping the nation.
Although, theis not stopping at heroin addiction, they are also working on improving the technology itself by creating a floor-to-ceiling projection to create a physical 3-D VR environment with 3-D glasses instead of VR goggles, which will increase the ability to walk around.
How to End Addiction
Facing an addiction alone is not easy for anyone because the mind is a powerful force when it comes to substance dependence. Do not let your mind control you, let us help you break free so that you can get back to the way things were before addiction entered your life.
Consider contactingat 888-510-3898 to speak with a treatment specialist who will be able to help you find the right substance abuse treatment programs for your personal needs and situation. We are here to help in a non-judgmental way. To seek help for a legitimate struggle with getting your life back is not a weakness.
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