Virtual reality is making great advances in different fields apart from gaming, medical being one of them. You might already be aware that this technology can be used to help patients recover from stroke. Now, it is being used to overcome drug addiction. Researchers at the University of Houston’s Graduate School of Social Work are working to build a hyper-realistic virtual world which can reconstruct situations that sets off cravings for alcohol, heroin, nicotine, etc., among drug addicts. This way of treating with virtual reality is more realistic and hence more effective than the traditional relapse therapy to treat drug addicts.
Patients are made to wear virtual reality headsets so that they can experience similar scenarios where they generally use the drugs, like in a party. The idea behind the drug treatment is to make addicts desire for virtual drugs and then not to use them.
The scenes are made real so that the addicts can be drawn to them. For example, while recreating a drink, the color must be exactly like that of real whiskey.
Different scenarios that have been created using virtual reality include an office courtyard, a pizza party and a gas station. The environments are not only made realistic but also smells are included. The entire situation brings the primitive feelings of addiction to surface among drug addicts. Once the feelings arise, they are treated accordingly by a professional therapist.
Role of Smell in the Treatment
Smell plays a very important role in the treatment. In fact, it is the other half of the entire treatment process. While the virtual reality headsets create the related environment, with smell machines, the entire illusion is complete. For example, for pizza party scenes, apart from the smell of pizzas, marijuana smell is created. For outdoor scenes, an outdoorsy scent is used.
The goal of this treatment, which is led by Patrick Bordnick, the founder of the lab, is to make this virtual reality addiction therapy readily available to the public. For fulfilling this goal, he plans to port the virtual scenes of the lab on to smartphones. This will provide people with the opportunity of practicing the avoidance strategies whenever they feel like.
So, virtual reality technology can prove to be helpful for treating drug addicts in the near future.