New Frontier to Help Addicts: Virtual Reality

Researchers put them in fake worlds, help them learn to cope
By John Johnson,  Newser Staff
Posted Apr 27, 2013 1:40 PM CDT
New Frontier to Help Addicts: Virtual Reality
A screen grab from a video at Psychology Software.   (YouTube)

Addicts looking to kick their habit in the real world might benefit from doing so first in a virtual one. At least that's the theory behind a growing body of research, explains PopSci. The idea is to have the addicts play a game of sorts in which their characters get plunked down into situations—tailored specifically to their own histories—where temptations lurk. When the cravings arrive, the researchers can stop the game and give the addicts help on how to deal with the urges.

The story checks in on two programs, by researchers at Duke and the University of Houston, which expand on a long-held theory called "cue reactivity." But now, instead of conducting such experiments in an antiseptic lab, researchers can immerse their subjects in a more lifelike, if virtual, environment. So does it work? Early results are promising, but "the technique is still way too new—and the scientific literature way too sparse—to declare virtual reality some sort of junkie panacea," writes Colin Lecher. The hope, however, is that it proves successful enough to get added to the mix of treatments available. (More addiction stories.)

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