Researchers at the University of Houston are testing whether virtual reality can be used to treat people addicted to heroin.
They will navigate a simulated house party with stimuli that evoke drug cravings, according to Reuters.
The virtual reality program includes two environments. One is a house party where heroin is snorted, and the other is a party where the drug is injected. The program uses an eight-camera infrared system. It projects life-sized 3-D avatars and environments. Participants interact with them in a chamber known as a “heroin cave,” the article notes.
Details that could trigger a heroin craving include an open pizza box on the back patio, and cash on a table next to a cigarette lighter.
“In traditional therapy we role-play with the patient but the context is all wrong,” said one of the study leaders, Patrick Bordnick. “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.”
He has used virtual reality in other types of addiction research, including cigarette addiction. Bordnick found participants reported a higher level of confidence in resisting temptation after they learned coping skills in virtual environments. He noted, “We want to know if decreasing craving in a lab modifies heroin use in the real world.”
Other researchers have also studied virtual reality as a tool in treating addiction, including a team at Duke University.
Last year, South Korean researchers published a small study that suggested using a form of virtual reality therapy may be useful in treating alcohol dependence. The treatment puts patients in situations similar to real life, and requires them to actively participate.